The Despair of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (cont.)

For the next year, I got massages and stopped lifting weights to help with my pain. My outer three fingers on my hand had begun getting cold at the end of the day. As time went on, they would get cold after a few hours. I couldn't tell if the shoulder pain was causing the hand pain or vice versa. I went to a leading hand surgeon to figure out what was going on. The diagnosis was discomforting. I was told that this was simply a case of poor posture and that physical therapy (PT) would correct it. I have been tall my entire life, so my posture is a sensitive area. At 32 years of age, I did not expect to ever hear that I have to sit up straight again.

After much hesitation, I went to see a physical therapist that a friend had recommended. We explained my situation and asked if he could figure out the cause of my symptoms. He examined me and walked in with a book that showed an image of something called thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). It was the first time that I felt that sense of relief that you get when something finally makes sense. I tried PT for three months and did not get relief from my symptoms. My physical therapist and I decided that I needed medical assistance with this.

Diagnosing thoracic outlet syndrome

I went to a physiatrist who took a chest x-ray and told me that I had a cervical rib, which is a very common cause of TOS. He gave me valium for the spasms in my shoulder and chest (by my armpit) and recommended that I increase PT to twice a week. I did so for two more months until one day my three fingers went cold doing an exercise that I had done for the past five months without any problem. My physical therapist was at a loss for what to do, so I was back to square one.

Three months later, I went to another physiatrist who came highly recommended. I mentioned TOS, but the doctor did not seem to believe that my symptoms were being caused by that. Instead I was sent back into the dreaded MRI machine to rule out a tumor in my chest. Again, no tumor was found and I was left without an answer. Meanwhile, my fingers were now going cold without any identifiable trigger. My neck, shoulder, and chest were in constant pain. I went back to my original orthopedic surgeon three months later. Once again, I was told that TOS was a possibility, but unlikely, according to him. I was told that I would have to go to Boston (I live in New York) for an official diagnosis of TOS, but his recommendation was that taking three months off of work would get rid of my symptoms. Work was busier than ever and I didn't believe that it would actually work, so I never took the three months off.