Surprisingly, lots of people have contacted me about thoracic outlet syndrome. Unsurprisingly, they have been through a barrage of tests and have left many stupefied doctors in their wake.There are many causes of thoracic outlet syndrome. Mine happens to be postural and probably induced by my year off (last year) of repetitive activity. You can also develop thoracic outlet syndrome from anatomical defects (extra cervical rib, anyone?), and trauma. See this for a concise and aesthetically pleasing outline complete with exercises to alleviate symptoms.
Here are some things I’ve noticed about living with thoracic outlet syndrome, having been diagnosed going on 4 months now:
1. The position you sleep in matters. This determines whether I’ll have a good or a bad day. Stop sleeping on your side. You’re compressing that brachial plexus, and it will be mad at you all day. Meaning you will suffer. Try sleeping on your stomach with your head turned in one direction (say, left) and that arm (your left arm) slightly elevated. You can do this by supporting your arm on a pillow. Your other arm (the right arm) should be palm facing upwards and laying slackly but straight at your side. Do not, under any circumstances, sleep with your arms at or above shoulder level. Sleeping on your back is also good. For some reason, I can never fall asleep on my back. But more power to you if you can; you now have two sleeping positions to choose from.
2. Don’t pick it up. If it’s heavy, don’t pick it up. This is easy for me to get away with as a girl. I can play this one off and not think twice about it. But it is aggravating when you really need to get something done and no one is around to help. I highly recommend that you do not attempt to move into a new place by yourself, or even be present at moving day because you will want to do things. Don’t. You will make it worse for days.
3. Buy a desktop. Laptops are evil. Yeah, I still have a laptop. How can you not in this day and age? But at home, you need a desktop. The middle of the screen should be at eye level. Your keyboard should be at the same level as your arms when your elbows are bent 90 degrees. Invest in a good chair. Hell, pay for an ergonomics consult. I’m about to. When you’re compressing your brachial plexus and you’re planning on still living in the 21st century, this is money well spent. If you haven’t noticed, using a laptop promotes poor posture and hunching. This is a great guide for how you can assess and fix your office space yourself. Human Scale is actually the company I’m planning on consulting for creating my optimum med school office space.
|See that bent neck? NOT GOOD.|
4. Move your clothes racks lower. That sounds weird. But I don’t know how else to say it. I’m short (5’2”, maybe pushing 5’3” since I’m actually standing up straight now). So hanging my clothes in my closet requires me to lift my arms up. It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t when I’m just grabbing one shirt, but when I do my laundry and have to lift my arms to hang a gazillion shirts that I’ve put off washing till I run out of underwear (I know you do that too, don’t lie), it really hurts. So make someone move those clothes racks lower so you’re not constantly lifting your arms above your shoulders.
5. Don’t wear heavy purses on your shoulders. For short periods of time, you can hold the purses by the straps. Under no circumstances should you place the bag on your shoulder. You will regret this.
Fashionistas, I recommend trading in your Longchamp…
|Longchamp LePliage: long strap to put bag on your shoulder|
For something like this…
|Michael Kors Hamilton Large Tote (not like I can afford this):
mini strap, not possible to put over your shoulder
6. Blow dry your hair upside-down. I also recommend getting a light, compact, professional blow dryer. Yeah. I went there. I use the Chi Hand Shot, which was expensive but worth every dollar.
|the Chi Hand Shot|
You’ll blow a lot of money on it (pun intended), but it’s going to be lighter to hold which means less stress on your thoracic outlet and ultimately that brachial plexus. Since it’s small, it’s also less maneuvering you need to do with your arm, so again, less stress. If it’s professional, that means way more air/second, which means your hair gets dried much faster. Life is too short not to look good, and it’s far too short to be in chronic pain. Just do it. Ask your hair stylist for tips on a good blow dryer (and small one). They can get it at a discount for you, and they probably deal with carpal tunnel syndrome and should know of light and professional blow dryers that won’t completely break the bank. And don’t even try blow drying your hair (or even looking put together for that matter) until you’ve had at least 2 months of no pain!
|The worst way to blow dry hair with thoracic outlet syndrome.
Notice: arms are above the shoulders.
The right way to blow dry your hair with thoracic outlet syndrome:
|Notice the arms are not above the shoulders.|
I couldn’t find a picture of how I actually blow dry my hair. I really get my flex on in the morning: pretend you’re touching your toes, proceed to blow dry from this position. Another reason getting a professional dryer really helps on saving time.
7. Stop wearing heavy necklaces. Yes. I’ve had to retire my favorite necklaces. Maybe you’re not into chunky necklaces, so you’re fine. I haven’t been “well” for very long, so maybe a year from now I can wear them again. But you should be wearing necklaces like this:
|Enamel Locket Necklace, J. Crew|
And not this:
|Marina Necklace, J. Crew|
The weight of the heavy necklaces induces symptoms for me.
Again, these are all just tips to help you adjust your life with your new (or supposed) diagnosis. They may or may not work for you depending on why you have thoracic outlet syndrome. And make sure you’re always sitting up straight! Don’t bend that neck.