Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A Painful But Often Misunderstood Car Accident Injury

“Impacting patients long after the car accident has occurred, thoracic outlet syndrome is an often-overlooked and misunderstood cause of severe pain, numbness, or weakness in the neck, shoulder, arm, or hands.”

–California injury lawyer James Ballidis


Imagine you are stopped at a red light. A vehicle behind you fails to decelerate, slamming into the back of your car. The impact hyperextends your neck, stretching the scalenus muscles through which the network of nerves and arteries responsible for motor skills, sensation, and blood supply to the surrounding areas pass. The muscles bleed, hypertrophy, and shorten, ultimately compressing either the nerves, namely the brachial plexus, or the arteries, specifically the subclavian artery. Afterward, in some cases days and in others years, you experience chronic neck, shoulder, or arm pain, numbness, or weakness; or, you may notice discoloration in your arm, a weak pulse, or tiny black spots on your fingers. Identifying the cause of your symptoms—thoracic outlet syndrome—and obtaining compensation from the party responsible for the accident for treatment can prove to be a challenging, frustrating, and painful process.


Understanding Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A Common Car Accident Injury


Encompassing an array of symptoms, thoracic outlet syndrome is a common car accident injury that involves the compression of the nerves, arteries, and veins in the lower neck and upper chest, explains California injury lawyer James Ballidis. Medical professionals generally concur that either the compression of the brachial plexus or the subclavian vessels in the thoracic outlet, the space between the collarbone and the first rib, is the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome. Due to the number of disorders with symptoms similar to thoracic outlet syndrome, including rotator cuff injuries, cervical disc disorders, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, complex regional pain syndrome, and tumors of the syrinx or spinal cord, diagnosing thoracic outlet syndrome can be a process of elimination and, therefore, very challenging. California injury lawyer James Ballidis discusses the syndrome.



Types of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

There are three different types of thoracic outlet syndrome, each with a unique set of symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.


Neurogenic (neurological) thoracic outlet syndrome: The most common type of thoracic outlet syndrome, this form is attributable to a compression of the brachial plexus, the network of nerves that originates near the neck and shoulders that is responsible for motor skills and sensation in the shoulder, arm, and hand.


Symptoms of neurogenic (neurological) thoracic outlet syndrome include Gilliatt-Sumner hand (the wasting away of the fleshy base of the thumb), numbness or tingling in the fingers, severe pain in the shoulder and neck, ache in the arm or hand, and weakening grip.


Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome: Less common, this form is due to a compression of the veins and arteries under the collarbone.


Symptoms of vascular thoracic outlet syndrome vary depending on the form of the condition: venous or arterial.


A patient with venous thoracic outlet syndrome would experience a weak or absent pulse in the affected arm, which may have a lower temperature and less color than the unaffected arm. The patient may experience numbness, tingling, aching, swelling, and weakness in the arm or neck.


In cases of arterial thoracic outlet syndrome, the patient may experience a change in color and sensitivity to cold in the hand and fingers and swelling, heaviness, paresthesias (a sensation of tingling, burning, prickling, tickling, or pricking on the skin) and poor blood circulation in the arms, hands, and fingers.


Nonspecific-type thoracic outlet syndrome: Characterized by chronic pain near the thoracic outlet that worsens with activity, nonspecific-type thoracic outlet syndrome has no identifiable cause.


To learn more about the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome, please visit our article, “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A Complex Symptomatology.”


Causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome


While car accidents are a common cause of thoracic outlet syndrome, it may also be the result of repetitive injuries related to activities performed at work or while playing sports; of anatomical defects; or of pregnancy.


Visit California injury lawyer James Ballidis’ article, “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A Cause of Neck Pain after a Car Accident,” for a more comprehensive understanding of the causes of thoracic outlet syndrome.


Treatment of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome after a Car Accident 


Physical therapy, relaxation techniques, and medications are often the first, and more conservative, approaches to treating thoracic outlet syndrome. However, if symptoms persist, surgery may be necessary.


For more information on the treatment of thoracic outlet syndrome, please visit our article, “Treatment for Car Accident Victims Suffering from Severe Neck and Shoulder Pain and Other Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.”


Legal Recourse for Car Accident Victims Suffering from Severe Pain, Numbness, or Weakness in the Neck, Shoulder, Arm, or Hands Due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome


California law ensures that those who have been injured in accidents for which they were not at-fault may seek compensation from the negligent party for the expenses associated with their recoveries, such as for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Given the challenges to diagnosing and treating thoracic outlet syndrome, consulting with an attorney experienced in helping accident victims suffering from this condition can prove crucial to a successful recovery.


Our California injury lawyers have extensive experience with thoracic outlet syndrome cases, as well as a vast network of medical professionals and specialists to whom to refer patients. From obtaining an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment to proving damages and securing compensation for recovery-related expenses, our attorneys can ensure a successful outcome for patients.


For more information about thoracic outlet syndrome and the legal recourse available to accident victims suffering from the condition, or to discuss a specific legal matter with a California injury lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596.


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