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Published: June 17, 2023

Controversies in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic surgery, University Hospital of Amiens, France
TOS Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Neurovascular compression


Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is a condition characterized by the compression of the neurovascular structures passing through the thoracic outlet, resulting in a variety of symptoms including pain in the upper limb, neck, and head with varying degrees of neurological deficits ranging from numbness to muscle wasting and deformities. This disorder has been the subject of extensive medical debate among surgeons and physicians [1]. This editorial aims to explore the controversies regarding TOS and shed light on the complexities to be studied by specialized researchers.

One of the primary controversies surrounding TOS lies in the diagnostic process. TOS presents with a wide range of symptoms, making it difficult to differentiate from other conditions. The absence of standardized diagnostic criteria and the lack of definitive tests contribute to diagnostic uncertainty. Some argue that TOS is over-diagnosed, leading to unnecessary interventions, while others believe it is underdiagnosed, resulting in delayed treatment for those affected [2].

The optimal treatment strategy for TOS is another contentious issue. Conservative therapies, such as physical therapy, exercise, and posture correction, are often recommended as the first line of treatment. However, their effectiveness in relieving symptoms and improving functional outcomes remains uncertain. Surgical intervention, including decompression operation and resection of the first rib, is considered in refractory cases, but the timing, indications, and long-term outcomes of surgical interventions are debated. Additionally, the variability in surgical techniques and lack of large-scale randomized controlled trials further contribute to the controversies surrounding treatment approaches [3].

TOS shares similarities with various other conditions, such as cervical radiculopathy, brachial plexopathy, and peripheral nerve entrapment syndromes. The overlap in symptoms and diagnostic challenges often leads to misdiagnosis and inappropriate management further complicating the condition and intensifying the debate. Distinguishing TOS from these conditions and establishing clear diagnostic criteria are crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment [2,3].

There are other less crucial controversies regarding TOS like its classification, and etiologies [1,2].

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome remains a subject of significant controversy within the medical community. The diagnostic challenges, treatment approaches, and overlap with other conditions contribute to ongoing debates. To address these controversies and improve patient care, it is essential for researchers and healthcare professionals to collaborate, establish standardized guidelines, conduct further studies, and refine diagnostic criteria and treatment approaches.


  1. Hooper TL, Denton J, McGalliard MK, Brismée JM, Sizer PS. Thoracic outlet syndrome: a controversial clinical condition. Part 1: anatomy, and clinical examination/diagnosis. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy. 2010;18(2):74-83. DOI: 10.1179/106698110X12640740712734
  2. Cuetter AC, Bartoszek DM. The thoracic outlet syndrome: controversies, overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and recommendations for management. Muscle & Nerve: Official Journal of the American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine. 1989;12(5):410-9. DOI: 10.1002/mus.880120512
  3. Povlsen B, Hansson T, Povlsen SD. Treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2014; 11: Art. No.: CD007218. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007218.pub3

How to Cite

Joseph Lula Lukadi (2023) “Controversies in Thoracic Outlet Syndrome”, Barw Medical Journal. doi: 10.58742/bmj.v1i2.40.