If your shoulders and neck hurt and your fingers are numb or weak after a car accident, you might have thoracic outlet syndrome. While a car accident is a common cause of thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), there could be other causes of those symptoms, such as whiplash, so your doctor will need to run tests to determine the actual cause.

How a Car Accident Causes Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

You have arteries, veins, and nerves running through the tiny space between your collarbone and your first rib, called a thoracic outlet.

Physical trauma from an accident (e.g., hitting the steering wheel, being restrained by your seatbelt, or another type of blunt force trauma) can crush the nerves or blood vessels in this space.

Different Types of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

There are two different recognized types of TOS.

  • Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome: Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when the trauma from a crash compresses the cluster of motor and sensory nerves (called the brachial plexus) that supply your shoulder and arm. These nerves allow you to move your hands, arms, and shoulders and to feel pain and other sensations in your upper extremities.
  • Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome: If the car accident trauma compressed the blood vessels instead of the nerves that travel through the thoracic outlet, you will have this type of thoracic outlet syndrome. Your veins, arteries, or both can suffer damage.

Symptoms Associated with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Symptoms differ with either type of TOS.

Symptoms of Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

If your nerves are compressed, you may experience:

  • Pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, or hand
  • Numbness in your arm, fingers, or hand (i.e., “pins and needles”)
  • A loss of grip strength
  • Loss of muscle mass in the base of your thumb

Symptoms of Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

If vascular compression is causing your TOS, you might have:

  • Color changes in your fingers or hand, such as a lack of color or a bluish tint
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your neck, arm, hand, or fingers
  • Pain or throbbing in your shoulder, neck, hand, arm, or near your collarbone.
  • Fingers or a hand or arm that is cold to touch
  • Lumps or blood clots

When You Should See Your Doctor About Possible TOS After a Car Accident

Because thoracic outlet syndrome can cause compression of nerves or blood vessels, the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome in one person can be quite different than in another person. However, compressed nerves or muscles can cause permanent tissue damage. Untreated nerve compression can lead to progressive nerve damage that can require surgical intervention.

Vascular involvement can lead to blood clots in your veins or arteries, which can be fatal.  Be aware that sometimes the symptoms do not show up right after the accident.

For this reason, we recommend you see your doctor if you were involved in a moderate to severe car accident or if you are experiencing any of the signs of thoracic outlet syndrome.  

How Will the Doctor Diagnose My Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

During the physical examination, your doctor will ask you to try to move your arm and shoulders in different ways to see which positions cause you to have symptoms. Doctors call these movements provocation tests, as they try to replicate your symptoms in front of the examiner.

In addition to the physical exam and provocation tests, your doctor may order imaging tests, which can include:

  • X-rays
  • An ultrasound
  • A CT scan (computerized tomography)
  • An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

To get more information about your blood vessels, your doctor may run an angiography, arteriography, and venography, which are other forms of imaging tests.

Your doctor might send you for an EMG (electromyography) test to see the electrical activity in your muscles. She may also order a nerve conduction study to check for have nerve damage that has slowed your nerves’ ability to send messages from the brain to your muscles.

While nerve damage can be permanent, if you see your doctor right away, you might be able to treat your thoracic outlet syndrome with non-surgical means, such as physical therapy, and drugs for pain, muscle relaxation, inflammation, and dissolving or preventing blood clots.

Discuss Your Accident Case with an Atlanta Car Accident Attorney Today

If you suspect that you have thoracic outlet syndrome after a car accident, first get medical help, then call the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C. to discuss your case with a car accident lawyer: 404-474-0804.

If another party was at-fault for your accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, including your TOS. And remember, we never charge you legal fees until you get compensation, so there is no risk.