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Help for Numbness and Pain in Shoulder and Arms

The cure may be in the ribs.

It’s a condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the shoulder and arms. We’re talking about thoracic outlet syndrome, or TOS, and relieving the pain might mean removing body parts.

For Kami Bathon, staying active is a way of life. “I was an extremely active person my entire life. I was a dancer and a soccer player,” Kami said.

However, a year ago, this fitness enthusiast developed severe pain and numbness in her arm that severely limited her workouts.
“It would feel like something was tearing through my bicep. I went from being able to deadlift 250 pounds, to where I couldn’t pick up my purse from the car seat next to me,” Kami explained.

Kami had neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. The nerves in her neck and shoulder were being compressed by bones and other tissues.
To relieve the pain, surgeon Robert Thompson first removed muscles in front of the nerves and cleared away scar tissue. Then, he removed muscles behind the nerves and took out a rib. Finally, he divided the pectoralis muscle.

“That gives the most thorough decompression of the nerves,” according to Robert W. Thompson, MD, Professor of Surgery (Vascular Surgery), Radiology, Cell Biology and Physiology; Director, Center for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome; Department of Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine.

Two months after her surgery, Kami feels much better and she has a souvenir. “They removed my first rib from the right side during surgery,” Kami said. Now, she can focus on her workouts and not her pain.

Dr.  Thompson says removing the first rib and some of the surrounding muscles won't harm the patients, as they can function without them. He says TOS is more common in athletes like baseball pitchers, who use repetitive arm motions.

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