Treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Jan 20:(1):CD007218. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007218.pub2.


Background: Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is one of the most controversial clinical entities in medicine. Despite many reports of operative and non-operative interventions, rigorous scientific investigation of this syndrome leading to evidence based management is lacking.

Objectives: To evaluate the beneficial and adverse effects of the available operative and non-operative interventions for the treatment of thoracic outlet syndrome.

Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Trials Specialized Register (July 2009), The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library Issue 2, 2009), MEDLINE (January 1966 to June 2009), EMBASE (January 1980 to June 2009), CINAHL (January 1981 to June 2009 ), AMED (January 1985 to June 2009 ) and reference lists of articles.

Selection criteria: We selected randomized or quasi-randomized studies in any language of participants with the diagnosis of any type of thoracic outlet syndrome (neurogenic, vascular, and 'disputed'). The primary outcome measure was change in pain rating on a validated visual analog or similar scale at least six months after the intervention. The secondary outcomes were change in muscle strength and adverse effects of the interventions.

Data collection and analysis: Four authors independently selected the trials to be included and extracted data. The one included study was rated for risk of bias according to the methods recommended in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions.

Main results: This review was complicated by a lack of generally accepted criteria for the diagnosis of TOS and had to rely exclusively on the diagnosis of TOS by the investigators in the reviewed studies. There were no studies comparing natural progression with any active intervention. In one trial with a high risk of bias involving 55 participants transaxillary first rib resection decreased pain more than supraclavicular neuroplasty of the brachial plexus. There were no adverse effects in either group.

Authors' conclusions: This review was complicated by a lack of generally accepted diagnostic criteria for the diagnosis of TOS. There was very low quality evidence that transaxillary first rib resection decreased pain more than supraclavicular neuroplasty but no randomized evidence that either is better than no treatment. There is no randomized evidence to support the use of other currently used treatments. There is a need for an agreed definition for the diagnosis of TOS, especially the disputed form, agreed outcome measures and high quality randomized trials that compare the outcome of interventions with no treatment and with each other.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brachial Plexus / surgery
  • Cervical Rib / surgery
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / etiology
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome / therapy*