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  • Dr. Brian Abelson DC., Dr Evangelos Mylonas DC.

Overcoming Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: A Step-by-Step Guide – Part 2

Updated: 2 days ago

Having covered the causes, anatomy, and diagnostic procedures for TOS, we now explore treatment strategies to address this often-painful condition. We will discuss soft tissue and osseous procedures, along with examples of functional exercises commonly prescribed to our patients.


Addressing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) can pose a challenge even for highly experienced practitioners (2). In most cases, TOS is best initially treated with conservative manual therapies and exercise (3; 4). In fact, manual therapy, such as Motion Specific Release (MSR), should be the primary approach when dealing with TOS (14). One crucial factor in effectively treating TOS is the timely implementation of conservative treatment before it develops into a chronic condition (5). Surgery should only be considered if conservative treatment and supportive exercises have proven ineffective (15).


Each TOS case should be assessed and treated on an individual, personalized basis. The treatment of TOS needs to achieve several goals.

Reduce Pain: The initial treatment stage should focus on alleviating pain and symptoms and calming the nervous system. This often involves educating patients about avoiding positions that could worsen their condition, such as sleeping with arms abducted in an overhead position.

Improve Posture: Postural correction can significantly contribute to resolving TOS cases (17). Adopting a shoulders up-and-back position can effectively reduce pressure on the neurovascular bundle. In the lower back, avoiding lumbar spine extension can prevent TOS aggravation by reducing extensor muscle over-activation (which causes an upward rotation of the rib cage). Practicing anterior and posterior pelvic tilts alongside diaphragmatic breathing can help relieve tension on the lumbar spine.

Establish Proper Breathing Patterns: Encourage diaphragmatic breathing rather than the dysfunctional upper chest breathing commonly associated with TOS (diaphragmatic breathing helps limit scalene muscle over-activation). Additionally, employing myofascial techniques, such as MSR, on the thoracic spine and diaphragm can be highly beneficial (18).

Enhance Strength and Cardiovascular Conditioning: Studies indicate that 50% to 90% of TOS cases benefit from strength training and cardiovascular conditioning (16).

Restore Normal Nervous System Motion (gliding): This can often be achieved through therapy (neural mobilization) and tailored exercise programs. Research demonstrates that this approach is typically highly effective in treating TOS symptoms.

Osseous Mobilization: The first rib is frequently involved due to the activation of the scalene muscles that elevate the upper ribs. Mobilizing the upper ribs can benefit TOS cases. Furthermore, mobilizing or adjusting the thoracic spine can greatly help in reducing TOS instances.



The approaches utilized target soft-tissue restrictions, nerve entrapment, and osseous joint constraints. The following videos showcase examples of MSR procedures commonly employed in TOS treatment. The specific techniques implemented are contingent upon the TOS type, impacted regions, and potential co-existing conditions.

Note: These videos are intended solely for demonstrative purposes and should only be employed by certified musculoskeletal practitioners trained in MSR procedures. Do not attempt these techniques independently.

SOFT TISSUE PROCEDURES FOR TOS: These MSR soft-tissue procedures are frequently used to address Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

MSR Nerve Release - Neck to Shoulder

This video focuses on the application of MSR procedures to release nerves extending from the cervical plexus to the neurovascular sleeve, spanning the neck to the shoulder area.

MSR Ulnar Nerve Release

Ulnar nerve compression frequently occurs in Neurogenic TOS. This video demonstrates the release of the ulnar nerve using Motion Specific Release (MSR) procedures. Patients experiencing ulnar nerve compression often report sensory changes in their fourth and fifth fingers.

MSR - Diaphragmatic Release

Respiratory function is critical, with breathing difficulties often emerging in TOS cases. This video addresses diaphragm restrictions, the primary inspiratory muscle responsible for enlarging the thoracic cavity during inhalation. Due to its extensive myofascial connections, the diaphragm can influence several structures within the thoracic and abdominal regions.



Cervical joint restrictions frequently occur in TOS cases. Implementing joint adjustments or mobilizations is a crucial aspect of effectively treating and resolving Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

The Power of Chiropractic Adjustments

Chiropractic Adjustments are effective tools in managing chronic back pain. Patients experience better outcomes when they undergo consistent, pre-planned Chiropractic Maintenance Care, as opposed to only seeking treatment during episodes of acute back pain.

MSR Cervical Joint Mobilization

In this video, Dr. Abelson showcases MSR Cervical Joint Mobilization procedures as an alternative to joint manipulation for alleviating neck tension. This gentle, effective method is ideal for patients seeking an alternative to traditional neck manipulation.

5-Point Shoulder Joint Mobilization

The shoulder is more complex than just one joint, comprising five distinct joints. Grasping their inter-relationships is vital for effectively resolving shoulder injuries, including TOS. In this video, Dr. Abelson presents the "5 Point Shoulder Joint Mobilization" protocol using Motion Specific Release techniques.



The videos below illustrate examples of exercises commonly prescribed to our TOS patients. The precise combination of exercises recommended depends on the TOS type, affected areas, and any potential co-existing conditions specific to each patient.

Correct Your Posture Now – Do Not Wait!

Bad posture is often a signifiant factor that need to be addressed in cases of TOS. Poor posture is related to lower self-esteem, decreased energy levels, and lack of alertness. In addition is can effect lung function, circulation, digestion, and be a significant source of musculoskeletal pain.

Pain Relief For Problem Headaches

Headaches are a common problem for patients with TOS. In this video we show you an effective way to reduce the intensity or to resolve your headache. This Headache Relief video show you how to release trigger points at the base of your skull, the Suboccipital region.

Myofascial Release of the Subclavius

The subclavius muscle is often involved in TOS. Releasing the subclavius muscles can be difficult to do with the foam roller. In comparison, a soft ball is ideal for releasing this muscle.

5-Great Daily Shoulder Mobilization Exercises

Before prescribing these exercises to our TOS patients, we would first have to ensure that they are out of the Acute Stage of this injury. These exercises can be performed throughout the day to obtain best results and can make a huge positive difference in your posture, especially if you have been sitting for a long period of time.

Ulnar Nerve Flossing Exercises

We would prescribe these exercises if the patient with TOS is also experiencing an ulnar nerve distribution in their arm. The ulnar nerve can be compressed at the wrist, beneath the collarbone, or as it comes out of the spinal cord in the neck. When the ulnar nerve compression occurs at the elbow, it is called "Cubital Tunnel Syndrome."


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Upon confirming a TOS diagnosis, healthcare practitioners can initiate a comprehensive program of conservative therapy. This approach combines manual therapy (addressing both soft tissue and osseous structures) and a personalized exercise regimen. In the majority of TOS cases, surgical intervention can be circumvented, and favorable outcomes can be obtained through conservative treatments and targeted exercise programs. By addressing the underlying causes and symptoms, patients can experience significant improvement in their condition.




Dr. Abelson is committed to running an evidence-based practice (EBP) that incorporates the most up-to-date research evidence available. He combines his clinical expertise with the specific values and needs of each patient to deliver personalized care that is both effective and patient-centered.

As the developer of Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems, Dr. Abelson operates a clinical practice in Calgary, Alberta, under the name Kinetic Health. He has authored ten publications to date and continues to offer online courses, in addition to his live programs, to healthcare professionals seeking to expand their knowledge and skills in treating patients with musculoskeletal conditions. By staying current with the latest research and offering innovative treatment options, Dr. Abelson is dedicated to helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness.



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