Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Past and Present—88 Surgeries in 30 Years at Chang Gung

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Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a highly controversial clinical entity. There is much debate on its terminology, existence, diagnosis, and treatment. The purpose of this study was to describe our opinions about these controversial topics of TOS and the treatment of TOS over the past 30 years.


From 1985 to 2014, a total of 80 patients underwent decompressive surgery for TOS. Eight patients requested a second surgery on the contralateral limb. They all had at least 1-year follow-up. Preoperative evaluation included provocative tests, plain X-ray, magnetic resonance angiography/computed tomography angiography, and electromyography. Surgical intervention for each patient involved a supraclavicular approach and near-total resection of the anterior scalene muscle and the first rib and of any cervical rib if it was present. Rib resection was performed with the use of Kerrison bone punch forceps. The operative time was typically 2 hours.


Major postoperative complications were rare. Nearly all patients (98%) experienced significant symptom relief, with improvement in soreness and tightness of the shoulder, neck, and arm immediately on the first postoperative day or within a few weeks thereafter. There were no cases with symptoms recurring.


It is evident that decompressive surgery through a supraclavicular approach for TOS not only is an effective and safe procedure but also provides a diagnosis of the cause of TOS. For a patient who meets the criteria for surgical indication, decompressive surgery usually results in resolution of symptoms and no recurrence.

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