Midterm and long-term follow-up in competitive athletes undergoing thoracic outlet decompression for neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome

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Abstract

Background:

Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (NTOS) results from compression of the brachial plexus by the clavicle, first rib, and scalene muscles and may develop secondary to repetitive motion of the upper extremity. Athletes routinely perform repetitive motions, and sports requiring significant arm and shoulder use may put the participant at increased risk for NTOS. Competitive athletes who develop NTOS may require first rib resection and scalenectomy (FRRS) for symptomatic relief. However, the effectiveness of FRRS has not previously been studied in this vulnerable population.

Methods:

This is a cross-sectional study of competitive athletes with NTOS who received FRRS by the senior author between 2009 and 2014. Eligible patients were contacted by phone and invited to complete a nine-item survey assessing the long-term effects of FRRS on pain medication use, postoperative physical therapy duration, patient satisfaction, symptom relief, activities of daily living, athletic performance, time to return of athletic performance, and need for other operations. Multivariate analyses of the following risk factors were performed: age, pectoralis minor release, preoperative narcotic use, athletic shutdown, and involvement in a throwing sport.

Results:

There were 232 competitive athletes who met the inclusion criteria, and 67 of these (age, 14–48 years; 35 male; 99% white) responded to the survey. The average time between surgery and survey completion was 3.9 years (range, 2.2–7.0 years). The most frequent sports conducted by this group were baseball and softball (n = 44 [66%]), volleyball (n = 7 [10%]), and cheerleading and gymnastics (n = 5 [7%]), ranging from high-school to professional levels. The survey results revealed that 96% were improved in pain medication use, 75% would undergo FRRS on the contralateral side if needed, 82% had resolution of symptoms, and 94% were able to perform activities of daily living without limitation; 70% returned to the same or better level of athletic activity after FRRS, and this occurred within 1 year in 50%. Multivariate regression analysis identified younger age as a predictor of the length of physical therapy and preoperative narcotics use as a predictor of symptom resolution.

Conclusions:

At our center, >40% of patients requiring FRRS for NTOS are competitive athletes. The results of this study show that the majority of them are able to return to their precompetitive state after FRRS, and few experience limitations in their daily living activities. Half can return to competition at or exceeding their premorbid ability level within 6 months of surgery. The majority are pleased with their decision to undergo FRRS. Further investigation is needed to identify predictive factors for successful return to competitive athletics.

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