I have decided to write a personal post or a so-called “life update” post. I see bloggers do that all the time so I figured, why not! As far as health problems go, this is not really a major one but for me it is kind of big. I have never had any illness, surgery or hospitalization (other then the birth of my children but those don’t count). So having this diagnosis and the resulting treatment makes me a little upset. I like sharing and talking to my friends – it’s a therapy of sorts for me. I have shared with anyone I have seen but thought I would also do it here and inform those who are interested and willing to read.
I recently discovered that I have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. To put it simply, the space between the collar bone and first rib is very tight and that obstructs the blood vessels and nerves that pass through there. It is likely that my space there was always tighter and more constricted than most people’s. The condition can be made worse by exercise, repetitive movement, weight training, etc. It is usually seen in athletes such as baseball players and swimmers. There is a muscle that sits behind the collar bone that can also become enlarged with exercise and contribute to the constriction.
Like I said, I have probably had this for quite a while. I have always have prominent veins – a phlebotomist’s dream! When my dad saw me last year for the first time in 5 years, he mentioned that the veins on my chest were very prominent. I brushed him off because a) my veins have always been prominent and b) he likes to find things about my appearance to pick on. I remember getting my pictures from my wedding (it’s my 12 year anniversary on September 18th) and noticing the web of veins on my chest in one of the black and white pictures. I look like a marble statue with cracks all over it. I thought it was because of the contrast used to create the black and white effect. That might be partly true because I don’t really see my veins in any of the other pictures. Boy, I tweezed my eyebrows so thin back then!
I have made exercise a part of my daily routine – I take kickboxing classes and lift weights. I have lifted weights for 10 years and really enjoy doing it. I do yoga and incorporate arm balances in my practice. I had slacked in my weight lifting in the past 6 months but a couple of weeks ago I decided to get back into it and took a few Body Pump classes. I noticed right away that my right arm hurt in an unusual way. It wasn’t the pain of muscle soreness. It was more like nerve pain. I have pains and aches in my shoulders and back all the time. When you work out regularly and push hard it becomes part of life. I am always aching in one spot or another. So I didn’t worry too much about the pain.
Then about a week ago as I was drying my hair I realized that my right arm is bigger and a different color than the left. I asked my husband and a couple of other people and they agreed. When I measured, my right arm was more than an inch thicker than the left. It was swollen. I also had a little spider vein on that arm that grew three times in size over a few weeks. I then noticed that my chest vein had become even more prominent – but only on the right side. I also have intermittent sharp or dull pain, tingling and numbness running down my arm from my shoulder to my pinky and ring finger.
It was time to see a doctor and after his initial diagnosis, a CT scan confirmed TOS.
I am now on blood thinners and have a scheduled procedure during which they will insert a stent in my vein to open it up and also flush out the thrombosis. I will also most likely have to have surgery to repair the constriction that’s causing the problem – either remove the muscle or part of the bone. That will prevent the issue from reoccurring and will allow me to resume normal physical activities.
Speaking of physical activities, I am to refrain from all upper body exercise – weight bearing or just repetitive. What that means for me is no weight lifting, no yoga (because of chaturanga, down dog, etc.), no kickboxing (the repetitive movement thing). It sucks! Waaaah! I love all of those things. All I can do is lower body exercise – walking, running, stair master, you get the point.
I am also facing surgery in the area of my collar bone. Very close to the neck and carotid artery. I suppose it shouldn’t matter how close to the neck it is. I don’t expect the surgeon’s hand to slip and slit my carotid by accident. Still it’s unnerving. I’m annoyed that I have to go through this and put strain on my husband and family – a busy life with work, school and activities.
As scared as I am by the prospect of surgery, I am hopeful that it will allow me to go back to normal life with no swelling, symmetrical arms, pain free and able to do all the activities and exercise my heart desires.
But ultimately, as I said in the beginning, I’m trying to put it all in perspective. I acknowledge that it is not a major health or life threatening issue and that people have to deal with and overcome much greater obstacles. As a mother, I am also thankful that it is me and not any of my kids facing this problem.