I know what thoracic outlet syndrome is for me:

A tight neck and jaw, tingling in my arms, numbness in my fingers, headaches, ringing in my right ear, reduced range of motion in my neck, pain in my shoulders and the inability to do some exercises in my Bar Method class.

Overall, my entire neck and shoulder region is tight and in pain.

The Mayo Clinic describes thoracic outlet syndrome as:

“Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed. This can cause pain in your shoulders and neck and numbness in your fingers.”

The Mayo Clinic lists causes for thoracic outlet syndrome as trauma, poor posture, pregnancy, and obesity. They don’t list what causes it for me, clenching and grinding my teeth while asleep. They do mention repetitive activity, like typing at a computer, so I guess clenching and grinding one’s teeth could be listed in that category.

The cause of the symptoms, for me, is a common one, clenching and grinding my teeth unconsciously, usually while asleep.

There are several different types of thoracic outlet syndrome; I suffer from the most common one, neurological thoracic outlet syndrome.

• Neurogenic (neurological) thoracic outlet syndrome. This form of thoracic outlet syndrome is characterized by compression of the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that come from your spinal cord and control muscle movements and sensation in your shoulder, arm, and hand. In the majority of thoracic outlet syndrome cases, the symptoms are neurogenic.

This compression of the brachial plexus would jive with my habit of clenching and grinding while asleep.

Of the more than 10 million people in the United States who suffer from grinding their teeth, 90% of them are women in their childbearing years.

To reduce the symptoms and stop teeth grinding, experts suggest:
• See a dentist for an evaluation and the possibility of being fitted with a mouth guard to prevent clenching.
• Manage or reduce your stress.
• Relax your face and jaw throughout the day.
• Drink more water.
• Get more sleep.
• Avoid chewing gum.
• Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

It is a hard problem to solve.

I haven’t found a way to stop grinding my teeth at night altogether. I do most of what experts suggest, the obvious one being learning to handle stress better, but that’s a constant uphill battle in a today’s plugged-in world.

Every time I go to the dentist for a cleaning, he reminds me, “You have to wear your mouthguard at night, you’re one of the worst cases of teeth grinding I have ever seen. If you don’t wear it, you’ll grind your teeth down to nothing.”

I internalize stress, and it comes out at night. My teeth are taking the brunt of my anxiety, as is my body. I wear my mouth guard religiously. It is saving my teeth, but useless in saving my upper body from the effects of all that grinding and clenching.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is the result.

The only way I have found to manage and lessen the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome is a regular weekly deep tissue massage.

It is incredibly painful, but so far, has been the only thing proven to ease my pain, and reduce my symptoms.

With regular deep tissue work, the range of motion in my neck has increased, I have less pain in my shoulders, and the ringing in my ear has stopped.

Physical therapy also helps, but I have found deep tissue massage has attacked the symptoms most effectively head on.

Massage reduces stress. On the weeks I get a massage, I sleep better, and clench and grind my teeth less.

A regular massage hasn’t completely put a stop to my clenching and grinding, but it has reduced it significantly.

By opening up space in my neck and shoulders through pressure on specific points allows for the muscles that have been affected by TOS to stretch and elongate, alleviating the pinching sensation.

The muscles that are affected as a result of grinding, now have more room because they’ve been physically stretched through massage, and symptoms like headaches, neck and shoulder pain are dramatically reduced.

Less pain, coupled with less clenching and grinding, is going in the right direction.

And a full nights sleep with less pain, reduces my stress for the next day ahead.