Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cervical Ribs-Do they always cause TOS?

Since my son, daughter, and I were diagnosed with cervical ribs and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, I have read statements regarding cervical ribs rarely causing problems that made me question their validity in light of my own experience.

Statements like: From the UCLA Vascular Surgery website-
"Some people are born with an extra rib called a "cervical rib". Although most often this causes no particular problem..." 

Or this statement from The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery-
"It is estimated that only 10 per cent of cervical ribs cause symptoms."

Reading statements like those causes my one eye to squint as I mutter "yeah, right", sarcastically.
It's tough for me to swallow that's the truth when three out of three in my family with cervical ribs have developed TOS.

But then I got to thinking...

It's true that for most of my own life, I didn't even know I had cervical ribs, not until my early thirties, and I lived just fine.
I had no arm pain. I participated in sports. The cervical ribs were there but caused no problems for me.
Some neck issues started in early adulthood, and then a car accident several years ago, and I've not been the same since.

I've read that TOS can develop in previously normally functioning people after a traumatic event such as an accident or a fall.

For my kids, they were also born with cervical ribs but we had no idea. They were normal kids and rode bikes, were active and had no symptoms...until puberty kicked in and they each went through a growth spurt around age 13/14. Then their arms started aching just from walking around. We went to the doctor and learned about the ribs and TOS.

I have experienced living with cervical ribs and having no problems, the first 19 years of my life.
I've also experienced painful physical issues that have developed because of them.

Recently it has been hard for me to believe people with cervical ribs do not have pain or function issues. I think living with chronic pain makes you forget what it was like to not have the pain.

But looking back, I see that my kids and I all lived just fine, for a time, with our extra ribs.
And then we didn't, which began our journey with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

So when someone asks me if having cervical ribs always means you have or will develop Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, I say, I'm no medical expert, but I've read that not everyone does. Three out of three in our family have, but lots of people don't have problems with their cervical ribs...so I'm told.