Health Beat: Relieving pain — removing ribs

Health Beat: Relieving pain — removing ribs

ST. LOUIS - Thoracic outlet syndrome, or TOS, is a condition that causes pain, numbness and tingling in the shoulder and arms, and relieving the pain might mean removing body parts.

Staying active is a way of life for Kami Bathon.

"I was an extremely active person my entire life. I was a dancer and a soccer player," Bathon said.

A year ago, however, the fitness enthusiast developed severe pain and numbness in her arm that severely limited her workouts.

"It would feel like something was tearing through my bicep. I went from being able to deadlift 250 pounds to where I couldn't pick up my purse from the car seat next to me," Bathon explained.

Bathon had TOS. The nerves in her neck and shoulder were being compressed by bones and other tissues.

To relieve the pain, surgeon Robert Thompson first removed muscles in front of the nerves and cleared away scar tissue. Then, he removed muscles behind the nerves and took out a rib. Finally, he divided the pectoralis muscle.

"That gives the most thorough decompression of the nerves," said Thompson, professor and director, Center for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and the department of surgery, Washington University School of Medicine.

Two months after her surgery, Bathon is feeling much better and she has a souvenir.

"They removed my first rib from the right side during surgery," Bathon said.

Now, she can focus on her workouts and not her pain.

Thompson said removing the first rib and some of the surrounding muscles will not cause any harm to the patients, as they can function without them. He said TOS is more common in athletes like baseball pitchers, who use repetitive arm motions.

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