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CERVICAL RIBS

Ache and tingling in arms and hands

Keywords: CERVICAL RIBS, tingling in arms and hands, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Inter Scalene Triangle

Normally speaking, only the twelve thoracic vertebrae have a pair of ribs, beginning at the spine, and attached to the sternum or other lower rib cartilage, and a couple of "floating ribs", forming the ribcage.

This vital structure serves to protect the vital organs, particularly the heart, but is moveable to allow breathing.

Cervical rib syndrome

At the upper end of the thoracic spine, at the junction with the neck, normally T1, the first thoracic vertebra has the first rib. But in 2 per 1000 people, there is a rib above the first rib. A cervical rib.

If there is a cervical rib then it penetrates through a very restricted passage called inter scalene triangle bounded by the first rib below, and two muscles, the scalenes on the sides of the triangle.

Why all the hype? Because at the cervico thoracic junction is the critical area where the large artery, the subclavian artery, and a large group of nerves, called the brachial plexus, emerge from the chest cavity to supply the arm.


The significance is that this syndrome may produce a crazy mixture of both arterial and neurological deficiency in the arm.

These ribs are usually rudimentary and of little or no clinical significance, but occasionally a very large space occupying cervical rib, originating from the transverse process of the lowermost cervical vertebra, passing through the inter scalene triangle and joining onto the normal first rib, may cause severe symptoms in the arm.

Remember, normally the cervical vertebrae have no ribs. Ribs pertain to the thoracic vertebrae.

A vascular and or neurological restriction in the inter scalene triangle is known as a thoracic outlet syndrome producing classically pain and tingling in the arm, particularly when lifting the arms as in hanging washing.


ADSON'S TEST


However a low grade irritation in the inter scalene triangle is often the underlying cause of a frozen shoulder for example, or a carpal tunnel syndrome.


Notice how the cervical rib can affect both the subclavian artery above, and the lowermost cord of the brachial plexus both.

So, both artery and nerve symptoms and signs are possible, though not necessarily so.


The classical test to confirm a thoracic outlet syndrome is the test of Adson. Your chiropractor will locate your radial pulse in the wrist, and then ask you to turn your head and breathe in. Does the pulse die away, and return when you return your head to neutral and breathe out?

It's a difficult test, very subjective, and I like to do it with the arm on the lap to eliminate false positives. Done in the normal way with the arm abducted and externally rotated many quite normal people have a positive Adson's test.

The key sign that will alert your chiropractor to the fact that all is not well in the state of Denmark, is that she simply can't find a radial artery pulse in the wrist. The first time it happened to me, I was bowled over: how could there be no pulse in the arm? Had my palpation skills suddenly diminished? Nope, a very large cervical rib.



There's just enough blood getting through to the arm when it's at rest, but start to use the muscles in your arm, or raise your arm so the inter scalene triangle is further diminished in size, and bingo, pain and tingling in the arm.

It's known as intermittent claudication, not dissimilar to angina. When the body is at rest, there's enough blood to supply the muscles. But as soon as you start to exercise, the muscles require more oxygen, and there's not enough. Pain.

So, of course, it's quite impossible to do Adson's test if you can't locate the radial pulse. An xray is mandatory.



Cervical ribs 

What is hard to explain is that the C7 rib lies silently in the inter scalene triangle for years minding its own business, its owner none the wiser. Then suddenly, one day, for no obvious rhyme or reason, the arm starts to ache and tingle.

It may have a carpal tunnel syndrome appearance, or a frozen shoulder, or tennis arm; the signs and symptoms are very variable. 

In the case below, I believe it was taking a job where the patient took a job and started holding the phone between her neck and shoulder, a real no-no that could have been the trigger that provoked the incipient rib to start giving her pain and tingling in the arms and hands.



The search this site function in the navigation bar on the left enables you to find stuff on this site.

Google has gone through an enormous shakeup in the last year, giving webmasters much grief.

Meantime, use that search function to find more information about subject material mentioned on the page where links have probably been removed.  There are over 360 pages at chiropractic help; it's become a veritable encyclopedia dedicated to better health.

Why didn't it cause pain years ago? If there's a big lump of bone in the way, how on earth can chiropractic help.

The medical treatment for the offending rib is not nice. The surgeon enters the inter scalene triangle via the arm pit, and surgically removes the offending rib. Frankly, I have no idea how successful the operation is, or what the morbidity is, but it's very close to extremely sensitive structures, the brachial plexus, the subclavian artery and the apex of the lung.

I have had numerous letter from patients at chiropractic help complaining that the operation either didn't help, or the condition was worsened because of injury to the brachial plexus.


PANCOAST TUMOUR

Talking of lungs, in you have tingling in the arms and hands, and are a smoker and have a bad cough, your chiropractor should consider a nasty tumour in the apex of the lung that can mimic a C7 Rib.

You do know, don't you, that smoking will knock ten years off your life, and the end will most likely be very S-H-one-T?


CHIROPRACTIC CARE

It's not well understood why the Cervical Rib suddenly starts to misbehave. In fact, we think that often the symptoms are not caused by the rib at all - otherwise, if the Cervical Rib was there ten years ago, why was there no pain and tingling in the arms and hands back then?

But it is an aggravating factor, the space in the Inter Scalene Trianle is even more limited than normal.

The thinking is that there is either a fixation of the first Thoracic Rib, or the Scalene muscles go into spasm because of a Cervical Facet Syndrome or perhaps a whiplash, poor posture at the computer (do you have support under your elbow?), sleeping on your tum, or anyone of a host of other facts. Long journey, sleeping in an aeroplane...


Can Chiropractic help?

A guarded yes, the hesitation because there aren't enough cases for us to do reliable research, which would tell you that in 80% (or 50%, or 10%) of cases chiropractic management of the Scalene muscles, the cervical vertebrae, the first rib can help you. Here you can follow a casefile currently under treatment. Very successfully, I might say, but a "cure" is unlikely, like many medical conditions and chiropractic conditions too. Cervical Rib CaseFile ...

CERVICAL RIB vs THORACIC OUTLET syndromes

Cervical ribs are but one cause of the so-called Thoracic Outlet syndrome. Any invasive process, be it a cervical rib or a Pancoast tumour, or an old fracture of the first rib or clavicle can irritate and impinge on the Subclavian artery and the Brachial plexus.

But so can a Scalene spasm, be it due to a whiplash, cervical facet syndrome, sleeping in the upright position, long journeys... or an imbalance between the Trapezius msucles and the the smaller Scalenes and SCMs for example.

From a chiropractic standpoint, a fixated first rib is another very common cause of the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, causing scalene muscle spasm, but with no invasion of the inter scalene triangle.

CLOT Very occasionally a clot may form in the subclavian vein causing swelling of the whole arm. This is a very serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. Intial treatment would probably be blood thinners and perhaps a stent.

Further resection of the first rib, and if present a cervical rib, may be necessary, but it's a difficult operation, not without attendant dangers:



"1st rib resection of my left shoulder (2 months ago) has squared up my shoulders but has increased the strain on my neck, mid and lower back. Nerve damage sustained due to the operation has serverely effected the first three fingers with hyper sensitivity, signs of muscle wasteage around the base of the thumb and forearm is apparent. Overall I have ailments from the finger tips through the wrist up my arm, within my elbow and shoulder down the spine,at the base of my back through my left hip joint and in the back of the knee."

Letter received at Chiropractic Help.


First lumbar rib

At the lower end of the thoracic spine, quite often the first lumbar vertebra may have a rib, and it may be very significant in the patient who has four (known as a sacralisation) or six (known as a lumbarisation) lumbar vertebrae, instead of the usual five.


USEFUL LINKS

Go from CERVICAL-RIB to CHIROPRACTIC HELP home page …

Go from CERVICAL RIBS to NECK PAIN home page …



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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr B  came initially for a painful and stiff neck and then asked whether chiropractic could help the cold numb feeling running down the side of his thigh for six months. Meralgia paresthetica is a double crush syndrome with the nerve affected in the back and groin. He's 80% improved after five treatments.

2. Mrs C has a long history of severe, disabling migraine headaches since having her wisdom teeth removed. She clenches her teeth at night. After six treatments she has no migraines but some jaw joint discomfort remains; a bite plate is in the offing.

3. Mrs U has the trophy for the worst back this year. After major surgery with plates and screws two years later she still had paresis in the lower leg and severe disabling back pain. She's doing far better than expected, in no little part due to a lift in her shoe for a very short leg.

4. Mr V is 86 years old and hurt his back helping his wife into the car. Just one treatment of the sacroiliac joint and he's eighty percent better. It's not always like that.

5. Mr W lay on his back knocking down a pillar. Turning his head causes severe vertigo. He needs the Epley exercises, not pills, research shows. Update, he's fine.

6. Mrs X, a young mother has severe lower back pain, with numbness down the posterior thigh, calf and side of her foot. It started after a long drive in the car. After six treatments she is 60 percent better, but it's slow and is going to take the full 6 weeks to heal.

And now a setback, after lifting her child she now has leg pain. It's going to the be difficult.

7. This lady is a 70 year old woman, is on maintenance care for a nasty lumbar stenosis despite having to do everything at home. Her husband has a hospital acquired infection after a total shoulder replacement. After four operations he is incapacitated.

8. She is an 78 year old woman, is doing remarkably well with a bad sciatica. But over 200 pounds she is not losing weight; in fact, gaining despite my suggestions. She's high risk for a stroke. I have referred her to a dietician to crack the whip.

9. This man is a 73 year old engineer, still working, is doing fine after a long episode of lower back pain. Some pain on the side of the hip remains after five treatments. I reassured him it's not hip arthritis.

10. A 64 year old woman has had scheuermanns disease; it's left her with a spinal kyphosis and chronic middorsal pain. She responds well to chiropractic treatment provides she come every six weeks or so for maintenance treatment.

11. Mr C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It's a non complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she's doing well.

12. Mrs D, a middle aged woman with hip pain of one year duration, despite other treatment. Xrays reveal an impingement syndrome and early hip arthritis. There's much to be done.

13. Both Mrs E and I can't believe how much better her lower back and leg pain are. Surgery for a scoliosis and spondylolysthesis three years ago helped greatly for one year. But then her leg went lame and weak. He was responded extremely well despite all expectations.

And so the day goes; chiropractors shouldn't be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that's so much bunkum.



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Interesting questions from visitors

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