Cervical stenosis and cervical herniated disc treatment often includes neck traction as the treatment of choice for providing upper extremity and neck pain relief.  Although this type of treatment can be effective for neck conditions involving radiating symptoms into the upper back, shoulder, and arm, not all conditions with these symptoms respond to traction therapy.

Once such condition is thoracic outlet syndrome.  Thoracic outlet syndrome is the term to describe irritation of the nerve bundle that exits the neck and travels down the arm.  The condition is characterized by pain in the upper back and neck, headaches, and tingling sensations in the arm and hand. 

Factors leading to the onset of thoracic outlet syndrome are primarily related to tightness in 2 muscles attaching to the first rib and neck.  These 2 muscles, together with the first rib, form a triangle through which the nerves exiting the neck course.  When the muscles become tight, the first rib is pulled upward and creates a narrowing of the tunnel through which the nerve bundle travels.  As a result, any movement of the head and neck, upper back, or shoulder leads to increased friction and ultimately irritation of the nerve bundle itself. 

In this way, symptoms similar to stenosis or a cervical herniated disc are experienced.  Diagnosis made on just the description of symptoms, therefore, would not be accurate and, likewise, treatment such as cervical traction would not yield the appropriate pain relief.

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