Another MLB Player to Undergo Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Surgery?

Doctors, medical resources, health classes, and moms agree: exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body and health. It helps manage some chronic conditions, and reduces the chance of others.

There’s a flip side to this universally known truth though. Many of the people who exercise the most, who make a career out of physical fitness, may also be the most vulnerable when it comes to developing certain rare conditions.

About a month ago, Andy Green, the Padres manager, announced that reliever Carter Capps will undergo surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is the term for a set of disorders which are caused by the compression, irritation, or injury of blood vessels and nerves in the neck and chest area. The abnormal compression can be caused by the first rib, or by repetitive stress, injury, weightlifting, or posture. To read more about TOS, click here.
Baseball players, as well as other athletes, have unusually high rates of this relatively rare disorder. The nerves and vessels in the thoracic outlet compress when you lift your arms above your head, which is troubling news for pitchers.

Capps will be in good company. New York Mets Matt Harvey also made the news recently when he underwent the same surgery. There’s a strong history of TOS even in Capp’s own team. Former Padre, Tyson Ross, also went through TOS surgery last year. He still has not fully recovered. While he was hopeful to play for the Padres again, he was not offered a contract by the Padres this year. Instead, he ended up signing with the Texas Rangers, and was released recently due to his poor health. However, while Ross is an example of a poor outcome, other players have fared better. Padres pitcher Clayton Richard also had to take a break from baseball while he underwent the same surgery. He recovered and came back to the team just six months later.

The timing for Capps feels poor. He had only recently returned to the game after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair an ulnar tear. Fans saw him play just eleven more times, before a new pain forced him to leave again. Capp had to leave last season early because of blood clots, which doctors believe were caused by his thoracic outlet syndrome.
The manager, Green, says the odds are better this time. Although Ross and Capps had the same condition, it manifested differently. The surgery will be less invasive than it was for Ross. Beyond TOS, Capp’s health and shoulder are generally in good shape. The team hopes he will be ready to return in the spring.

It’s up to Carter Capps, his team, manager, family, and doctors to decide how to proceed after the surgery. They will monitor his progress, and make an informed decision after weighing the risks and the rewards of returning to a physically demanding job.

Most of us aren’t professional athletes, but this is still a story to keep in mind. It’s absolutely important for us to keep exercising, but also to be mindful about the way that we do it. It’s essential that we listen to our bodies in physically challenging activities, take note of what hurts, and balance exertion with rest and care.


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