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Burners and Stingers

What is a burner or stinger? 

Burner_&_Stinger_PictWhen the bundle of nerves (brachial plexus) that run from the back of your neck into your arm is stretched or pinched, you can get “burners” and “stingers”.

How does it occur?

A stinger is almost always seen in contact sports when the head and neck are forcibly moved or hit to one side, stretching the bundle of nerves on the opposite side. Sometimes when the head and neck are forcibly pushed to one side there is compression of the nerves on the same side.  The stretching or compression irritates the nerves causing symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The athlete will feel instant sharp pain or “electric shocks” from his shoulder down into his arm to the fingertips.  His arm may feel numb or too weak to lift from his side.  Usually “burners” and “stingers” resolve within several minutes.

How is it diagnosed?

The medical staff will ask about the athlete’s symptoms and examine his head, neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. Pushing down on the athlete’s head or turning it to the side may worsen or reproduce the sharp, burning pain.  Xrays, CT scans and MRI scans may be necessary for further evaluation depending on the athletes symptoms and exam.  Further tests by a specialist to study the nerves are occassionally obtained.

How is it treated?

Treating an athlete with a stinger includes resting until symptom free, icing the affected area, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy for the neck and surrounding muscles.

When can an athlete return to sport?

Return to sport will be determined by how soon your nerves recover.  The athlete must be symptom free with full strength, motion, and sensation on his exam.  The time to recover varies from athlete to athlete.

How can a stinger be prevented?

Proper tackling and blocking technique is very important in preventing these injuries.  Strengthening the neck muscles can also reduce stingers and burners.  Occassionally, football players will wear specialized equipment such as cowboy collars to help prevent stingers.