What are burners and stingers?

Burners and stingers are considered as common injuries during contact or collision sports. This is basically an injury to the nerve supply of the upper arm either in the shoulder or neck. The injury is named for its distinctive burning or stinging pain that spreads from the shoulder to the hand. It is similar to an electric shock or lightning bolt that radiates down the arm. In most circumstances, burners and stingers are only momentary and the symptoms typically subside after some time.

What is the cause?

Any injury to the brachial plexus can lead to a burner or stinger. This usually occurs once the head is pushed forcefully sideways and down. This will bend the neck and pinches the surrounding nerves.

What are the risk factors?

Those who engage in contact sports face a higher risk to suffer from burners or stingers. In reality, many football players experience a burner or stinger during their career.

Burners and stingers
Burners and stingers usually occur in just one arm and can last seconds up to minutes.

Burners or stingers often occur if an individual falls onto his/her head such as during a football tackle or wrestling match. In fact, blocking or tackling in football typically causes burners or stingers.

Aside from engaging contact sports, having a small-sized spinal canal can put an individual at higher risk for developing burner or stinger. Those who play sports who experience recurrent burners or stingers might have small-sized spinal canals than those who do not experience recurrent injury. Take note that this condition is known as spinal stenosis.

What are the symptoms?

When an individual falls, the nerves are stretched out when he/she endures a direct blow on the top part of the shoulder, causing the neck to thrust one way while the arm is driven the other way.

Burners and stingers usually occur in just one arm and can last seconds up to minutes. On the other hand, some cases can last for hours, days or even longer. The most common symptoms typically include the following:

  • A burning sensation or similar to an electric shock
  • Warm sensation
  • Numbness and weakness of the arm right after injury

Diagnosing burners and stingers

When assessing if an individual sustained a burner or stinger, the doctor will discuss the symptoms and how the injury occurred. The imaging tests that are usually carried out include an X-ray and MRI. Nerve studies are not usually needed anymore.

A thorough examination is required if the individual has the following symptoms:

  • Neck pain
  • Weakness that lasts for more than several days
  • History of recurrent burners and stingers
  • Symptoms involving both arms

Treatment for burners and stingers

The treatment typically starts by preventing further injury. The individual is not allowed to engage in sports or any activity until the symptoms are completely gone. This usually takes a few minutes or several days. The individual must not be allowed to resume sports if he/she experiences neck pain or weakness. If you want to learn measures to properly manage this condition, read here.

In case of recurrent stingers, the doctor might recommend a specialized neck roll or elevated shoulder padding to be used during activity. Even though the injury gets better over time, the individual must work with a therapist or trainer to restore strength and motion if the symptoms last for several days.

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