Burners and Stingers
Burners and stingers are common injuries in contact or collision sports. A burner or a stinger is an injury to the nerve supply of the upper arm, either at the neck or shoulder. The injury is named for the stinging or burning pain that spreads from the shoulder to the hand. This can feel like an electric shock or lightening bolt down the arm.
In most cases, burners and stingers are temporary and symptoms quickly go away.
Cause & Symptoms
An injury to the brachial plexus can cause a burner or stinger. This often happens when the head is forcefully pushed sideways and down. This bends the neck and pinches the surrounding nerves.
Contact sports. Athletes who engage in contact sports are more likely to suffer a burner or stinger. In fact, up to 70 percent of all college football players report having experienced a burner or stinger during their 4-year careers.
Burners and stingers often occur with a fall onto the head, such as in a wrestling takedown or a football tackle. In fact, tackling or blocking in American football is the athletic activity that most often causes burners or stingers. Football defensive players and linemen frequently suffer this injury.
Spinal stenosis. In addition to playing contact sports, a small spinal canal may put you at greater risk for a burner or stinger. Athletes with recurrent stingers or burners may have smaller spinal canals than players who do not suffer recurrent injury. This condition is called spinal stenosis.
Burner and stinger symptoms typically occur in one arm only. They usually last seconds to minutes, but in 5% to 10 % of cases, they can last hours, days, or even longer. The most common symptoms of a burner or stinger include:
A burning or electric shock sensation
Arm numbness and weakness immediately following the injury
A warm sensation
In order to determine whether your injury is a burner or stinger, your doctor will discuss your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Imaging tests, such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and nerve studies are not usually needed.
A more extensive examination is needed if you have any of the following symptoms:
Weakness lasting more than several days
Symptoms in both arms
History of recurrent stingers/burners
Great Lakes Physical Therapy
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