Shocking Burners and Stingers
Burners, also called stingers, are injuries that occur when nerves in the neck and shoulder are stretched or compressed after impact during contact or collision sports. They are named for the burning or stinging pain that spreads from the shoulder to the hand. A burner can feel like an electric shock or lightning bolt down the arm. Usually, burners are temporary and symptoms quickly go away. Nerves are like electrical cables that travel through the spinal canal carrying messages between the brain and muscles. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that branch out of the spinal canal at the neck and provide feeling and movement to the arm. When the head is forcefully pushed sideways and down, the neck bends and pinches the surrounding nerves, possibly injuring the brachial plexus and causing a burner. Athletes who engage in contact sports are more likely to suffer a burner. Burners in football are extremely common, with over 50% of all athletes reporting at least one episode occurring over the span of their career and some with repeated episodes. They are common in those who participate in wrestling, hockey, lacrosse, and diving. A small spinal canal, spinal stenosis, may put an athlete at greater risk for a burner.
The most common symptoms of a burner include:
- A burning or electric shock sensation
- Arm numbness and weakness immediately following the injury
- A warm sensation
Any athlete with a burner should be examined by a DOC orthopedic specialist and should not return to practice and play until the physician has determined that the athlete has full sensation, strength and neck motion. The main treatment for a burner is rest until the symptoms completely go away. DOC may recommend working with an athletic trainer or physical therapist to regain strength and motion. The best way to prevent a burner or stinger is for athletes to wear protective gear, use proper tackling techniques, and strengthen neck, back and shoulder muscles.
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