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August 21, 2015

Football season is around the corner and the risk of stingers is common. These injuries are more prevalent in contact or collision sports.  A burner or stinger is an injury to the nerves that travel from your neck and down your arm. The injury is named for the electric shock or lightning bolt that can spread from the shoulder to the hand. In most cases the symptoms are temporary and will quickly go away.


Nerves come off the spinal cord and travel down from your neck to your arm. These nerves make your limbs and body move and have sensation. These groups of nerves are called the brachial plexus and these are nerves that are injured with a stinger.

How does it occur?

The injury often happens when the head is forcefully pushed sideways and down.  The nerves can be stretched or compressed.  This is seen during a football tackle or blocking incident. Football defensive players and linemen may suffer from this injury.

What are the symptoms?

The stingers are usually in one arm. They can last for seconds to minutes but in 5-10% of cases can last for hours or days. The most common symptoms are:

  • Burning or electric shock sensation down one arm
  • Arm weakness
  • A warm sensation or numbness down your arm

How is it treated?

Remove the athlete from the sporting activity until symptoms resolve. Rest your neck and arms, use ice on neck and shoulders, take an anti-inflammatory, do exercises to strengthen neck. Chronic stiff necks may be treated with massage, joint mobilizations, heat, muscle stimulation, dry needling.

How can I prevent a stinger?

Keep your neck muscles strong! Use good techniques in contact sports. Do not strike with your head when blocking or tackling.

When can I return to my sport or activity?

Returning to your sporting activity will depend on how soon your nerves recover. You must have full  range of motion of your neck, to be able to look fully over both shoulders, flex your neck forward until chin reaches chest, extend your head and move in the direction of ear to shoulders. If  any of these motions cause pain or burning into your neck or shoulder you are not ready to return to your sporting activity.

Make an appointment today at PRG to be instructed in strengthening exercises to cervical and thoracic spine to avoid injuries.

Melissa Langston MHSc, PT, MTC  Mt Pleasant SC

References: photo image from of brachial plexus injury.  The Sports Medicine Patient Advisor.  Pierre Rouzier 1999, pg 169-171.

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