Burners/Stingers

Overview

In contact or collision sports, burners and stingers are very common injuries. The injury is named for the stinging or burning pain that spreads from the shoulder to the hand. It is often described as feeling like an electric shock or lightning bolt shooting down the arm, often with a warm sensation accompanying it.

 

What Causes Burners and Stingers?

When an athlete participates in a contact sport such as football or wrestling, they can take a hit in the top of the shoulder. This causes the neck to be driven one way and the arm another way. As the nerves stretch beyond their limits, they can become injured or irritated. The result is the characteristic burning or stinging feeling. Often, the source of the pain is the area in the body where the nerve root exits the spinal canal.

 

Symptoms

This type of injury affects the nerve supply of the upper limb, either at the neck or shoulder. In most cases, the injury is temporary and symptoms can be resolved quickly.

Symptoms include:

  • A sensation of burning or an electric shock.
  • A feeling of numbness in the arm immediately following the injury. Weakness is common.
  • Symptoms commonly occur in one arm only.
  • Symptoms can last seconds, even minutes. But in 5% to 10% of cases, they can last hours, days or even longer.

 

An orthopaedic surgeon will diagnose the condition based upon the history of the injury and symptoms present. X-rays, an MRI and other nerve studies are usually not required.

If the following symptoms are present, a more in-depth exam may be required.

  • Weakness lasting more than several days
  • Neck pain
  • Symptoms in both arms
  • A history of recurrent stingers/burners

 

Treatment

The first stage of treating a stinger or burner is to remove the athlete from the activity to prevent any further injury. Doctors at the FHCH Sports Medicine Program recommend that athletes not return until their symptoms are completely gone, whether that takes a few minutes or several days. If there is weakness or neck pain, the athlete should not be allowed back in at all.

Though the injury will get better with time, working with a trainer or a therapist can help strength and motion return more quickly, especially in cases where the symptoms have lasted for several days.

There are no surgical options for stingers or burners.

If you have questions about stingers or burners or want to make an appointment, please contact one of our Patient Care Coordinators and they'll be happy to assist you.