Have you ever had a burning or stinging sensation in your neck, shoulder or arm after a fall or collision with a person or object? If so, you’ve likely suffered what’s known as a burner or stinger. These injuries were named after the symptoms that are often felt when they develop, and while many of these injuries are momentary in nature, some of them can cause significant pain and may require active treatment from a professional. We take a closer look at burner and stinger injuries in today’s blog.
The Anatomy of a Stinger
Your neck and shoulders are home to a network of nerves that help relay vital messages to your brain and muscles. There is a specific nerve network in this area called the brachial plexus, and all of the nerves that run to your arms pass through this plexus. A burner or stinger injury involves damage or compression to this network of nerves. Oftentimes it happens when your head is forcefully pushed sideways or down, as this movement and impact can pinch nerves in the brachial plexus.
As you might have guessed, contact sports are one of the most common risk factors for the onset of a burner or stinger injury. Wrestlers performing takedowns and football players going for a tackle are especially susceptible to stinger development, but athletic activity isn’t the only reason for their onset. If you have spinal stenosis, which involves a narrowing of your spinal canal, much more innocuous movements can trigger the burning sensation.
Symptoms of a burner or stinger include:
- A burning or electrical shocking sensation in one arm or shoulder
- Arm numbness or weakness
- A warming or tingling sensation
- Pain or discomfort in the affected area
Sometimes the symptoms of a stinger only last a few seconds, but sometimes the trauma to the nerve causes symptoms to last minutes, hours, days or even longer. Patients with symptoms that last more than a day or two should consider visiting a specialist.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A neurospecialist can take a closer look at your medical history and your physical limitation during an exam to help come up with a diagnosis. Along with asking about your symptoms, your doctor may also perform some manipulation exercises to see if certain movements compress nerves in the region. Imaging tests are not usually needed, but they could be used to help rule out other injuries
Treatment involves giving the nerves and the area time to heal, so athletes will be asked to step away from their sport for a little while. Most doctors will not allow athletes to return to sport until the injury is fully healed. Although these injuries are less serious than a concussion, they are often managed in a similar way. Patients should be completely symptom free before returning to sport, because returning too soon can expose you to significant injury if you suffer another hit when the area is still recovering.
Aside from time away from sport, some other helpful treatment strategies include:
- Over-the-counter NSAIDs to help with discomfort
- Cold packs
- Physical therapy and stretching exercises to help regain strength and range of motion
Surgery is not necessary for stingers, unless it is coupled with more severe trauma. Most patients make a full recovery within days or weeks by following the above strategies. For more information, or to talk to a neurospecialist about your neck, shoulder or spine pain, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office today.