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Brachial Plexus Injury (Stinger/Burner)

What is a stinger?

A stinger or burner is an injury to the group of nerves in your neck and arm. They branch off the spinal cord, go between the bones in your neck, and then into your shoulder. These nerves give your arm its ability to function. These are the nerves that are injured when you have a stinger.

How does it occur?

A stinger is common in contact sports, and happens in one of two ways: either the head and neck are forced toward the shoulder, which compresses the nerves that go from the spinal cord to that arm, or the head and neck are forced away from the shoulder, which stretches those nerves. The nerves become irritated as a result of being stretched or compressed.

What are the symptoms?

A stinger usually causes intense pain from the neck down to the arm. You may feel like your arm is on fire. You may have a "pins and needles" sensation. Your arm or hand may be weak. It is possible that you may not have any symptoms after a period of rest following your injury.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your head, neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. You may have a sensation of burning or tingling if he or she pushes down on your head or pushes your head to the side.

Your provider may do neck X-rays to be sure there is no damage to the vertebrae. If the injury is serious, he or she may do a CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Your provider may send you to a specialist for tests such as an electromyelogram (EMG) or nerve conduction studies (NCS).

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Rest your neck and arms until the pain and symptoms are gone
  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Follow your provider's instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

Chronic stiff neck muscles may be treated with heat, massage, or muscle stimulation.

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on how soon your nerves recover, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal is to return to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.

How can I prevent a stinger?

A stinger is best prevented by keeping the muscles in your neck strong. It is important to use good technique in contact sports such as football and not to strike with your head when blocking or tackling.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File inju4136.htm Release 13/2010

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