With training underway for the fall high school football season, now is a good time to remind athletes and their parents of a common injury in contact and collision sports: burners and stingers.
The injury is named for the pain that radiates from the neck and shoulders to the hand. It feels like an electric shock or lightning bolt down the arm.
Its’ actually an injury to the brachial plexus, the tangle of nerves that provides feeling and movement to the arm. The brachial plexus starts as the cervical nerve roots, the large branches from the spinal cord that leave the neck through the vertebrae. It’s a common injury in football because it often happens when the head is pushed forcefully sideways or down, bending the neck in a manner that stretches the surrounding nerves.
In most cases, burners and stingers are temporary and symptoms can quickly go away in minutes, but in up to 10% of the cases, the symptoms can last hours, days or even longer.
Certainly, athletes with stingers and burners should not return to activity until their symptoms are completely gone, and most importantly, until their strength has returned to normal.
Don’t take a chance. If you or a child suffers a burner or stinger, schedule an appointment. The North Jersey Orthopaedic Clinic specializes in sports medicine.
We’ll discuss the symptoms. If necessary, we’ll do testing and a more extensive examination if you have weakness that lasted several days, neck pain, symptoms in both arms, or a history of reoccurring injury of this nature.
Interestingly, athletes with recurring stingers or burners may have a condition known as spinal stenosis, which is a smaller spinal canal than normal.
As a precaution, I have recommended some youth football players with this problem wear special shoulder pads or a “cowboy collar” worn on top of the shoulder pads. In some cases, I recommend strengthening exercise to help speed the return to play.