Stinger/Burner (Brachial Plexus Injury)

What is a stinger or burner?

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. A stinger is also called a brachial plexus injury.

What is the cause?

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 injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time until the pain goes away.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, 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.

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help 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.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Copyright ©2014 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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