A “stinger” or “burner” is a common transient injury that occurs in contact sports such as football. The injury occurs from stretching the upper trunk of the brachial plexus or compression of the C5-C6 nerve root.
Stretching of the brachial plexus is the mechanism of injury typically seen in high school aged athletes suffering from this condition. This injury occurs from a direct blow, causing the shoulder to be depressed and forcing the neck into lateral flexion, causing the neck to bend toward the opposite side.
Compression of the nerve root is the basis of injury most often associated with older athletes. It is not a cervical cord injury and it is not a transient quadriplegia.
The patient will complain of burning pain, numbness, and weakness with painful symptoms starting above the shoulder, going down to the arm. Symptoms will begin immediately after the trauma occurs and can last from several minutes up to several weeks after the accident, but they will usually resolve themselves. A stinger or burner is a transient, intensely painful nerve injury that may result in time loss from competition.
When the injury occurs, the athlete should stop participating in sports until full recovery of strength, sensation, and pain-free range of motion is reestablished to the cervical spine. Treatment consists of alternating between ice and heat, anti-inflammatory medications, and rehabilitation exercises. An MRI may be necessary to rule out a herniated disc. Surgery is usually not necessary for a Stinger/Burner injury.