Stingers and Burners (Brachial Plexopathy)

Stingers and Burners

Stingers and burners is another name for brachial plexopathy. Nerve compression following a neck impact causes stinging or burning sensations in the neck and arm.


Stingers and burners symptoms

Stingers and burners (Brachial plexopathy) occur after a traumatic impact to the neck. Symptoms consist of:

  • Burning pain or electric shock sensation in neck, arm and hand
  • Sensation usually lasts only seconds or a minute or two
  • A warm feeling in the arm
  • Weakness or numbness after the initial pain subsides

Stingers and burners can range from mild where the pain lasts for a few minutes, up to very severe injuries. With any neck injury, it is important to rule out more serious conditions such as:

  • Neck fractures
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Blood vessels damage
  • Brain injury including concussion

If you suspect any of the above then stop playing immediately.

What is Brachial plexopathy?

Brachial plexopathy is a form of peripheral neuropathy (nerve injury affecting the arms or legs). Specifically it is injury to the Brachial plexus nerves.

Causes & anatomy

The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves which exit the spinal column between the C5 and T1 vertebrae, and then down into the shoulder, arm and into the hand.

The injury usually occurs when the head is forced to the side as the shoulder is moves downwards. For example, during a tackle or a fall onto your shoulder or head. This causes a traction injury to either the nerve routes in the neck, or the brachial plexus.

Another mechanism of injury is from compression from a direct blow to the nerves in the brachial plexus.

Treatment for stingers and burners

Immediate treatment for a brachial plexus injury is to stop playing or training until symptoms of numbness, weakness, stinging or burning sensations have gone. This may be only a few minutes, or it may mean avoiding all physical contact sports for a longer period of time.

If symptoms persist for longer than 2 days, visit a Doctor. Usually, an examination and discussion of the injury are all that is needed for a diagnosis but where symptoms are more long-lasting or severe, MRI, CT scans or nerve conduction studies may be required.

For those with recurrent stingers or burners, elevated shoulder pads or a neck roll may be recommended to prevent over-stretching and impact to the area.

For patients with recurrent stingers and burners, a gentle exercise program can begin as soon as symptoms allow, but all activities which trigger symptoms should be avoided. Be patient! Nerve injuries sometimes just need a period of rest in order to recover and no amount of exercise will speed up the healing process.


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