One of the most common injuries in football is called a burner, also known as a stinger—an injury to the nerve of the upper arm. This injury earns its name because it causes a stinging or burning sensation that radiates from the shoulder to the hand. The sensation is often described as an electric shock or lightening bolt that shoots down the arm, starting at the neck or shoulder. If you or your child plays football, it’s important to know the cause of burners and stingers and how they can be prevented.
- Cause: While football players are most likely to experience burners or stingers, any athlete who plays a high contact or collision sport is at risk. The injury usually occurs when the head is forced sideways and then down, pinching the nerves that surround the neck. Statistically speaking, as much as 70% of college football players claim they have experienced a burner or stinger during their four-year career.
- Symptoms: Most often, symptoms of this injury only occur in one arm, with symptoms lasting seconds to minutes. However, some athletes report symptoms lasting for days. Athletes who suffer from a burner or stinger injury usually experience a burning or electric-shock feeling, coupled with immediate arm numbness and weakness. A warm sensation often accompanies these symptoms.
- Diagnosis: If you suspect you or your child may have a burner or stinger, the athlete should see a doctor to determine exactly what the injury is. A doctor will usually order an X-ray or an MRI—however, more extensive exams may be required if the patient is experiencing neck pain, symptoms in both arms, ongoing weakness or recurring stingers/burners.
- Treatment: When an athlete suffers a stinger or a burner, it is recommended they stay away from sports activities until symptoms have fully subsided. This can vary from several minutes to several days. If the patient is suffering from neck pain or weakness, they should not return to the game at all. Most of the time, these injuries improve on their own. However, if the athlete experiences recurring stingers, they may need to wear a special neck roll or shoulder pads when they play sports.
While a burner or stinger is generally a harmless short-term injury, it is important that the athlete see a doctor to rule out any additional injuries. A trainer or therapist may be able to help the athlete regain their strength and motion if symptoms persist for more than a day or two.