Spinal Problems Neck Pain Cervical Burners Stingers

Cervical burners and stingers are minor injuries that affect one or more nerves between the neck and shoulder. Cervical burners and stingers are a common injury among people involved in contact sports, especially American football and wrestling.

The nerve roots that exit the spinal canal of the cervical spine (neck) form a bundle of nerves (the brachial plexus), which provides sensory and motor functions to the muscles of the arm. Cervical burners or stingers can occur where the nerve root exits the spinal canal or in the brachial plexus.

Cervical burners and stingers may be caused by:

  • A quick movement of the head to one side, pinching nerves on that side.
  • A direct hit to the area above the collarbone that presses on nerves.
  • A shoulder pushed down at the same time that the head is forced to the opposite side, causing excessive stretch on the nerves between the neck and shoulder.

Symptoms of Cervical Burners and Stingers

The most likely symptoms of a burner/stinger are a burning or electric shock sensation, or numbness and weakness in the arm. A burner or stinger happens on only one side at a time. Symptoms on both sides may indicate a serious neck injury, and spinal pain or back pain may indicate another type of damage.

Treatment of Cervical Burners and Stingers

When a burner or stinger injury occurs, athletes are usually removed from the sport until symptoms are gone. Some burners last only a few minutes. Others take several days or weeks to heal. Athletes can usually return to their sport when the pain is gone, and they have regained full range of motion, strength and normal sensation in the neck and arms. Sometimes medical clearance is required before returning to the field.

Most spine burners and stingers go away on their own with bed rest. Other possible treatments include ice packs on the neck or shoulders and anti-inflammatory medications. Treatment may also include massage therapy and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the neck muscles.

If cervical burners and stingers don’t go away after a few weeks, a doctor may conduct an electromyogram (EMG) to analyze the pattern of muscle injury and get a better idea of how long it will last.

Prevention of Cervical Burners and Stingers

Daily movement and stretching exercises can help prevent burners and stingers. Here is one helpful neck exercise that may help:

  1. Tilt your head up, down, left and right.
  2. Turn your head left and right to look over your shoulders.
  3. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds.

If you play football, wear extra neck protection. This will help to prevent cervical burners and stingers, as well as the pain that accompanies these injuries. Talk to your doctor if you have specific questions about neck pain.

Resources

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) Staff. (2007). Burners and stingers. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00027

Kuhlman, G.S. and McKreag, D.B. (2009). Burners. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/brain/head/478.html

Subach, B.R. and Walsh, M.C. (2009). Cervical sports injuries: The stinger. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/cervical-sports-injuries-stinger