Burners and stingers are common neck or shoulder injuries characterized by intense burning or stinging pain which can radiate from the neck to the hand. They are caused by sudden movement or a direct blow to the neck resulting in an injury to the brachial plexus. This injury is commonly seen in contact sports such as football, ice hockey, wrestling, and rugby. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves which pass from the neck to the arm that transmit the sensory and motor sensations of the arm. The compression or pinching of the brachial plexus results in pain. It usually lasts for a short period of time after which the symptoms resolve. It may also be associated with numbness or weakness of the affected arm. In a few cases it may last for a longer duration of time. People with a narrow spinal canal (spinal stenosis) are at an increased risk of recurrent burners and stingers.
The diagnosis of burners and stingers is usually made on the basis of symptoms and the nature of injury; imaging studies are usually not required. Most of these resolve without any treatment. However, in a few patients the symptoms may persist longer. In such cases as well as in those with recurrent burners and stingers, immediate medical attention is required to check for any other significant injury. Physical therapy can also be considered in these patients.
Athletes should ensure complete recovery from burners and stingers before their return to active sports as the risk of re-injury is very high. Athletes with recurrent burners and stingers are advised to wear a special neck roll or elevated shoulder pads while playing. Spider pads or cowboy collar may also be recommended in a few cases.
Correct use of protective gear and proper sports technique help prevent such injuries.