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What are Burners and Stingers?
The terms “burner” and “stinger” are used interchangeably to refer to the sensation of burning pain radiating or spreading from the neck and shoulder down to the hand. These injuries are most commonly experienced by football players, but other athletes such as hockey players, wrestlers, lacrosse players, gymnasts and even divers may also have these symptoms.
A burner happens when nerves in the neck or shoulder area have sustained an injury. This can happen when the shoulder is pushed backward or the head and neck is forcibly pushed to the side. The burning or stinging sensation may also have a “pins and needles” type of feeling, and can be accompanied by numbness, reduced range of motion of the head, neck, shoulder, arm or hand, or the inability to lift or hold something.
In many cases, the symptoms are only temporary and self-resolving. However, in cases where the causal injury is repeated, the problem becomes recurrent and will usually lead to a chronic health issue.
Evaluation, Treatment and Prevention
“A survey of college football players found that 65 percent of players had at least one burner in their college careers, but 70 percent of these athletes did not report the injury to anyone (Kuhlman and McKeag).”
Without proper medical treatment, it is even more likely that recurrences and further, irreversible nerve damage can occur.
“Athletes with a burner should be evaluated by a physician and should not return to their sport until they have fully recovered. A single burner or the effects of recurrent burners can lead to permanent neurologic damage. Nerves that have been injured are more susceptible to injury ... burners can easily be confused with other neck injuries." (healthychildren.org)
For many athletes, treatment for burners will involve rest. Athletes must refrain from playing until all of the symptoms are gone, regardless of whether they last a few seconds or a few weeks. Treatment will also involve application of ice packs to the area for at least 20 minutes at a time, three to four times a day for the first 48 to 72 hours following the initial injury.