Playing contact sports can provide a hearty workout. They can also be an excellent way to get yourself a burner. This is an injury that affects the brachial plexus, a network of nerves running from your neck to your shoulder, arm and hand. The brachial plexus has its origin in the spinal cord and controls movement and feeling in the shoulder, arm and hand.
A burner (also called a stinger) can occur playing football or while wrestling, for instance. If you're hit above the collarbone, this can produce undue pressure on the nerves in that area. If your shoulder is forced one way and your head another, nerves in your neck and shoulder can be stretched. If your head twists suddenly to the side, nerves can be pinched.
As the name suggests, this type of injury will bring on a burning or stinging sensation in your shoulder and neck and possibly your arm as well.
You may feel tingling, numbness or weakness, or shooting pain on one side, but not both. Burners only happen on one side, so if your injury extends to both arms or shoulders, or sides of the neck, your doctor needs to check for more serious injury.
Any neck injury can be a sign of spinal column or spinal cord damage. Your doctor may want X-rays or an electromyogram (EMG) to ascertain whether the damage is more serious than a burner.
Fortunately burners are not dangerous injuries. They will usually heal on their own. Some may only last minutes, though others may take days or weeks for recovery. Some may warrant physical therapy to rebuild strength in the muscles as the nerve heals.
Recurring burners can cause chronic nerve problems. Daily stretching exercises will help make you less susceptible to these injuries. And in a sport such as football, be sure to wear adequate neck protection and other safety gear.
Until the pain, numbness, tingling or weakness is gone, don't take part in contact sports or other heavy physical exercise. Make sure you have full, pain-free movement back in your neck, shoulder, arm and hand, and that your strength has returned completely. This will reduce the risk of re-injury.