Up to 70 percent of all college football players report having at least one burner or stinger over the course of their collegiate playing years. Burners and stingers can be sustained with an abrupt fall onto the head, such as in wrestling or tackle football, or perhaps in chasing that one woman down to grab that last blouse on sale on the rack at Macy’s. (I am not sure as to the actual statistics on this one, but having witnessed the last “sale of the year” at my local Macy’s, I’m confident it is pretty high).
In addition to the risk of playing contact sports, a burner or stinger may be more likely to occur in one who has a small spinal canal, a condition known as spinal stenosis.
The symptoms of burners and stingers usually occur in just one arm. They can last from mere seconds to several minutes. In a small percentage of cases, roughly five to ten percent, these can last for hours, days, or even longer. The most common symptoms include a burning or sense of electrical shock in the arm. The arm may become numb and weak immediately after injury to the area. The affected area may also feel warm.
If the weakness last more than several days and is accompanied by neck pain or symptoms in both arms, a more extensive examination by a physician may be needed. However, for the shorter-lasting episodes, imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, and nerve studies are usually not necessary. (A credit report check, however, might not be a bad idea at this time.)
After experiencing a burner or a stinger, it is wise to avoid getting back into the game until the symptoms are completely gone. This may mean waiting just a few minutes or sitting the entire game out. (Unless, of course, that sale at Macy’s ends today and you have money burning a hole in your pocket. In that case, get back in there and play your heart out). An athlete should never return to the game if he or she is experiencing any weakness in the arm or associated neck pain.
If an athlete experiences burners and stingers on a frequent basis, the doctor may advise using a special neck roll or elevated shoulder pads during sporting events.