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What is Burner / Stinger Syndrome?

What is Burner / Stinger Syndrome?

Burners and stingers are common injuries amongst athletes who play contact or collision sports. The injury is most likely to occur when a sports athlete falls and receives a powerful blow to the neck or the shoulder region. Such an injury could also occur with any accident that creates a sudden type of stretch between the cervical spine and shoulder.

Because of the stinging or burning pain that spreads from the shoulder to the hand, this injury is named as the Burner / Stinger syndrome. The sensation goes like an electric shock down the arm. This syndrome is usually caused due to stretching of brachial plexus or nerve roots.Brachial plexus is a complex of nerves located in the lower neck and shoulder area. Burner or Stinger syndrome is a stretch or compression injury to the brachial plexus.

  • Symptoms:

Symptoms often include numbness and short-term paralysis of the arm. You may experience a burning or shocking sensation immediately following the injury. Clinical examination commonly reveals weakness near the neck, hand and shoulder region. Burner or Stinger symptoms typically occur in one arm and usually last from seconds to minutes. However, about 5% to 10% people have experienced the symptoms lasting for hours or even days after the injury.

  • Prevention:

It is not impossible for athletes to prevent injuries while playing their game on-field. However, learning about the different ways to prevent Burner or Stinger Syndrome is the best approach to avoid a series of pain and discomfort.

An athlete should always undergo proper warming-up and cooling-down sessions before and after the game. This helps in preparing the muscles for strenuous activities. Athletes or kids should be taught to recognize and respect signs of injury so that they know when to cease before the pain gets worse. Try to avoid landing directly on your shoulder or neck region after any collision. But even if you accidentally land on your shoulder or neck region, ensure that you distribute your body weight evenly to all parts of your body.

  • Treatment:

Athletes should not be involved in sports if they have been experiencing repetitive symptoms of stingers. They should adhere to to PRICE principle within 48 hours of the injury:

  • Protect: It is vital to protect the injured body part from any further damage. Wearing slings are beneficial as they hold your shoulder and neck steadily.

  • Rest: Provide adequate rest to the involved shoulder and arm.

  • Ice: To control muscle spasm and pain, ice the neck and shoulder muscles.

  • Compression: If there is swelling, compression using an elastic bandage may be useful.

  • Elevation: To decrease swelling, elevate your arm or shoulder.

After a few days of injury, the athlete should be restricted from undergoing strenuous exercises that require an extensive use of arms and shoulders. A physiotherapist can provide active assistance for performing neck and shoulder-related exercises. 
Cervical isometric exercises like flexion, extension, rotation and sidebending are simple exercises to increase strength in the neck muscles.