Burners and Stingers (Spine)

Burners and Stingers (Spine)

What are Burners and Stingers?

Burners and Stingers are a common injury that typically affects athletes and exercise enthusiasts, but it can happen to anyone. The term “Burners and Stingers” refers to the electric shock sensation that often acutely fires in the neck and permeates down the shoulder and arm.

There are several nerves in the neck that send signals from the spinal cord to the brain; in the case of Burners and Stingers, a bundle of cords and nerves called the brachial plexus lies at the side of the neck. When the head is pushed or positioned quickly in a side or down motion with the opposite arm down and away, it can trigger an electrical pulse sensation due to a sharp pinching of the nerves. It’s common to hear about football stingers when the players (typically linemen) are tackled, and the shoulder is forced down in one direction while the head is in the opposing position.

Burners and stingers stretch, pull or tear the brachial plexus nerve bundle from the spinal cord, causing severe burning sensations and pain that are commonly short-lived. These sensations usually dissipate rather quickly in seconds or minutes, but sometimes the pain can last for days, weeks, or longer. The longer recovery time is usually associated with narrowed discs or spinal stenosis, which often occurs in athletes, active individuals, or those with repetitive jarring neck and motions, such as dancers, and gymnasts. If spinal stenosis is the cause, Burners and Stingers can often recur. 

At Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine, we take our time with each patient to listen and present options that are customized to their specific needs.

Shoulder Stingers and Burners Injury Treatment 

Burners and stingers risk factors

Sports in general, especially collision and contact sports, can intensify and raise the level of risk for Burners and stingers. Both children and adults are at risk and should be properly educated on how to protect themselves by not leading with the head and by also wearing protective gear. However, some people may be more susceptible to this condition due to past trauma, injury, or accidents. It can be acute (Stage 1), chronic (Stage 2), or terminal (Stage 3-can lead to permanent weakness and pain).

Symptoms of Burners and Stingers

The symptoms of Burners and Stingers are usually a sudden onset of burning or electrical impulses that radiate from the neck, down the shoulder, and into the arm. It is often difficult to move after the onset, and many people experience severe cramping sensations in the area as well. These symptoms typically last for a few minutes max, but sometimes the pain and weakness can linger for a more extended period of time.

Burners and Stingers Treatment

The first line of treatment is to remove the tension or position that caused the problem to happen. Ice can be applied for the first few days to relieve inflammation. Ice should be used for 15 minutes on and 15 off several times throughout the day. It’s imperative that you do not return to sports or exercise for several days after the injury or longer, depending on what your physician recommends. 

When you do return to normal activities in sports, wearing protective gear like spider pads or a neck roll is essential to prevent future Burners and Stingers. Improving the strength of the surrounding neck muscles is also beneficial to avoid reinjury, as is improving posture and properly warming up the neck and shoulder muscles.

How Are Burners Diagnosed?

Shoulder injuries are often challenging to diagnose. Getting a proper examination from a board-certified orthopedic surgeon is critical for getting an accurate diagnosis. If your symptoms linger for days, such as weakness, pain, instability, and neck pain, getting an x-ray, CT scan or MRI will most likely be recommended. These in-depth tests will show intricate soft tissue and bone details.

Burners Stinger Symptoms 

  • Tingling

Pins and needle sensations, which can permeate from the neck, shoulder, arm, and into the hand, are what’s referred to as tingling.

  • Stinging

The stinging sensation is usually from stretching or tearing of the brachial plexus nerve bundle. The perception of stinging feels like a jabbing sensation that stings from deep within the neck and nerves.

  • Burning pain

The burning feeling so often described is a deep heat that coincides with the stinging sensation.

  • Weakness in the arm

Weakness in the arm occurs when the brachial plexus nerves are stretched out of the C5 region of the spine. This causes a limp, “dead” feeling to the arm. Often you will see football players head to the sideline with a limp arm during a Burner and Stinger episode.

Physical Therapy for Burners and Stingers 

Burners and Stingers usually subside over a few days, but for those that have lasting pain and weakness, physical therapy is critical to help stretch, strengthen, and improve range of motion and limit the risk of reinjury. 

To help restore the natural functionality of the nerves and surrounding muscles, TENS units, biofeedback, electrical nerve stimulation, and stretching and strengthening exercises are often implemented. 

Some of these exercises and stretches include the following:

  1. Flexion Arm Raise

Standing with feet hip-distance apart, gently raise your arm in front of the body to shoulder height or to the point of maximum comfort level.  Follow this exercise with the Extension Arm Return (below). Repeat these 10 to 20 times.

  1. Extension Arm Return

Standing with feet hip-distance apart, gently return your arm from the flexion position. Alternate between these two positions 10 to 20 times. 

  1. Abduction Arm Raise

Standing with feet hip-distance apart, gently raise your arm out the side to shoulder height or to the point of maximum comfort level. Follow this exercise with the Adduction Arm Return (below). Follow this exercise with the Adduction Arm Return. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

  1. Adduction Arm Return

Standing with feet hip-distance apart, gently return your arm from the abduction position back to your side. Alternate between these two positions 10 to 20 times. 

  1. External Rotation

Standing in a neutral position, hold a lightweight stick or cane, such as a yardstick, in front of your torso. Grasp one end of the stick and cup the other end. Gently pass the stick back and forth from side to side in front of your torso, keeping your elbows in towards your body and the rest of your body still. Hold each push and pull for 20 to 30 seconds. Do not over-stretch to the point of pain. 

  1. Internal rotation

Standing in a neutral position, hold a lightweight stick or cane, such as a yardstick, behind you near your lower spine or top of the buttocks. Grasp one end of the stick and cup the other end or hold it where it is most comfortable. Gently pass the stick back and forth from side to side behind you in a horizontal motion. Allow one arm to extend out away from your body and keep the other elbow close to your side. Hold each push and pull for 20 to 30 seconds. Do not over-stretch to the point of pain. 

With decades of experience, at Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine all of our surgeons are board certified and fellowship trained. We offer you the best treatment options and care.

We provide excellent medical care in a warm, caring, comfortable environment, where patients are treated efficiently, effectively, and as if they were the only patient. Let us get you back in your game.

FAQ's

How do you treat Burners and Stingers?

The severity and duration of your condition will depend on your treatment and the need to see an orthopedic surgeon. It’s best to rest the area immediately, followed by ice methods. Ice should be applied as soon as possible and left on for 15 minutes and off for 15-minute intervals several times per day for the first few days to reduce inflammation. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can be taken to help tamp down the pain. If you are an athlete or exercise enthusiast, do not return to your normal activities until you are seen by a physician.

If your symptoms do not subside within a few days, getting an evaluation, examination, and possible diagnosis imaging with a board-certified orthopedic surgeon is critical to prevent further damage and to get you out of pain in a reasonable amount of time.

Are Burners and Stingers injuries serious?

Burners and Stingers are not typically serious injuries, and most are short-lived; however, if there is a tear in brachial plexus nerves or if it is torn from the spinal cord or associated with bone fractures or other injuries, it can be serious and require treatment or in some cases, more invasive procedures.

Can Burners and Stingers cause permanent damage?

Burners and Stingers usually don’t cause permanent damage, but they can in some cases. If you do not get a proper diagnosis or let your injury linger untreated for days, weeks, months, or longer, you might develop what’s known as chronic (Stage 2) or terminal (Stage 3) Burners and Stingers. Chronic conditions can be treated, but terminal can leave lasting or long-term weakness on the side of your injury. This is precisely why it’s critical to seek medical care.

How long does it take to recover from a stinger?

Stage 1 Burners and Stingers typically take one to two weeks for a full recovery. Stage 2 Burners and Stingers take approximately two weeks to several months. Stage 3 Burners and Stingers last for at least one year and show little signs of improvement long term. 

Focusing On You

As healthcare is ever changing, Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine, is doing things differently…

  • About Christopher R. Sforzo, M.D. Christopher R. Sforzo, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and fellowship trained in hand and upper extremity surgery. He provides expert care in the treatment of problems involving the shoulder, arm, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand. He performs many procedures using mini
  • About Christopher L. Dillingham, M.D. Christopher L. Dillingham, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and fellowship trained in hand, shoulder, and arm surgery. He specializes in the treatment of problems with rotator cuff disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome and nerve injury, joint replacement, arthritis sur
  • About Charles E. Stewart, M.D. Charles E. Stewart M.D. is a board-certified, Johns Hopkins fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in adult complex reconstruction of the lower extremity.  His specialties include lower extremity sports injuries, meniscal injuries, ACL reconstruction, partial knee replacement,
  • About Philip A. Meinhardt, M.D. Philip A. Meinhardt, M.D. is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and fellowship trained spine surgeon. He specializes in adult spinal surgeries including reconstruction of spinal deformities, minimally invasive/microscopic spinal procedures, decompression, spinal instrumentation, fusion

Testimonial

After tearing my rotator cuff, not only was I experiencing pain but my quality of life was diminished. Playing golf and working out were painful rather than enjoyable. Graci and I sought out Fellowship trained Dr. Christopher Sforzo and the team at Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine. I was treated non-surgically and am now pain free, mobile and enjoying everything I did before.

- Dennis and Graci McGillicuddy

As avid golfers and tennis enthusiasts, our rotator cuff injuries left us in pain, and unable to enjoy our sport. In researching for the most qualified surgeons, we found that Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine not only had the highest level of training and experience, but they were also highly recommended by friends and associates who had excellent results. We, too, had outstanding…

- Mike Wilton, Bud Polley and Arnie Vance

I was visiting the area looking at property and considering a full time re-location from Minnesota when I was in a traffic accident. The result was a very painful shoulder injury that would ultimately require bilateral RTC repairs. I was unable to undertake regular day-to-day activities or participate in my favorite sport – tennis. It was essential that I choose a shoulder specialist that could quickly set…

- Pat Cooper
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Over the years we had seen several orthopedists in town but were never impressed. They seemed to lack knowledge or compassion or both. Then when Liza was in high school, she went to Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine for a minor sports injury. They not only diagnosed her somewhat obscure problem, but explained things in a way that she understood without being patronizing…

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As a very busy business owner in Sarasota, having not one, but two, massive rotator cuff tears had a debilitating effect on both my personal and professional life. From my first consultation with Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine, I knew I was in good hands. The surgeons are board-certified and fellowship-trained, which gave me the confidence in achieving a successful outcome. More importantly,…

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