A burner or stinger is a common injury in football. They occur when an athlete is hit in such a way that his neck extends and tilts, causing a stretch to one of the nerves as it exits the cervical spine. The player will notice an immediate burning pain that often goes down the arm into the hands and fingers.
Burners and stingers: Explanation of these nerve injuries
Tests for a burner or stinger
Examination by a sports medicine physician at the time of injury is critical to rule out a more significant injury. Often the player will tell the doctor that the pain has gone away almost immediately. Sometimes the symptoms will persist for several minutes before resolving. In addition to pain, the athlete might complain of tingling in the fingers or even numbness or weakness. The physician must perform a thorough neurologic exam, including sensation throughout the upper extremity and strength of all the muscle groups of the upper extremity. He or she must also thoroughly examine the neck for full range of motion and lack of pain. The symptoms must be completely resolved before he can return to play.
Return to play after a burner or stinger
If symptoms persist, the athlete is not allowed to return to the game, and it is advised that he seek medical evaluation. In addition to a thorough neurologic exam, x-rays of the cervical spine are usually performed. Occasionally an MRI is performed, especially if this has become a recurrent problem for the player or if the symptoms are not improving.