Nerve stretch injury, commonly called a burner or stinger, is compression or traction of the upper trunk of the brachial plexus or fifth and sixth cervical nerve roots. The most common population to receive this type of injury is people involved in sports. Nerve stretch injury is commonly reported in football players, wrestlers, gymnasts and hockey players.
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For less severe nerve stretch injuries, you may experience an electric shock or burning sensation shooting down your arm. You may also have some numbness and weakness in your arm. For more severe injuries, you may experience increased severity of the symptoms already listed as well as an ability to move your fingers, but weakness throughout the rest of the arm; the ability to use your arm, but not your fingers; a complete lack of feeling in your arm; and severe pain.
A thorough history should be taken by your health care provider following a nerve stretch injury. Inspection of the area should be conducted next, noting any decrease in muscle tone and asymmetry between right and left. As soon as cervical spine instability has been ruled out, range of motion and orthopedic tests for the neck and shoulder will be performed by your doctor. Diagnostic tests may be conducted next, including electrodiagnostic tests and imaging on neck and shoulder.
Once it is determined that you do have a nerve stretch injury, there are several avenues of treatment to consider. Your doctor may prescribe opiates such as codeine for pain control immediately following evaluation. A referral to a physical therapist may accompany your prescription. The physical therapist will first try to establish pain-free ranges of motion of both the shoulder and neck. Moving on to more sports-specific exercises and education on proper posture and prevention will follow.
Return to Play
Frequent reexamination of your nerve stretch injury is very important. If symptoms decrease or go away during the course of play, you may be able to return to the sport. If symptoms return during the game, you should not play. The differences between right and left shoulders, arms and neck should be evaluated continuously, as well as the fit of any sports-specific equipment. You may return to play when a health care provider determines full, pain-free range of motion.