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Burners and Stingers

Burners and stingers are common neck or shoulder injuries characterised by intense burning or stinging pain which can radiate from the neck to the hand. They are caused by sudden movement or a direct blow to the neck resulting in an injury to the brachial plexus. This injury is commonly seen in contact sports such as AFL, rugby, wrestling or a fall from a motorcycle. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves which pass from the neck to the arm that transmit the sensory and motor sensations of the arm. The compression or pinching of the brachial plexus results in pain. It usually lasts for a short period of time after which the symptoms resolve.  It may also be associated with numbness or weakness of the affected arm. In a few cases, it may last for a longer duration of time. People with a narrow spinal canal (spinal stenosis) are at an increased risk of recurrent burners and stingers.

The diagnosis of burners and stingers is usually made based on symptoms and the nature of injury; imaging studies are not usually required. Most of these resolve without any treatment. However, in a few patients, the symptoms may persist longer. In such cases as well as in those with recurrent burners and stingers, immediate medical attention is required to check for any other significant injury. Physiotherapy can also be considered in these patients.

Athletes should ensure complete recovery from burners and stingers before their return to active sports as the risk of re-injury is very high.

Correct use of protective gear and proper sports technique may help prevent such injuries.