Sports Rehabilitation for Cervical Burners and Stingers


Sports rehabilitation for cervical burners or stingers is most commonly found  in sports with direct impact such as football. Another more technical name for this injury is brachial plexus injury.

From an anatomy stand point the brachial plexus is a group of nerves emerging from the neck that form roots and then join together to form trunks.This forms the brachial plexus structure.

brachial plexusThis group of nerves start from the neck, travel under the collar bone and armpit and finally feed the upper extremity. The major nerves of the arm (radial, ulnar and median) have their origins from the brachial plexus.

In this article I will discuss the causes, symptoms, sports rehabilitation and prevention of this type of injury.

Causes of Cervical Burners or Stingers

When a football player takes a hard hit on the top of the shoulder forcing it downward;  while at the same time the head goes to the opposite direction. This impact and compressive  force will stretch the nerve bundle resulting in the injury. This can easily happen while tackling or blocking. You will also find this injury in wrestlers, gymnastics, skiing and martial arts. Any athlete with a narrow cervical spine will definitely be prone to this injury.

Symptoms of Cervical Burners or Stingers

The characteristic symptom of this injury is a burning or stinging sensation between the neck and shoulder. Pain will start at the shoulder and travel downward  the arm to the hand. Coinciding with pain throughout the arm is a feeling of numbness, tingling and weakness. Athletes sometimes express that the involved  arm feels “dead”.

Diagnosis of Cervical Burners or Stingers

Doctors take a history and perform a physical examination to test reflexes, sensation and strength on the involved side. A physician can tell from the exam if this injury has occurred however to pinpoint the extent of the injury and area, further tests must be performed. These tests include X-rays, MRI and Electromyographic studies.

Sports Rehabilitation for Cervical Burners or Stingers

collarIf the athlete sustains the injury on the playing field the neck should be placed in a protective collar before being moved. This should be worn until a physician is consulted. Usually the doctor will provide a soft cervical collar and recommend rest and gentle shoulder range of motion exercises.

If symptoms do not resolve in a few days then sports rehabilitation should be started. The physical therapist will use modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation and cold laser to decrease inflammation, reduce the neck spasms (upper trapezius) and accelerate healing. Massage of the tense musculature is always soothing to the athlete. The sports rehabilitation specialist will supervise you on cervical range of motion exercises and how to properly strengthen the involved upper extremity. The physical therapist will demonstrate posture exercises that take stress off the cervical spine.

These injuries do resolve in time and with proper treatment but the athlete should not return to activity until the symptoms are completely gone. That means the athlete should have regained full neck mobility and restored the strength in the involved arm. Because this injury involves nerves it is always best to ask questions of your sports rehabilitation specialist.

Prevention of Cervical Burners or Stingers

fb-equip-falcons-32Many football players wear extra padding, special shoulder pads or neck rolls to avoid this injury. Equipment must be properly fitted and in good shape. Most important the athlete should perform daily stretching of the neck and shoulder regions. A football player should definitely avoid head tackling.