A “stinger” or “burner” is a neurological injury to the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that forms after the cervical segmental nerves exit the spine through the neuroforamen. Typically with a stinger or burner the upper part of this plexus gets stretched.
Stingers are the result of traction or compressive forces on the brachial plexus or cervical nerve roots. The usual mechanism of injury occurs when a direct blow or hard hit to the top of your shoulder pushes it down at the same time your head is forced to the opposite side. This force can be directed by the ground as well in a tackle or fall. In the process, the brachial plexus between the neck and shoulder gets stretched. The same injury can happen if a downward force hits the collarbone directly. This motion overstretches the nerves of the brachial plexus.
Burning or stinging feeling between the neck and shoulder is the hallmark finding in this condition along with specific, one-sided weakness. True neck pain is more likely to be an injury to the neck itself. With burners or stingers, the painful symptoms start above the shoulder and go down the arm and even into the hand. You may feel as if this area is tingling. Weakness may be present at the time of the injury. Some patients report the arm feels and appears to be dead. This paralysis and other symptoms may be transient or temporary. They may only last a few seconds or minutes. But for some patients, healing takes days or weeks. In rare cases, the damage can be permanent.
Most stingers or burners will resolve on their own. If there are muscle imbalances, structural abnormalities or other issues that caused the brachial plexus to be more susceptible to injury, procedures can be geared toward those causes.