Brachial Plexus Injury (Burners & Stingers)

The sensations colloquially known as burners and stingers are warm or painful sensations caused by an injury to the brachial plexus. A brachial plexus injury is often caused by blows to the neck and shoulder area, such as those common in contact sports.

What You Need To Know About Brachial Plexus Injuries

What is a Brachial Plexus Injury?

Burners and stingers are injuries that occur when nerves in the neck and shoulder are stretched or compressed after an impact. A network of nerves passes from the spinal cord, through your shoulder, down your arm, and to your hand. The nerves of the arm branch out from the spinal cord near the base of your neck. They come together in the upper shoulder in a bundle called the brachial plexus.

When the brachial plexus is stretched, pinched, or bruised, it can result in a sensation known as a burner or stinger. Brachial plexus injury symptoms may feel like an electric shock or lightning bolt down the arm. It is common to feel a burning sensation in the upper back and shoulder blades.

A brachial plexus injury is a serious condition that can compromise your mobility. Schedule an appointment with our shoulder injury physicians to learn about brachial plexus injury treatment options.

What Causes A Brachial Plexus Injury?

Injuries to the brachial plexus are most commonly caused by trauma. This includes blows to the shoulder area — such as those received in contact sports — or sudden bending of the head sideways and down, as during a fall or car accident.

Burners and stingers are also more common in people who have a narrow spinal canal, a condition known as spinal stenosis. Less common shoulder stinger causes include birth injuries, cancer, and radiation treatment.

Brachial Plexus Injury Symptoms

The most common brachial plexus injury symptoms are sudden, acute pain radiating from your neck down through your shoulder and arm. You may feel it in your hand and your fingers. If this pain burns, it is called a "burner." If it stings, it is called a "stinger."

You may also feel a dull ache, and your arm may feel numb or weak. These sensations typically last seconds to minutes, but in rare cases, the pain can last much longer.

How is a Brachial Plexus Injury Diagnosed?

In order to make a positive diagnosis, your Resurgens physician will perform a thorough physical examination and discuss your medical history, symptoms, and the circumstances of the injury. Diagnostic Imaging tests, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and nerve studies are generally not required. However, these can be helpful for planning your ideal treatment plan.

Treatment For Brachial Plexus Injuries

Your Resurgens physician will develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Treatment options for brachial plexus injuries include:

  • Immediately stopping the activity that caused the injury, until you are fully healed and cleared to resume the activity

  • Rest and icing

  • Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or other NSAIDs, to decrease inflammation in the neck and shoulder area

  • Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you exercises designed to keep your neck, shoulder, arm, and hand limber and flexible while you wait for your nerves to repair.

Getting the right treatment for brachial plexus injuries starts with a visit to Resurgens Orthopedics. Schedule your appointment with our shoulder pain physicians now!

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