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Your child has been diagnosed with a condition called a “stinger” or “burner.” This is shooting pain that travels down the neck to the arm. It happens when a group of nerves in the neck and shoulder (called the brachial plexus) has been injured. A stinger is painful, but not usually serious. There are steps you and your child can take to relieve the pain.
Stingers occur when the head is hit and forced in one direction while the shoulder is forced in the other direction. Such a blow pulls and injures the nerves in the neck and shoulder. Athletes, such as football players and wrestlers, are most likely to get stingers. This is because of some of the movements in these sports, such as tackling in football and take-down maneuvers in wrestling.
Stingers are felt right after the injury. Symptoms include:
Shooting pain from the neck down the arm. The arm may have a “stingy” feeling
Numbness or tingling in the arm and shoulder
Muscle weakness in the arm and shoulder (temporary)
It’s common for symptoms to last for seconds or minutes. If pain doesn’t go away after this time, the problem may be more serious. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider if the symptoms persist.
The healthcare provider will ask about past injuries and pain. He or she will also examine your child’s neck and shoulder. An X-ray or other imaging tests (tests that take images of the inside of the body) may be done to rule out other problems.
Your child’s healthcare provider will talk with you about the best treatment plan for your child. As soon as your child feels a stinger, he or she should:
Stop all activity until the pain goes away and arm strength comes back.
Ice the neck and shoulder with an icepack wrapped in a thin towel for 15 to 20 minutes to relieve the pain.
Take anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed.
Call the healthcare provider right away if your child has any of the following:
Loss of consciousness (blacking out)
Pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm that doesn’t go away
Numbness in the arm that won’t go away
Symptoms involve both shoulders or arms at the same time
Symptoms take longer than 15 minutes to resolve
Symptoms in the legs
Child has suffered multiple stingers
Not acting oneself
Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
A stinger will come and go, but it won’t usually cause permanent damage. If the nerves are damaged over and over, pain can become chronic (last for months or years). If pain does not stop with rest, your child may need to stop the activity that caused the problem. And, if your child has pain that doesn’t go away with rest, ask your child’s healthcare provider for a referral to a nerve specialist for evaluation.
Use protective equipment while playing sports. For football players, this means using well-fitting padding around the neck and shoulders, including a neck roll.
Receive training about proper blocking and tackling techniques.
Before a sport’s season, strengthen neck and shoulder muscles with exercise.
Stretch neck and shoulder muscles before activities.
Strength and flexibility training
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