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When Your Child Has a Stinger
Outline of boy showing nerves coming from spine in neck and going down arm. Brachial plexus is group of nerves in neck and shoulder.
Stingers are caused by injury to the brachial plexus.

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) have been injured. A stinger is painful, but not usually serious. There are steps your child can take to relieve the pain.

What Causes a Stinger?

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.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Stinger?

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 doctor if the symptoms persist.

How Is a Stinger Diagnosed?

The doctor 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.

How Is a Stinger Treated?

Your child’s doctor 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 medication, such as ibuprofen, as directed.

Call the doctor 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

 

What Are the Long-Term Concerns?

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 doctor for a referral to a nerve specialist for evaluation.

 

To prevent stingers, your child can:

  • 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/10/2013
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.