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Managing stingers and burner injury in sportsmen

Stingers or burner injury is common amongst sports persons whose sporting activity involves tackling with the arm. This intense nerve problem occurs most commonly in sports involving upper body tackle like rugby, wrestling and martial arts. It also can occur in people who participate in cycling, and gymnastics.

The nerves that give feeling to the arms and hands originate from the neck spinal cord. As these nerves leave the neck, they form a large weave of nerves.

They then branch as they pass under the collarbone on the way to the shoulder. Most often this nerve gets injured when the athlete makes a hard hit using his shoulder.

The direct blow to the top of the shoulder drives it down and causes the neck to bend toward the opposite side. This motion severely stretches or compresses the nerves and triggers an intense discharge of electricity.

For a few seconds, the electricity shoots down the nerves to the tip of the fingers. After this intense electrical discharge, the nerves’ fibers that allow movement in the arm do not function well.

The dysfunction is evident by weakness in the arm. The weakness often involves the muscles that allow the athlete to lift the arm away from the body, to bend the elbow, and to grip.

Symptoms also include sensations of tingling and of burning or stinging pain in the arm and hand. The extent of the damage varies considerably.

The pain usually lasts only a few minutes, but the weakness can last weeks, months, or years. Rarely, the injury may cause permanent damage.

Treatment of a stinger or burner usually begins as soon as the player runs off the field with the limp arm hanging by his side. The team’s physio carefully examines the neck, evaluates nerve function in the neck and upper back, tests muscle strength, and tests reflexes. The writer is a physiotherapist, Mathare United

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