Burners and Stingers Syndrome in Young Athletes

If your young athlete complains of a pain in the shoulder or neck that causes a burning or stinging sensation down one arm to the hand, he or she may have burners and stingers syndrome.

What is the cause?

Burners and stingers syndrome is usually caused by an injury during practice or competition. The most typical injury occurs when a youngster falls or takes a blow to the neck or shoulder. The collision often pushes the head sharply to the side and down, pinching nerves near the neck or shoulder. The sensation of burning or electric shock stems from damage to the nerves in the upper arm.

These are risk factors for the condition:

  • Contact sports. Collisions in contact sports, such as tackling or blocking on the football field, commonly cause this kind of injury. About seven of 10 college football players report they have experienced burners and stingers. Wrestlers can also suffer the sensation as the result of a takedown.

  • Spinal stenosis. People who are born with a slightly narrower spine are at greater risk for burners and stingers.

Typical symptoms

Symptoms typically go away after a few seconds. About 5% to 10% of people find that their symptoms last for hours or even days after an injury. Typically only one arm is affected.

These are common symptoms:

  • Burning or "electric shock" sensation in the arm

  • Arm numbness

  • Arm weakness

  • Feeling of warmth in the arm

Possible complications

Most young athletes will not have ongoing health problems or complications because of an episode of burners and stingers. The worst consequence for a young athlete might be sitting out practice or play until all symptoms are gone. For a small number of kids, recurrent burners and stingers mean a visit to the health care provider for a more in-depth evaluation. Some athletes will need to modify their equipment or work with a physical therapist to make sure they have recovered and that it's safe to play again.

Treated options

Although this condition usually goes away on its own, it's important to take it easy until all symptoms are gone. As long as any weakness or numbness remains in an arm, your child will need to sit out of play and practice.

If your child complains that the feeling has come back or worsened, or if it affects two arms instead of just one, remove your child from participation until you talk with his or her health care provider.

These are other treatment options:

  • Obtaining elevated pads or a neck roll to wear during play

  • Working with a physical therapist to strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles and protect range of motion

Practicing prevention

As with all sports injuries, prevention is the best approach to avoid episodes of pain and discomfort. Here are prevention tips:

  • Make sure your child is in good physical shape for play. He or she should have a preseason physical.

  • Check to see whether equipment and pads are in good condition and are worn for every practice and game.

  • Teach your children to know and respect signs of injury so that they know to take a break before pain gets worse.

  • Ensure that children warm up and cool down before and after practice or a game.

  • Stress good sportsmanship as an ideal so that young competitors don't get hurt because of personal conflicts.