Brachial Plexus (Stinger Injury)

Sherri L. O’Connor, PA-C

brachial-plexus.jpgA “stinger” is a nerve injury commonly associated with contact sports.  In the Fall, we see a lot of these injuries, which typically occur during football season.  Most of the time, an athlete may return to play.  To understand how a “stinger” develops,  let’s talk about the basic structure of the anatomy in the upper areas of the body.

A “stinger” involves the brachial plexus and potential nerve injury that supplies the arm.  The brachial plexus involves the nerves that exit off of the neck.  The nerves then run down the arm to the hand and supply the motor and sensory to the arm.

When an impact injury occurs that could possibly cause an overstretch of the nerve from the neck or head, the player then feels immediate burning pain associated with the nerve being overstretched. This often feels like an electric shock into the arm that descends down into the hand.

A player should be assessed by a doctor for potential injury to the neck and nerve roots. Usually, the symptoms will resolve and the player is allowed to  participate further.  Occasionally, if symptoms persist, a more extensive evaluation is needed in an office setting. This includes symptoms of neck pain, weakness into the arm greater than several days or a player with a history of “stingers.”

Post treatment can consist of restriction of play, protective gear, Tylenol or Advil medications, and physical therapy.  Further testing such as an MRI, a nerve conduction study (EMG) would be obtained if symptoms persist.  More than 90% of affected individuals will have resolution of symptoms within days.