What stings but isn’t caused by a Bee? Unfortunately it’s not any other insect bite either! In heavy contact sports a shoulder “stinger”, as they’re frequently referred too, are pretty common injuries… What’s a shoulder stinger you ask yourself?
A “stinger” (aka a burner) is defined by the stinging or burning pain that radiates down from the shoulder to the hand. It’s caused by an injury to the nerve supply of the upper arm either at the neck or the shoulder.
If you can imagine your nervous system as a tree, when there’s a large force acting on this tree at the trunk (neck) or one of its many branches (in the shoulder) you can experience altered or reduced sensations and movement further down the branches to the leaves (hand and fingers).
Playing contact sports such as rugby, whether it be league, union or AFL, the high speed that these men and women run at each other can be quite detrimental. I see this weekly as a Sports Physio at club rugby, a player will go shoulder first for a tackle and whether it’s from the contact with the other player or landing awkwardly onto their neck, the force and angle of impact causes the “stinger”. In most cases, the force depresses the shoulder and laterally rotates the neck away from the shoulder causing a stretch on the nerves.
The player usually appears on the field cradling their injured shoulder. More often than not I’ll have to run on the field for a quick assessment to ensure not more serious damage has been done. Frequently players will describe their symptoms as any of the following:
– A burning or electric shock shooting down their arm
– Temporary weakness/numbness in the arm
– Occasionally feel a warm sensation
Stingers and burners are relatively harmless with only temporary symptoms that resolve quickly from a few seconds to a few minutes. If you’ve experienced a shoulder stinger or recurrent stingers and your symptoms haven’t settled immediately it might be due to other soft tissue injuries in the area, or damage to the surrounding nerves causing nerve pain.