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HSS Surgeon Explains The Science Behind Stingers

Dr. Erin Manning of HSS.
Dr. Erin Manning of HSS. Photo Credit: HSS

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Stingers, or burning and numbness of the arm and shoulder, are one of the most common injuries associated with contact sports. Also known as burners, they typically resolve within minutes. The question is: Are these discomforts a sign of larger problem? Dr. Erin Manning, a neurologist at Hospital for Special Surgery explains.

"Stingers are caused by trauma to the brachial plexus, a collection of nerves in the shoulder, or trauma to a nerve emerging from the spine," said Manning. "They are common among athletes -- experienced by up to 65 percent of college athletes -- but are rarely reported due to their short-lived symptoms, or a fear of being removed from play."

Stingers come in various degrees of severity, requiring anywhere from a few weeks to months for full recovery.

"If it's the first stinger, an athlete can return to play when the symptoms resolve," said Manning, "If it's not the first stinger, the athlete should only return to play when the symptoms completely resolve and have experienced less than three previous stingers lasting less than 24 hours."

Manning recommends adding protective neck rolls and pads to equipment, wearing high-riding shoulder pads, practicing proper tackling techniques and using physical therapy to increase the neck's range of motion.