If you’ve ever played football or watched it on TV you may have heard the announcer say something to this effect:
‘Looks like he’s got a stinger, so he’ll sit out this series’
So what is that and why does it keep your favorite player off the field. Though it is neurological in nature, a stinger/burner aka nerve pinch injury is not like a concussion (though both may happen with the same kind of hit) and shouldn’t require the player to miss the rest of the game as the rules state for NFL games.
When the bones of the neck are forcefully pushed to one side, as in the head and neck trauma that goes with every proper tackle, the nerves of the brachioplexus can be stretched or pinched (depending on the direction of the lateral head movement at the time of impact). These nerves are responsible for the moving the muscles in the arms, shoulders, forearms and legs (upper extremities) as well as sensation in the skin areas of the arms and hands. If they are injured by stretching or pinching (impingement is a better word) it can lead to symptoms of burning-like sensations, sharp nerve pain, and a temporary inability to functionally use ones hand and arm on one side.
Stingers rarely affect both arms simultaneously, though corresponding injuries to the musculature of the opposite side of the soft tissue also must be considered. Often players will not be able to raise their arms because the nerve has been agitated and time is needed to recover the function. Very much like when your leg falls asleep it takes a few seconds for the blood flow to get back into the legs, though in this case the refractory period is longer becuase an nerve has been injured.
Repeated stingers on the same side can lead to weakness and loss of function. Like a string that has been pulled taut to the point of snapping, the nerve has been elongated in a short period of time and though it did not snap, regaining its electrical conductance takes some time.
However, unlike a concussion, the player may return when the pain has subsided and they can again use the limb. Concussions happen when the brain bounces off the walls of the cranium too violently causing neurological symptoms to occur. This can lead to abnormal headaches from possible swelling inside the cranium, nausea, nystagmus or strabismus of the eyes. Concussion are dangerous especially if they happen repeatedly and though many teams like the Steelers may find ways to circumvent the law by saying the player suffers from “concussion-like” symptoms and did not have a concussion is just a way of keeping a player, who probably shouldn’t be medically cleared to return to the field, in the game. I think independent neurologists not affiliated with any team should be one the sidelines of football games from the Pee Wee to the Pros, becuase repeated concussions can be not just fatal, but also endangers the person’s quality of life. If anybody wants to see what repeated concussions can do to a person watch “The Thrilla in Manilla” a documentary on the last Muhammed ALi v. Joe Frazier boxing match. Notice how “Smoking” Joe Frazier stares wide -eyed at his own footage, and we all know that Ali has Parkinson’s but the extant to which his maladies were affected by the outcome of that boxing match is debatable.