Have you ever had that pain that runs from your neck down to your shoulder or maybe it is the opposite direction? Sometimes numbness and tingling are running down the arm. In wrestling and other sports, it’s called a stinger because well that is what it does, sting. Football players, especially linemen and other defensive players get them all the time.  After a big hit or wild takedown, you get that dull dead-leg sensation in your arm. When I was learning to shoot doubles in wrestling I got them a lot until I learned to stop cocking my head completely to the side when I made contact. I liked to hear the “oof” as I drove my shoulder into my opponent and throw off their center of gravity so I could lift them easily and drop them down, you know trying to make them get a snot bubble. Unfortunately, gravity would take hold of my planet-sized head and it goes off into the opposite direction instead of being tight into them. It’s hard holding someone down for a pin when your whole arm feels like it’s on fire. A similar sensation occurs when sleeping wrong and the neck shoulder and even arm on one side just feel persnickety.

In sports, stingers occur when a direct force is placed on the shoulder pushing the complex down while at the same time the head is forcefully pushed to the other side. No big deal right.  Stingers last a few days or a couple of weeks and can just be a mind-numbing nuisance. Until it’s not. Those are the easy ones. Every once in a while, someone gets a nefarious, abhorrent stinger that perpetually burns so long until you can’t tell the difference from normal and what you are feeling now. These types of stingers are Grade II ‘s which sometimes can go on for months.  There’s also Grade III’s which can have you contemplating chewing your own arm off because self-amputation can’t be any worse than what is going on with your arm.  Please don’t do that, the clean-up cost alone would be huge. One patient once said it felt like the devil was sticking a hot poker in their arm any time they even breathed wrong.  The patient wondered why an injury to the shoulder would be in the neck and the hand because no way that’s right.

The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae with the spinal cord normally running unabated through the spinal canal. Smaller nerves branch off the spinal cord and course down to the muscles to affect movement. These nerves form a highway together down the arm where they merge and branch on and off while having various ramps to travel down to innervate the muscles in the arm. They tend to lie just up under the muscle sometimes ducking in between two muscles and in the next lane are blood vessels. With a stinger, the injury usually involves the nerves coming from the lower cervical vertebrae and the first few thoracic vertebrae. These nerves control movements from shrugging your shoulders to making a fist. Weakness and lack of coordination can sometimes be seen with the numbness and tingling. Stingers normally heal with conservative treatment with only the most severe requiring surgical intervention. 

During the initial evaluation, the therapist will try to get a better understanding of your symptoms including if there are any aggravating factors, and if there are movements or activities to help minimize symptoms.A comprehensive HEP is provided that begins in symptoms free ranges and directions and progresses to the directions that provoke symptoms to return normal function and movement patterns. Some interventions utilized can include a distraction technique to reduce radiating symptoms. Resistance exercises are added to increase strength in the neck and shoulder to allow you to return to premorbid activity.  It’s important to have an exam that screens the shoulder, neck, and mid-back because other treatable issues can also have similar symptoms. Modalities such as traction, ice/heat, and electrical stimulation serve to reduce pain momentarily but will not fix the issues at hand. For athletes, proper equipment and correction of technique can help reduce the likelihood of recurrence.  

If you have any questions about stingers or other orthopedic issues please feel free to contact Fearless Physical Therapy via the link on our webpage and we will do are best to assist you. Also if you’ve been enjoying the blogs please click the subscribe/follow button. I included a link below if anyone wants to purchase high quality bands to perform their exercises.

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