Many of the kids playing pop warner or teens playing high school football in the Carlsbad and North County area may have sustained shoulder injuries or neck pain, similar to Pro NFL players. St. Louis Rams officials described Rodger Saffold’s recent shoulder problem as a “stinger,” a term familiar to people who play contact sports.
Saffold suffered the injury in his left shoulder during training camp, ESPN reported. It took nearly a month for symptoms to subside to the point that the offensive lineman was ready to return to action. This is unusual.
Technically called a brachial plexus injury, a stinger afflicts about one in two college football players. Wrestlers, gymnasts, snow skiers and martial-arts enthusiasts also are vulnerable. A stinger can occur when a collision or fall causes the shoulder and head to snap in opposite directions. It also may result from the head being forced to the side, or from blunt-force trauma of the collarbone.
Such violent movements and impacts compress and excessively stretch nerves in the neck and shoulder, causing an electric stinging sensation that may extend to the arm and hand. Some patients describe the pain and discomfort as “burning” or “tingling.” Others feel weak or numb in the shoulder or arm. Neck pain can be an indication of another type of injury or disorder.
Many experience the symptoms for only a few seconds or minutes. Others need treatment for several days or weeks. Sometimes, there is a nerve injury that continues to cause shoulder pain and weakness. People who have had one stinger are more likely to suffer more of them. Each time it happens, the joint gets weaker and nerves sustain additional damage.
Nerves function like electrical cables in the spinal canal, allowing the brain to send messages to the muscles. Nerves that branch from the spine, where it meets the neck, form the brachial plexus (a bundle of nerves). All the nerves that permit a person to feel and move the arm travel through the cord.
Most patients get stingers on one side of the body, though full contact with another person or an unmovable object can injure both shoulders. In some cases, people have stingers on both sides because of spinal-cord damage.
Treatments for the pain and burning include resting the shoulder and arm, alternating applications of ice and heat, and taking anti-inflammatory drugs. When the discomfort continues longer than several weeks, medical tests are needed to diagnose the problem. There might be nerve damage that cannot heal on its own.
Doctors study patients’ medical histories, and conduct physical exams, to diagnose stingers. They determine the extent to which the brachial plexus has been stretched, and evaluate nerve function and reflexes. More tests are ordered if a patient appears to have a cervical spine injury. Diagnostic methods include x-rays, MRIs and EMGs. It is important the player seek medical attention so that a doctor can unmask any latent anatomic risks that puts a player at risk.
Some patients wear cervical collars to take pressure off the nerves until they can recover. Doctors often give cortisone to reduce the swelling. They advise patients to refrain from strenuous activity until the pain is gone, full range of neck motion returns, and testing has confirmed there is no nerve damage. Strengthening neck muscles and improving posture can help prevent recurrences.
Surgery becomes necessary when a herniated disk or bone spur compresses and injures a nerve. Without the procedure, a patient is likely to continue experiencing severe pain and weakness. Let our Orthopedic Surgery San Diego award winning orthopedic sports medicine specialists evaluate you to help you maximize your recovery.