If you’ve ever been hit in the head or shoulder and felt an electric-like, searing pain that ran down your arm, you’ve experienced a stinger.

Football linemen are especially prone to stinger injuries during tackling. Read: Common Causes of Stinger Injuries

Stingers in and of themselves are often harmless. However, any action that causes a stinger can also cause other, more serious injuries, so it pays to be cautious when one occurs.


What causes stingers?

Stingers occur when a group of nerves in the neck called the brachial plexus are injured by being stretched, pinched, or directly impacted.

See Common Causes of Stinger Injuries

This triggers a neurological reaction as the nerves cause pain and tingling along the nerve path from the neck, down the arm, and possibly into the hand. A stinger feels very similar to the sensation of bumping your ulnar nerve in the elbow, also known as the “funny bone.”

The pain usually lasts for a few seconds or minutes. There are several possible follow-up symptoms:

  • Sensation of tingling or warmth in the neck or arm
  • Weakness that makes it difficult to lift the arm, bend the elbow, or grip with the hand
  • This weakness or numbness is usually brief, but can persist for several days or weeks
  • Neck pain or muscle spasm that can develop later

When stingers call for caution

Stingers can be surprising and painful, but are often short-lived. You may shake out your arm to get rid of the tingling sensation, maybe your grip feels a little weak for a few minutes, but otherwise you soon feel recovered and everything seems to be okay.

But a blow to the head or neck can also cause other serious injuries, so taking time to stop play and evaluate symptoms is important.

Read more: Injuries That Commonly Occur with a Stinger

Other potential injuries that can accompany a stinger include:

  • A spinal cord injury
  • A concussion
  • An injury to the nerve root
  • A fracture

See a full list of potential injuries

If you experience a stinger and have any symptoms that indicate another injury may have occurred—such as dizziness, loss of sensation in arms or legs, or ongoing pain—seek medical attention right away.

See Treatment for Stingers

Learn more:

Concussion Treatment and Recovery

How Do Rotator Cuff Injuries Occur?

Stephanie Burke is CEO, Co-founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Veritas Health. She and her brother, Dr. Peter F. Ullrich, started Spine-health in 1999 with the vision of providing people with high-quality health information online. To ensure the content was the most accurate and authoritative on the web, Stephanie leveraged her network of industry-leading health specialists to form the Medical Advisory Board and write peer-reviewed articles.