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.
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.
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
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.