A stinger often happens when the athlete makes a hard hit involving the shoulder. The direct blow to the top of the shoulder drives it down and simultaneously bends the neck toward the opposite side. A stinger can also happen as a result of an impact that drives the head and neck backward.
Sports Injuries Commonly Cause Stingers
Stingers are a common injury in a number of impact sports. For example:
- In football, the player's head can be forced away from the shoulder when tackling or blocking. Football linemen are particularly at risk for having a stinger.
- In wrestling, this injury can happen as part of a takedown when the wrestler’s head hits the mat at an angle.
- In hockey, stingers can occur during a check, when driving into an opponent with the top of the shoulder.
- In gymnastics and horseback riding, a stinger can occur if the individual accidentally lands on the neck and shoulder.
Lacrosse, rugby, and even soccer players—particularly goalies—are also at risk.
Players who are born with a congenitally narrow spinal canal, called congenital spinal stenosis, are more prone to a stinger injury.
Types of Stinger Injuries
The following types of impact are common causes of a stinger injury:
- Brachial plexus is stretched. For example, when one shoulder is pushed down and the neck is forced to the side in the opposite direction, away from the shoulder. This causes the brachial plexus to stretch too far.
- Direct impact occurs to the brachial plexus. This occurs when someone is hit in the area where the shoulder joins the neck, causing direct impact to the brachial plexus. An example of this is when a football player gets hit in this area by an opposing player's helmet.
- Neck is forced back and to the side. If an athlete is hit in a way that forces the head and neck suddenly back and to the side, this compresses the nerves in the neck, typically the C5-C6.1
Any of the above mechanisms of action can cause not only a stinger, but also other types of injuries to the head and/or neck, such as a concussion or cervical herniated disc.