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Football Injuries 101: Concussions, Burners, and Stingers

As both the college and NFL football seasons begin, there has been quite a lot of attention on head and neck injuries that have sidelined players and even forced some into early retirement. Concussions and neck burners and stingers have been major topics of discussion in the athletic community. What are these conditions, and how serious are they?


Concussions are a major concern in a contact sport like football. Concussions can occur from a direct blow to the head or from a blow to the body that makes the head move rapidly back and forth. A concussion is considered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, and all concussions should be treated as a serious injury. There are approximately 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the U.S. annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although it is believed that the number may actually be higher, as concussions are often under-reported.

It is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of a concussion; untreated concussions can put the athlete at serious risk of permanent brain damage, particularly if the athlete experiences repetitive head trauma. It is a common misconception that a person only has a concussion if he or she loses consciousness. This isn’t the case; concussions can and often do occur without a loss of consciousness. If an athlete experiences a blow to the head, look for the following symptoms: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, difficulty with balance, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, sensitivity to light and noise, changes in mood, memory loss, and difficulty concentrating. If a football player experiences any of these symptoms, he should sit out for the rest of the game and seek medical attention immediately. Also, keep in mind that some athletes may not report symptoms for hours after the injury. When in doubt, always get checked out by a medical professional.

Neck Burners and Stingers

A neck burner or stinger is a common football injury affecting the nerve supply of the upper arm. It occurs as the result of a blow to the neck or shoulder. The injury is called a “burner” or “stinger” due to the burning or stinging pain the athlete experiences, which spreads from the shoulder to the hand, as a result of the injury. The pain sometimes feels like a jolt of electricity down the arm.

Stingers or burners affect a bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus, which branches out from the spinal cord. The nerves of the brachial plexus run down the arm, providing feeling and movement. Stingers or burners often happen when the head is forced sideways and down, often during a tackle, bending the neck and compressing the brachial plexus. Symptoms of a stinger or burner include a burning or stinging sensation in the arm, numbness and weakness in the arm, and a warm sensation. Symptoms may subside within minutes, but in some cases can occur for hours or days. If a player experiences a stinger or burner, he should be removed from the game immediately, and should not return until symptoms are completely gone. If the athlete experiences neck pain, weakness that has not subsided after several day, symptoms in both arms, or has a history of recurrent stingers or burners, he should see a doctor immediately for a more extensive evaluation.

Don’t Play Without Treatment

In football, an injury that goes unrecognized and untreated can not only cause permanent damage, but can also end a player’s season, or even his whole career. Players and coaches should be able to recognize the symptoms of these injuries, and a player should get medical attention immediately, even if the symptoms seem minor. It is better to sit out the rest of the game and take care of your health than to keep playing and risk further damage.