cocktail stinger


Most stingers are temporary and the feeling quickly goes away. In intense cases the pain can feel like an electric current or lightning bolt. It can leave the arm feeling numb and weak. In Warburton’s case it meant he was not only in discomfort but unable to train.

Generally you’ll only get a stinger in one arm. If you ever get pain and numbness in both arms at once you need to go and see a Doctor. See the Doc too if the pain persists, or if the feeling goes away for a bit but then returns.


Injuries to the brachial plexus mostly happen if your head is pushed forcefully down and toward the opposite shoulder. This bends the neck and pinches or stretches the nerves in the neck and shoulder. A sudden ‘whiplash’ type movement of the head to the side could also be the culprit. Bruising the brachial plexus nerves has the same result where can happen when pressure on the head or the area above the collarbone compresses the nerves against a bone.

As you might imagine contact sports are the most obvious cause for Stingers. Just falling on your head can cause it, although being in a scrum or a hard rugby tackle increases your chances dramatically. Stingers are very common in American Football where defenders target the head and shoulder area and helmets frequently clash.

ice good for stinger


News that Wales Rugby Captain Sam Warburton was suffering from a ‘Stinger’ immediately had the party types in the DW office reaching for their cocktail glasses. Apparently in some books a ‘Stinger’ is brandy and mint cocktail that is 3 parts Cognac to 1 part Crème de Menthe. By all accounts, as Yoda our resident mixologist would have it, tasty too it is.

Unfortunately the Welsh back row wizard wasn’t suffering from one over the 8 (if you know his shirt number you’ll see what we did there), but a very painful injury to the nerves of his shoulder and upper arm.

In medical sporting jargon a Stinger is caused by the stretching, bruising or pinching of the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves that branch out from the spinal cord at the base of the neck and clump together in the upper shoulder. The name ‘Stinger’ simply comes from the symptoms of a stinging or burning pain that run down the length of the arm. (It’s also known as a ‘Burner’!)

arm lightning bolt



In most cases, your nerves will recover on their own in a couple of minutes but until they do get off the field of play and onto the side-lines. If it persists and the pain doesn’t go away then it’s all about ice, anti-inflammatory medication and pain killers.

  • Apply ice to the affected area in a cold compress such as a towel (never put ice straight onto the skin) for 20 minutes every 2-3 hours for the first couple of days to bring the swelling down.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen to help minimise the swelling – you can take up to 200gms every 4 hours.
  • Take the recommended dose of something like paracetamol – you can take this alongside ibuprofen every alternate 4 hours so, in effect, you’re taking pain relief every 2 hours
  • Keep the affected area moving – do gentle exercises for the neck, shoulder and arm
  • If you’re a serious about sport keep the other muscles working too
  • Don’t get back on the pitch until you’re completely healed – nerves are touchy things and Stingers can recur.

    If you have a more serious injury your Doctor may refer you for an X-ray or even an MRI scan that will let the experts see the extent of the injury and, more importantly, rule out something more serious to do with your spine. If it is a long-term Stinger you may well end up being referred to a Physio.