Neck Stinger: A Look at the Injury Keeping Chris Samuels Out Against the Chiefs

This article originally appeared on the bleacher report on Oct. 13 2009

If you were trenched up in your football cave this weekend and saw clips from the RedskinsPanthers game, you watched the pressure the Panthers’ defensive line was able to apply to Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, ultimately resulting in five sacks for the game.

The Panthers’ defense was aided by the loss of Redskins six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, who left the game at the conclusion of the second play from scrimmage after suffering a neck stinger.

As a result, Samuels will be held out next week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

A stinger is a painful condition which usually is result of a direct blow to the head, neck, or shoulder; however, it is possible in any sport or activity.

In this case, the injury was suffered after Samuels went to block Panthers defensive end Tyler Brayton, which caused a forceful stretch of the nerves.

According to the Washington Post article, Redskins center Casey Rabach, who has had the injury in the past, said “That’s a scary injury.”

The name comes as a result of the sudden and intense stinging pain that shoots down your arm or in your hand.

The feeling is similar in nature to that of a limb that has “fallen asleep”; however, in the case of a “stinger,” the onset is sudden, and the intensity greatly increases. A mild case can last for just a few seconds; in a more severe or chronic case, symptoms may persist over longer periods of time and result in decreased coordination, strength, and sensation in the affected arm.

The injury should be immediately reported to coaches, trainers, or a team physician; ignoring them and continuing to participate could lead to more significant injury.

The application of ice to the neck and shoulders will help the discomfort initially; however, going forward the individual should seek out treatment from a skilled physical therapist to prevent further complications.  Treatment may consist of moist heat, soft tissue massage, thermal ultrasound, treatment with the FDA approved ML 830 cold laser and passive stretching may be used to decrease any muscle spasm that may have resulted in continued symptoms.

Muscle spasm is often overlooked as a cause for delayed recovery. When one voluntarily contracts a muscle, they have the ability to voluntarily relax that muscle.

When one is hit, the body goes into a protective, involuntary protective contraction, and it is more difficult to release. When a person has larger, more powerful muscles, the resulting muscle spasm can be more powerful as well and take longer to release.

Even when the symptoms are relieved, the muscle spasm must still be addressed to prevent future or lingering complications.

Be wary of treatment programs that just use passive modalities and do not address the resulting muscle spasm. Doing so can delay your recovery time and delay the return to your activity.

Once the symptoms have dissipated, treatment should focus on strengthening the muscles of the cervical spine and improving the range of motion as well, particularly in the front of the neck.

Additionally improving one’s sports-specific technique can decrease the chances of re-injury.

If symptoms persist, an X-ray, MRI, EMG, or CT scan may be indicated to rule out disc herniation or nerve damage.


Christopher Stulginsky, PT, is a 2003 graduate of the physical therapy program at the Rangos School of Health Sciences at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He has worked at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and in various sports medicine clinics around the country. Currently, he is the managing partner or Ayrsley Town Rehabilitation, a physical therapy clinic in Charlotte, N.C.

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