Ouch—I feel an electric shock down my arm!

Nerves that are trapped or damaged send painful or tingling distress signals to the brain. Many different conditions in the shoulder or arm can cause these symptoms. However, a distinct electric shock feeling running through the shoulder down to the hand is called a burner or stinger. It can only be caused by a few things.

1. Most commonly, athletes in contact sports suffer from burners and stingers. Football players who get tackled to the ground onto their head and shoulder, or wrestlers who get "taken down" onto their head/shoulder/neck area are often affected.

2. Any kind of other accident or trauma that forcefully pushes the head and neck to the ground or a hard surface can also be the culprit: a bicycle or auto accident, for example.

These first two scenarios do the same thing to the nerves in the neck. By forcefully squishing the head down and sideways against something hard, the head stretches away from the arm and shoulder. The nerves connecting them get stretched too far and start sending pain signals. These signals can last for a few seconds, minutes, hours, or even days. If they last for days or become more frequent or worse, it's time to see an orthopedic doctor.

3. Anyone who hasn't had trauma but is still experiencing burners and stingers should also head to the doctor because spinal problems can also cause this type of pain. Neck pain, prolonged weakness, or stinging and burning in both arms may also be cause for concern.

A board certified orthopedic doctor specializing in sports medicine or the shoulder and arm area is the best medical option for properly diagnosing and treating pain from burners and stingers. He or she will start by asking questions and may order x-ray or MRI imaging to rule out other possibilities, depending on the situation. Physical therapy may be prescribed to help with strength and motion.