Brachial Plexus

Brief Outline of Cervical Nerve Stretch Syndrome

Cervical nerve stretch syndrome, also sometimes referred to as a burner syndrome, results from the stretching (or compression) of the brachial plexus a complex of nerves in the lower neck and shoulder area. The injury is common in contact sports including hockey, football, wrestling, and rugby. Sports injuries to the brachial plexus are characterised by a burning sensation that radiates down an upper extremity. Symptoms may last anywhere from two minutes to two weeks.

Anatomy and physiology

Brachial Plexus

The brachial plexus are nerves originating in the brain. They exit the cervical vertebrae, extending to peripheral structures including muscles and organs, (to which they transmit motor and sensory nerve impulses). A series of cervical nerve roots within the brachial plexus send fibres to the shoulder and trapezius muscle, the deltoid muscle and distal radius, the elbow and the fingers.

Cause of the Cervical Nerve Stretch Syndrome

Blow to the head or shoulder, especially in a football tackle. Ear to shoulder bending with rotation (compression of cervical nerves). Hyperextension of the neck.

Signs and symptoms

Severe, burning pain, radiating from the neck to the arm and/or fingers. Parasthesia or numbness, tingling, pricking, burning, or creeping sensation of the skin. Muscle weakness.

Complications if left unattended

Burning and stinging symptoms will persist and often worsen. Further damage to the peripheral nerves can result should the injury be ignored. Symptoms may also indicate spinal cord injury, with potentially serious complications.

Treatment for Cervical Nerve Stretch Syndrome

  • Physiotherapy
  • Oral Medications
  • Ice

Rehabilitation and prevention

Rehabilitation for cervical nerve stretch syndrome usually entails physical therapy. Following a healing phase, such therapy seeks to improve cervical range of motion and to strengthen cervical muscles, with particular attention to the muscles supporting the injured brachial plexus nerve. Proper protective gear, appropriate technique and upper-extremity strength training can help prevent the injury.

Long-term prognosis

Prognosis for the injury is generally good, though some athletes develop chronic form of the condition and a high rate of recurrence has also been noted. In rare cases, nerve injury requires microsurgery to repair nerve damage.

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