Dr. Kevin Yip

Dr Kevin Yip
Orthopaedic Surgeon
MBBS(UK), FRCS(EDIN), FAM(SING), FHKCOS(ORTHO)

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Brachial Plexus Injuries (Burner syndrome)

Burner syndrome is not uncommon in contact sports such as American football. Following trauma to the head and shoulders, the athlete complains of a burning pain and numbness extending down the upper
extremity. The cause of this pain may be a traction injury to the brachial plexus (nerve bundle between the shoulder and the neck) and/or cervical nerve roots (typically the C5 and C6 roots). The extremity can feel weak and heavy for a short time, but these problems usually resolve within several minutes.

If there are prolonged motor and sensory deficits, these may represent a more severe injury. The athlete should not return to contact sports until a clinical examination, including an EMG and strength evaluation,has been carried out, and strength has returned to normal. It is important to differentiate a brachial plexus injury from a serious neck or spine injury. If there is any neck pain or tenderness, the athlete’s neck should be immobilized and an emergency evaluation performed.

Injury to the brachial plexus can also occur without an inciting traumatic event and is characterized by acute onset of persistent severe pain. There may be a motor loss, but sensory loss is usually minimal. Treatment includes rest followed by rehabilitation. Weakness may persist for long periods or may be permanent.

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