Calvin Johnson's Injury: A Look at His Nerve Damage and the "Stinger"

Dave Siebert, M.D.Featured ColumnistNovember 8, 2012

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 30: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions has a pass go thru his hands late in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on September 30, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The Vikings won 20-13 (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

No, no. It is not the Madden curse.

Really, it isn't.

It is double coverage.  It is opposing teams realizing he is, by far, the biggest threat on the Lions. It is a number of minor but nagging injuries.

Even with all that, Megatron is still averaging nearly 100 yards receiving per game.

The problem is, it is very hard to live up to the expectations he set himself up for last season by catching 96 balls for 1681 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Nevertheless, Johnson himself mentioned today that during Week 4, the same game that during which he may or may not have suffered a concussion, he also sustained nerve damage that has lingered and made it difficult to grip the ball this season.

In other words, he has a persistent "stinger."

A stinger occurs when an athlete is hit in such a way that his or her neck is quickly and forcefully bent to one side.

How does such a hit make it hard to grip a ball, as Megatron suggests?

The reason lies in the fact that all of the nerves that run to the arm come from the neck.  More specifically, they come out of the spine at the level of the neck.

To help paint a picture, imagine an athlete being hit so hard that their neck is forced to the right, as if they were trying to listen to their shoulder.

This type of hit can result in a stinger in one of two ways.

The first possibility is that the nerves that exit the spine and travel to the right are compressed as they leave the neck, causing symptoms in the right arm.

The other possibility is that the nerves traveling to the left are over-stretched because the neck is forced too quickly in the opposite direction, causing symptoms in the left arm.

Electrical signals travel from the brain, to the neck (via the spinal cord), and then out to the arm and hand. Interrupting these signals at any point by nerve compression or stretching leads to numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness downstream of the injury.

Johnson has likely been experiencing such symptoms.

Usually, stingers last for only a few minutes or hours. The stunned nerves recover, and the missing feeling or strength of the arm and hand return to normal.

However, if you make a living as the most feared wide receiver in the NFL, you get hit hard, and you get hit often.

It is very possible that Megatron is getting hit frequently enough to not allow his nerves to fully recover before the next hit.

Of course, this is mere speculation, and the Detroit Lions team physicians are certainly monitoring his arm strength and sensation very closely.

At any sign of severe or worsening symptoms, Megatron is sure to be held out of competition.  Already, with his various injuries, he has been held out of practice thus far this week:


Calvin Johnson and Titus Young both missed practice today

— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) November 8, 2012


Detroit fans and his fantasy owners should continue to monitor for updates on his status for this Sunday.

All of that said, Chris Mortensen just mentioned on ESPN's NFL Live that Megatron has only 3 drops this season on 81 targets, so while he may have occasional limited strength and sensation in his affected hand, he has been playing through it very well.

Yes, he only has one touchdown catch this season. 

Yes, he probably will not be breaking the 2,000 receiving yard mark this year.

He still remains the most opposing receiver in the league.

And he still requires defenses to design schemes specifically to defend him.

All while being pretty banged up for much of the season.

Just another example of how superhuman he really is.


The author of this article is a soon-to-be Family Medicine resident physician with plans on eventually specializing in non-operative Sports Medicine.  The above information on stingers is based on the author's own anatomical and clinical knowledge, and additional input is welcomed and encouraged.