Starting left tackle Donovan Smith has been missing from the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense for the past three games after leaving the Week 13 contest with a neck stinger. He has not returned to practice since then.
So what, exactly, is a neck stinger — and when might Smith return to the field?
What is a neck stinger?
A fairly common football injury, it is named for the “stinging” or “burning” pain a player feels down their arm. It is an injury to the brachial plexus, which is a bundle of nerves sitting underneath the clavicle (collar bone). The nerves extend from the cervical spine and travel to the extremities — after dispersing from the brachial plexus.
A neck stinger typically occurs when a player’s head is pushed forcefully to the side and away from the shoulder — which causes increased tension (a forceful stretch) on the brachial plexus. It can also occur when a player’s shoulder is forcefully pushed down. This causes a compression injury on the brachial plexus.
This injury to the nervous system can cause burning, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness in the upper extremities. Minor neck stingers can cause symptoms lasting from seconds to minutes. More severe neck stingers can last for weeks or months.
This is an injury that a player can sometimes play through. It depends on the severity of symptoms — and if there is any significant weakness or numbness in the extremities. Often, players and medical staff will want the symptoms to consistently centralize (recede from the upper extremities to the cervical spine) before returning to play.
Since Smith has not practiced in three weeks, his neck stinger is likely more than just a minor injury.
The bottom line
Smith endured an injury-riddled 2022 campaign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but appeared to come to Kansas City with a clean bill of health for the 2023 season.
While injured, Smith has been replaced in the lineup by rookie offensive tackle Wanya Morris, who played well in his first two starts before having a down game against the Las Vegas Raiders — just one part of what can only be described as the offense’s worst performance of the season.
While the offense has certainly been struggling all season, the return of a veteran presence like Smith could provide some needed stability — but he has already been ruled out of Sunday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Unfortunately, the return to play from a neck stinger can vary wildly; each player will recover at a different pace.
Even more unfortunately, wide receiver Kadarius Toney (hip) is also out for this weekend’s game. Running backs Isiah Pacheco (concussion/shoulder) and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (illness) — along with cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (calf) — are listed as questionable for this important contest.