Burners and stingers



What are burners and stingers?

Burners and stingers are injuries that occur when nerves in the neck and shoulder are stretched or compressed after an impact. These injuries are common in contact or collision sports, and are named for the stinging or burning pain that spreads from the shoulder to the hand. A burner or stinger can feel like an electric shock or lightning bolt down the arm.

In most cases, burners and stingers are temporary and symptoms quickly go away.

How common are burners and stingers?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of burners and stingers?

The common symptoms of burners and stingers are:

  • A burning, stinging, or electric shock sensation between the neck and shoulder
  • A burning or stinging feeling in the arm, hand, or fingers
  • Numbness, weakness, or a tingling feeling (pins and needles) in the shoulder or arm
  • A warm sensation in the affected area

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Burning, stinging, numbness, or tingling last for longer than 5 minutes
  • Symptoms keep going away, then come back over a couple of days
  • You have symptoms in both arms
  • You have headaches, blurry vision, memory loss, dizziness, or feel overly tired. These are symptoms of a concussion.


What causes burners and stingers?

An injury to the brachial plexus can cause a burner or stinger. This often happens when the head is forcefully pushed sideways and down. This bends the neck and pinches the surrounding nerves.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for burners and stingers?

There are many risk factors for burners and stingers, such as:

  • Contact sports. Athletes who engage in contact sports are more likely to suffer a burner or stinger.These injuries often occur with a fall onto the head, such as in a wrestling takedown or a football tackle. In fact, tackling or blocking in American football is the athletic activity that most often causes burners or stingers. Football defensive players and linemen frequently suffer this injury.
  • Spinal stenosis. In addition to playing contact sports, a small spinal canal may put you at greater risk for a burner or stinger. Athletes with recurrent stingers or burners may have smaller spinal canals than players who do not suffer recurrent injury. This condition is called spinal stenosis.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are burners and stingers diagnosed?

In order to determine whether your injury is a burner or stinger, your doctor will discuss your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Imaging tests, such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and nerve studies are not usually needed.

A more extensive examination is needed if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Weakness lasting more than several days
  • Neck pain
  • Symptoms in both arms
  • History of recurrent stingers/burners

How are burners and stingers treated?

Treatment begins by removing the athlete from further injury. Athletes are not allowed to return to sports activity until their symptoms are completely gone. This can take a few minutes or several days. Athletes should never be allowed to return to sports if they have weakness or neck pain.

Although the injury gets better with time, if your symptoms last for several days you may need to work with a trainer or therapist to regain strength and motion.

If you have had recurrent stingers, your doctor may recommend a special neck roll or elevated shoulder pads to wear during sports activities. Examples of special shoulder pads include “spider pads” worn under the shoulder pads or a “cowboy collar” worn on top of shoulder pads.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage burners and stingers?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you avoid burners and stingers:

  • Keep the muscles in your neck and shoulders as strong and flexible as possible. This will help you withstand the force of an impact to this area.
  • Gently stretch your neck muscles before any athletic activity.
  • Use protective gear. Equipment like a football neck collar or specially designed shoulder pads can be helpful if you’ve had a burner in the past.
  • Learn and use proper sports technique. For example, never lead with your helmet when you make a play during a football game.
  • Take your time returning to action after you’ve had a burner. If you feel any weakness, tingling, or neck pain, avoid participating in contact sports.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.