Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(7):2042

See related article on burners.

What is a “burner”?

A “burner” is an injury to one or more nerves between your neck and shoulder. It is also called a “stinger.” It usually happens in sports like football. It's not a serious neck injury.

What causes a burner?

If you play football, you can get a burner when you tackle or block another player. One of three things happens:

  • Your shoulder is pushed down at the same time that your head is forced to the opposite side. This stretches nerves between your neck and shoulder.

  • Your head is quickly moved to one side. This pinches nerves on that side.

  • The area above your collarbone is hit directly. This bruises nerves.

How do I know if I have a burner?

You'll have a burning or stinging feeling between your neck and shoulder, and probably in your arm. Your shoulder and arm may feel numb, tingly or weak.

Your doctor will ask questions and examine you. Burners happen in only one arm at a time. If both of your arms or one arm and a leg are hurt, you may have a serious neck injury, not a burner. Your doctor will then protect your neck and get x-rays.

How are burners treated?

Burners get better on their own. You may need physical therapy to stretch and strengthen your muscles.

Some burners last a few minutes. Others take several days or weeks to heal. If your burner lasts more than a few weeks, you may have a test called an electromyogram (EMG). This test can show that you have a burner and give an idea about how long it will last.

When can I return to my sport?

You must have no pain, numbness or tingling. You must be able to move your neck in all directions. Your strength must be back to normal. You must be able to play your sport without problems from the injury.

Can I get another burner?

Yes, but daily stretching exercises can help prevent burners. Tilt your head up, down, left and right. Turn your head left and right to look over your shoulders. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds.

If you play football, wear extra neck protection.

An important point!

Don't just assume that you have a burner. You might have a serious neck injury. If you have burning, stinging, numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, stop what you're doing. Slowly lie down on the ground and wait for a trainer or a doctor to examine you.

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