What is a "burner"?

A "burner," also called a "stinger," is an injury to 1 or more nerves between your neck and shoulder. It's not a serious neck injury. Burners are not uncommon among people who play contact sports such as football.

What causes a burner?

If you play football, you can get a burner when you tackle or block another player. One of 3 things may occur:

  • 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, pinching nerves on that side.
  • The area above your collarbone is hit directly, bruising 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. If your doctor thinks you have a serious neck injury, he or she may take x-rays of your neck. Your doctor will also tell you how to protect your neck from further injury.

How are burners treated?

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

Some burners only last a few minutes. Others take several days or weeks to heal. If your burner lasts more than a few weeks, see your doctor. 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 shouldn't go back to playing if you have pain, numbness or tingling. Also refrain from playing if you aren't able to move your neck in all directions or if your strength is not 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.

More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.


The "Burner": A Common Nerve Injury in Contact Sports by GS Kuhlman, DB McKreag (American Family Physician November 1, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/991101ap/2035.html)

Reviewed/Updated: 08/07
Created: 11/99