Burners (Brachial Plexus Injuries)
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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 common among people who play contact sports such as football and wrestling.
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.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes a burner?
If you play a contact or collision sport, you can get a burner when you tackle or block another player. There are 3 ways a burner injury can happen:
- 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, and presses on nerves.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How will my healthcare provider know if I have a burner?
Your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider thinks you have a serious neck injury, they may take X-rays of your neck. Your healthcare provider 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, contact your healthcare provider. 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.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- Do burners cause any permanent damage?
- How can I prevent from getting burners?
- How can I let coaches and school officials know about the risks of burners and what to do about them if someone gets one?
- How long will it take me to recover? And when can I safely return to my sport?
- Are there medicines that will treat burners? Are there side effects?
The “Burner”: A Common Nerve Injury in Contact Sports by GS Kuhlman, DB McKreag (11/01/99, http://www.aafp.org/afp/991101ap/2035.html)