Burners (Brachial Plexus Injuries)
If you are having any symptoms or have any questions, please call 811 to speak with a registered nurse 24 hours a day.
What is a “burner?”
A “burner,” also called a “stinger,” is an injury to 1 or more nerves between your neck and shoulder. The condition gets its name from the shock-like, burning or stinging jolt of pain that shoots down your arm. It’s generally not a serious neck injury. Burners are common among people who play contact sports such as football, rugby, and wrestling.
A burner usually happens after a hit or fall. You will probably feel:
- A burning, stinging, or electric shock sensation between your neck and shoulder.
- Burning or stinging down your arm to your hand.
- Numbness, weakness, or tingling feeling (like pins and needles) in your shoulder and arm.
- A warm sensation in your shoulder area.
You will normally feel a burner in only one arm. The pain usually goes away after a few minutes. If you have pain or numbness in both arms, or if the pain does not go away, contact your healthcare provider. These could be signs of a more serious problem.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes a burner?
Burners are caused by damage to the brachial plexus. This is the bundle of nerves that supplies feeling to your arm. Burners often happen when the force of a hit or fall pushes the head to one side. This can stretch, pinch, or bruise the nerves.
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 how your injury happened. They may examine your neck, shoulder, and arm. They will test your range of motion and check your reflexes. If your healthcare provider thinks you have a serious neck injury, they may take X-rays or an MRI of your neck.
Can burners be prevented or avoided?
It can be hard to avoid burners, especially if you play contact sports. But there are steps you can take to lower the risk that you’ll experience one.
- Stretch your neck muscles before any physical activity. 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.
- Strengthen the muscles in your neck and shoulders.
- Use proper techniques. These are designed to prevent injuries.
- Wear protective gear, if possible. Some sports could allow extra neck protection
How are burners treated?
Burners usually get better on their own. 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. You may need physical therapy to stretch and strengthen your muscles.
Living with burners
If you have pain, numbness, or tingling, don’t continue the activity that caused the burner. Refrain from playing if you can’t move your neck in all directions or if your strength is not back to normal. You need to let the nerves completely heal. If you don’t, you increase the chances of injuring yourself again. You must be able to play your sport without any lingering problems from the injury