A burner is an injury to the bundle of nerves in the neck. These nerves run from the back of the neck into the arm.
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A burner may be caused by injury to the brachial plexus. This group of nerves gives sensation to the arm. The injury may be caused by:
- Overstretching—the shoulder being pushed down while the head is forced to the other side
- Pinching—the head is moved quickly to one side
- Bruising—can happen when:
- The area above the collarbone is hit directly OR
- Pressure on the top the head presses the brachial plexus nerves against bone
Things that raise the risk of a burner are:
- Playing American football—risk of direct hits to the head, neck, and shoulders
- Other contact sports
- Having a small spinal canal
Symptoms of a burner may include:
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the shoulder or arm
- Burning or stinging feeling in one arm
- Burning or stinging feeling between the neck and shoulder
- A warm sensation in the shoulder area
The doctor will ask about symptoms and how the injury happened.
The doctor will check for:
- Pain or tenderness
- How well the neck and arm move
- Strength in the arm and hand
- Arm reflexes
- Sensation in the shoulder and hand
Serious burners can be checked with electrodiagnostic studies. These tests the electrical activity of the nerve. They can help to determine the extent of the injury.
It is important to rule out more serious injury to the spine or spinal cord. Finding this early could prevent possible paralysis. A careful exam can help prevent lasting damage or re-injury.
Some burners last only a few minutes. These will not need treatment.
Treatments options for ongoing symptoms include:
To help reduce the risk of a burner:
- Keep the muscles around the neck and shoulders strong and flexible. This can help you withstand the stress of a direct blow.
- Learn safe sport techniques.
- Avoid using your helmet as a contact point when tackling and blocking in football.
- Always make sure to wear the proper safety gear for your sport.
- Pads and other changes to sports gear have been proposed. This may help reduce burners. These may be especially useful for players with a past injury.
- Ahearn BM, Starr HM, Seiler JG. Traumatic brachial plexopathy in athletes: current concepts for diagnosis and management of stingers. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2019;27(18):677-684.
- Burners. Family Doctor website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/burners.
- Burners and stingers. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/burners-and-stingers.
- Burners and stingers. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/burners-and-stingers.
- Burner (Stinger). Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/burners.html.
- April Scott, NP
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