Burners and Stingers

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What Are Burners and Stingers?

Burners and stingers are injuries to the nerves of your upper arm, at either the neck or shoulder. They often occur as a result from a collision in contact sports.

The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that starts in your spinal cord. These nerves are responsible for giving your arms and hands feeling.

When you make or receive a hard hit with your shoulder, you can compress or overstretch the brachial plexus. This sends electricity down the nerves in your arm, often causing a burning sensation in the arms and shoulders.

Burner and stinger risk factors

Burners and stingers are most common in football.

Other athletes at risk of hard falls — such as gymnasts, skiers, and cyclists — may also get them.

Make an appointment for burners and stingers

To make an appointment with a sports medicine expert or learn more about burners and stingers, contact UPMC Sports Medicine at 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).

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Burner and Stinger Symptoms and Diagnosis

A burner or stinger — a sports injury to the nerves of the upper arm — is very common in contact or collision sports.

Symptoms of burners and stingers

Burner and stinger symptoms occur in your neck, shoulder, and arm.

The most common stinger symptoms include:

  • Tingling
  • Stinging
  • Burning pain
  • Weakness in the arm
  • Stiffness in the neck

The pain from a burner or stinger injury may also travel from your shoulder down to your hand.

The pain often goes away within a few minutes. However, weakness can last a while longer.

Burner and stinger diagnosis

If the burner or stinger occurs during a sporting event, a physical therapist or doctor will perform an exam.

He or she will:

  • Test your reflexes.
  • Look for weakness in the arm.
  • Check to make sure no spinal injury has occurred.

Your doctor may order an x-ray or MRI to rule out any other problem, such as a fracture.

Make an appointment for burner and stinger symptoms

To make an appointment with a sports medicine expert or learn more about burners and stingers, contact UPMC Sports Medicine at 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).

Learn more about symptoms of burners and stingers

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Burner and Stinger Treatment

When an athlete suffers a burner or stinger, the first step is to remove them from activity and have a doctor do a physical exam.

Brachial plexus injuries resolve on their own.

Pain from burners and stingers tends to go away within seconds or minutes, but the weakness and stiffness can remain for hours or days.

Treatment options for weakness and stiffness include:

  • A soft collar to protect the neck.
  • Rest.
  • Range of motion exercises.

More severe burner and stinger injuries may require physical therapy.

You should not return to sports until all symptoms and neck pain are completely gone.

Make an appointment for burner and stinger treatment

To make an appointment with a sports medicine expert or learn more about treatments for burners and stingers, contact UPMC Sports Medicine at 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).

Learn more about treating burners and stingers

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UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

From our Health Library: