Burners (or stingers) are injuries to the nerve network that provides feeling and
muscle control in the shoulder, arm, forearm, hand, and fingers. Burners — also called
brachial plexus injuries — are common in sports. Most go away pretty
What Happens in a Burner?
The brachial plexus nerve network begins with nerve roots at the spinal cord in
the neck and reaches to the armpit. Nerves branch out from there and continue down
the arm to the forearm, hand, and fingers.
When a strong force increases the angle between the neck and shoulders, the brachial
plexus nerves might stretch or tear. The injury may also pull the nerve roots of the
brachial plexus from the spinal cord. Damaged nerves carry sensation poorly and make
muscle movements weak.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Burner?
Kids with a burner may complain of:
pain or an electric shock shooting down the arm
numbness in the arm or fingers
clumsiness or weakness in the hand or arm
a warm sensation in the affected area
A severe injury may cause paralysis (loss of movement) of the arm and a loss of
Who Gets Burners?
Football players are most at risk for burners. But they also can happen in kids
and teens who participate in:
Burners can also happen in an accident (like a fall from a bike or a motor vehicle
crash) when the head is forcefully pushed to one side or something hits the neck and
Less common are brachial
plexus injuries in newborns. These can happen if something complicates the birth,
such as a breech (bottom-first) delivery or a large baby with shoulders too wide to
fit through the birth canal.
How Are Burners Diagnosed?
A doctor will usually recognize a burner from the child or teen’s symptoms and
a physical exam. The doctor may check arm strength, reflexes, and range of motion
in the arm.
Imaging tests — like X-rays or an MRI
— might be ordered if a child has:
a history of burners
neck pain or decreased range of motion in the neck
symptoms in both arms
weakness lasting more than a few days
problems with thinking, speech, or memory
The tests can help doctors see the extent of the injury and rule out a more serious
condition, such as a spine fracture.
How Are Burners Treated?
Treatment depends on how severe a burner is. Many mild injuries need no treatment
because feeling and muscle control return within a few minutes.
Kids with a lasting burner might need:
Ice applied to the affected area. Use an ice bag or a cold compress
for 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for the first couple of days to ease any swelling.
Anti-inflammatory medicines. Pain relievers (such as ibuprofen
can help ease pain and
in the neck and shoulder.
Range of motion exercises. To keep the neck, shoulder, arm, and
hand limber and flexible while the nerves heal, the doctor may recommend some exercises.
These can also help ease muscle spasms.
What Else Should I Know?
Most burners go away on their own. Kids with a more serious injury might work with
a physical therapist
or trainer to keep the muscles strong during healing.
A burner should heal completely before kids return to sports. To make burners less
likely, kids who play contact sports should:
Keep their neck and shoulder muscles as strong and flexible as possible.
Gently stretch the neck muscles before any athletic activity.
Use protective gear (like a football neck collar or specially designed shoulder
Use proper sports technique (never leading with their head during a football game,