Causes, Treatment, and Prevention of Stingers in the Neck

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Neck stingers are neck injuries that cause acute pain from the skull's base to the shoulder or along the neck. The pain is burning, pinching, or shock-like and quite intense. Numbness, burning, or weakness in the arm may also occur.

While often startling, the pain of a neck stinger typically subsides within minutes or hours and resolves completely.

The medical term for a neck stinger is a brachial plexus injury.

A woman rubbing her sore neck.
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This article looks at the causes, treatment, and prevention of neck stringers, sometimes called neck burners.

Symptoms of Neck Stingers

Sensations of burning, stinging, or pinching in the neck or down the arms are the primary symptoms of neck stingers.

This sharp pain is often accompanied by a decreased range of motion in the neck. Some people might experience tingling, a sensation of numbness, and weakness in the area. People often describe a sensation like a shock going down one arm.

Causes of Neck Stingers

Neck stringers are thought to happen when a quick movement causes the compression or pinching of the brachial plexus. This bundle of nerves runs from the back of the neck into the arm.

This type of injury can happen during quick twisting of the neck and head or an impact from the side.

Neck burners and stingers are common football injuries. Playing other contact sports like rugby, boxing, and hockey increases risk, and gymnasts and weightlifters also have a higher incidence of neck stingers. Many people experience them during car accidents or by simply turning their heads quickly.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Usually, the pain of a neck stinger subsides in a minute or two without any long-term problems.

You should see a healthcare provider if the accident that caused the injury was severe, such as a car crash or a football tackle that resulted in other injuries. If pain, weakness, or loss of range of motion persists, seek out professional attention.

Any time you experience neck pain, particularly after any impact, it is important to assess whether the injury could be something more serious like a fracture. Seek immediate medical attention if both of your arms are affected or if you received a blow to the head, especially if you lost consciousness.

A healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and, if appropriate, order imaging tests like X-rays or an MRI. They will want to rule out a serious condition such as a slipped disc or spinal cord problem.


Stringers are usually treated with rest, ice, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) as needed.

If you have severe or ongoing pain and see a healthcare provider, they may also recommend physical therapy to help you recover and maintain your range of motion. 

Most people recover from a stinger in a few days or weeks. If the stinger occurs during sports, you must be sure all your symptoms resolve entirely before returning to the game. If you return too quickly, the risk of re-injury is high.


A neck burner or stinger may be a sign you are doing something wrong that you want to correct.

  • Use protective gear and proper sports technique. This includes wearing a collar for football.
  • Avoid awkward positions of the head and neck in sports and daily life, such as when having your hair washed at the salon.
  • Stretch your neck muscles gently before activity.
  • Strengthen your neck, back, and shoulder muscles. Don't neglect upper body workouts if you are primarily a runner or cyclist.
  • Return to activity slowly after sustaining a burner or stinger. Take it easy.
  • See a healthcare provider if you experience recurrent burners and stingers. They can rule out whether there are other things at work or help you modify your activities.


Neck stringers are a cause of acute pain in athletes and people who are in accidents. They are believed to be caused by nerve compression that runs from the back of the neck to the arm.

Neck stringers can be painful, but they are usually short-lived. Treatment typically involves rest, ice, and pain medication. You may also want to try physical therapy.

Fortunately, most people recover from a neck stringer within a few days to weeks.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Green J, Zuckerman SL, Dalton SL, Djoko A, Folger D, Kerr ZY. A 6-year surveillance study of "stingers" in NCAA American football. Res Sports Med. 2017;25(1):26-36. doi:10.1080/15438627.2016.1258642

  2. Bowles DR, Canseco JA, Alexander TD, Schroeder GD, Hecht AC, Vaccaro AR. The prevalence and management of stingers in college and professional collision athletes. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2020;13(6):651-662. doi:10.1007/s12178-020-09665-5

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.