Causes, Treatment, and Prevention of Stingers in the Neck

Burners and neck stingers are neck injuries that cause acute pain, that feels like a burning, pinching or shock that runs from the base of the skull to the shoulder or along the neck. This pain is quite intense, and may be frightening, but subsides quickly.

A woman rubbing her sore neck.
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It is thought to be caused when a quick movement causes the compression or pinching of the bundle of nerves, the brachial plexus, that runs from the back of the neck into the arm. This often occurs from a twisting of the neck and head. It can happen during an impact from the side as is often seen in football.

In addition to acute pain and shock from the shoulder down into the arm and fingers, there may be numbness, burning, or weakness in the arm. Usually, this acute pain lasts only a minute or two and goes away completely.


Neck burners and stingers are common football injuries, but many people experience the sensation during car accidents, or by simply turning the head quickly. Any quick twisting motion of the neck may cause a burner.


Usually, the pain subsides in a minute without any long-term problems. You should see a physician if the injury that caused the burner was severe, such as if you were in a car accident or you were tackled on the football field and have other injuries.

A physician will want to rule out a serious condition such as a slipped disc or spinal cord problem. 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.

If the stinger occurs during sports, you need to be sure all your symptoms resolve entirely before you return to the game. If you return too quickly, the risk of re-injury is high.


The neck is an area that you need to protect in sports and activities. Besides the spine, you have the blood supply to your brain, your air supply to your lungs, and your esophagus to get nutrition into your system. Don't neglect the neck.

A 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, both in sports and in daily life, such as when having your hair washed at the salon.
  • Stretch your neck muscles gently prior to the activity.
  • Strengthen your neck, back, and shoulder muscles. Don't neglect upper body workouts if you are primarily a runner or cyclist. Your head isn't just along for the ride, it needs a good attachment.
  • Return to activity slowly after sustaining a burner or stinger. Take it easy.
  • See a physician if you experience recurrent burners and stingers. They can rule out whether there are other things at work or help you modify your activities.
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. Feinberg JH. Burners and stingers. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2000;11(4):771-84.

  2. 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

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