Causes, Treatment, and Prevention of Stingers in the Neck

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Neck stingers are neck injuries that cause acute pain that runs from 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 and resolves completely.

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

Causes of Neck Stingers

Neck stringers are thought to happen when a quick movement causes the compression or pinching of the brachial plexus. This is the bundle of nerves that 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. Many people also experience them during car accidents or by simply turning the head quickly.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Usually, the pain of a neck stinger subsides in a minute 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.

They 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.

Treatment

Stringers are usually treated with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) as needed. If you're an athlete, you may need to take some time off from your sport to give the injury time to heal.

Your healthcare provider 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 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.

Prevention

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, both in sports and in daily life, such as when having your hair washed at the salon.
  • Stretch your neck muscles gently prior to 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.

Summary

Neck stringers are a cause of acute pain in athletes and people who are in accidents. They are believed to be caused by compression of the nerves that run 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.

1 Source
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

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