Open Accessibility Menu

‘Burners’ Common to Football Players

  • Category: General
  • Posted On:
‘Burners’ Common to Football Players

Football season brings a rise in athletic injuries, and one of the more common injuries is the “burner” or “stinger.” In a recent survey of college football players, 65 percent reported at least one burner during their careers. These injuries get their names from the burning pain, often associated with numbness and weakness, which shoots down from the involved arm.

Burners are injuries to what is known as the brachial plexus. This is a group of nerves which pass from the neck beneath the clavicle, or collar bone, into the arm.

Injuries to these nerves can occur when an athlete is struck on the head and shoulders simultaneously. This often happens when tackling or striking the ground when being tackled. The head is forced in one direction and the shoulders in another. This results in stretching of the brachial plexus nerves.

This sudden stretching causes an injury to the nerves resulting in the burning pain, numbness and weakness. Often the athlete will report that his arm feels “dead” and will come off the field holding it with his opposite arm. These symptoms usually last only a few minutes. The feeling returns as the nerve recovers and function is regained. Many players try to “shake it off” and commonly will not even report these injuries to their coaches or trainers.

Although most burners resolve within minutes, occasionally the symptoms may persist. In some cases it may take days, even weeks, for complete recovery, but permanent injury is very rare. It is important that the athlete be fully recovered before returning to play.

While it is generally felt to be safe to return to play once complete recovery occurs, it is important that this be determined by the team’s trainer or doctor.

It is important to distinguish a burner from a more severe head or neck injury which would preclude a return. Subtle residual weakness may not be readily apparent, but may leave an athlete unable to adequately protect himself in competition, increasing the risk of other injury. Until recovery is complete, the brachial plexus itself is also at an increased risk of reinjury, and subsequent injuries are often more severe.

Since little can be done to treat burners, other than to wait for resolution, it is important to try and prevent them. Fortunately, prevention is impossible. The use of neck rolls or cowboy collars on the shoulder pads is recommended for any players who has suffered a burner. Proper blocking and tackling techniques can also decrease the incidence of these injuries. Perhaps the most important is a year-round neck and shoulder exercise program, emphasizing strengthening and flexibility.