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How Do I Care for a Child with a Stiff Neck?

By Patti Kate
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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If your child has a stiff neck, it's important to check for other symptoms that might indicate a serious health issue. If the stiff neck is accompanied by a severe headache and fever, seek medical treatment at once, as these could be symptoms of meningitis, a very serious illness. For a child with a stiff neck due to muscle strain, children's pain relievers may be given. Read the precautions on the label and administer the correct dosage according to the child's age or weight. Using a heating pad on the child's neck can help relieve neck spasms, although adult supervision is needed to prevent burns.

An ongoing condition could indicate a serious illness, such as juvenile arthritis. If the stiff neck is not due to a sports injury or muscle sprain, it's best to check with the child's pediatrician. He can perform a thorough examination to determine the cause of your child's neck pain. Once medical conditions have been ruled out, a few simple steps can help soothe a child with a stiff neck.

A child complaining of sore neck muscles may have pulled a muscle during play or exercise, and this is generally not serious. Sometimes a pillow might be too firm or too soft, causing the child to awaken with pain or stiffness in the neck or shoulder area. If the discomfort is minor, a warm bath or shower can often relieve the stiffness, and a moist heating pad or warm compress to the neck may also work. It's best not to give the child over-the-counter pain medication unless he cannot tolerate the discomfort.

Sometimes a light massage can ease strained muscles in the neck and shoulder area in a child with a stiff neck. It's best not to perform massage on children younger than three unless you have experience in pediatric massage. For older children, gently massage the neck using a light oil. If the child complains of pain or discomfort, stop the massage right away.

Choosing the right type of bed pillow can prevent a child with a stiff neck from incurring further stress. Children need proper neck support during sleep. If your child is a side sleeper, choose a firm pillow. A medium-density children's pillow is best for the child who sleeps on his back, while a soft pillow is the best choice for a stomach sleeper. The child should be discouraged from sleeping on his stomach until the neck discomfort has been relieved.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On May 17, 2013

@turkay1-- If it's only a stiff neck, you can watch it for another day. If there is any pain at all or if the swelling increases, she needs to see a doctor right away.

Have you applied ice to the swelling? You might want to try that but I would avoid massage right now in case it's an injury.

By candyquilt — On May 17, 2013

@feruze-- My daughter has a stiff neck right now. There also appears to be a slight swelling behind her neck. I gave her a pain reliever, but that has done nothing. Is this serious enough to visit the hospital or should I wait for another day to see if it gets better?

By bear78 — On May 16, 2013

My ten year old son woke up with a stiff neck a few days ago. He couldn't move it at all!

He refused to go to the hospital saying that he slept in a bad position during the night. Sometimes he falls asleep at his desk and I have to wake him up to go to his bed. So it probably happened at that time.

I basically just gave him a heat pad to keep on his neck and a low dose pain reliever. It took a few hours for both to take effect but when they did, his neck loosened up very quickly. He woke perfectly fine the next day. I'm glad we didn't go to the hospital since it was nothing serious.

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