Neck Pain or Stiffness
- Pain or discomfort in the back, side or front of the neck
- Minor muscle strain from overuse and neck injury are included
- Pain in the front of the neck often is from a sore throat. It can also be from a swollen lymph node.
- Neck pains due to strained muscles cause these symptoms:
- The head is often cocked to one side
- Can't bend the head backward or put the chin to each shoulder. Often, can still bend the neck forward (touch the chin to the chest).
- The neck muscles are often sore to the touch
Causes of Neck Pain
- In teens, new neck pain is mostly from strained neck muscles (muscle overuse).
- Triggers are sleeping in an awkward position or fixing something on the ceiling. Reading in bed or working on a computer for hours can also cause neck pain.
- At all ages, it can be from a swollen lymph node. That can cause spasm of the neck muscle it lies against.
Causes of Stiff Neck
- A stiff neck means your child can't touch the chin to the chest.
- Meningitis is one of the serious causes of a stiff neck with fever. Suspected meningitis needs to be seen now.
- Mild: Your child feels pain and tells you about it. But, the pain does not keep your child from any normal activities. School, play and sleep are not changed.
- Moderate: The pain keeps your child from doing some normal activities. It may wake him or her up from sleep.
- Severe: The pain is very bad. It keeps your child from doing all normal activities.
When to call your doctor
Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
- Pain starts after a major injury such as with contact sports or car crash. See FIRST AID. Caution: Don't move your child until a neck brace is put on.
- You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Pain started after a minor injury
- Stiff neck (can't touch chin to chest) with fever
- Can't move neck normally with fever
- Headache with fever
- Numbness, tingling or pain in arms, upper back or legs
- Muscles in the arms or legs are weak (loss of strength)
- Pain is SEVERE
- You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
- Can’t move neck normally
- Headache without fever
- Fever lasts more than 24 hours
- Age less than 5 years
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
- Cause of neck pain is not clear (no history of overuse)
- Neck pain (from lots of turning) lasts more than 2 weeks
- Neck pains are a frequent problem
Parent Care at Home If
- Strained neck muscles (with history of overuse) present less than 2 weeks
CARE ADVICE FOR STRAINED NECK MUSCLES
- What You Should Know:
- Most new neck pain is from stretching and turning the neck muscles too much. This causes strained muscles from muscle overuse.
- Looking up or to the side for too long is a common trigger.
- When muscle pain starts without reason, it's often from sleeping in an awkward position.
- Here is some care advice that should help.
- Pain Medicine:
- To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.
- Cold Pack:
- During the first 2 days, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
- Put it on the sore muscles for 20 minutes.
- Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed.
- Reason: Reduces pain and any spasm.
- Caution: Avoid frostbite.
- Heat Pack:
- If pain lasts over 2 days, put heat on the sore muscles.
- Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth.
- Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
- Caution: Avoid burns.
- Sleep on the back or side, not the stomach.
- Sleep with a neck collar.
- Use a foam neck collar (from a drug store). If don't have one, wrap a small towel around the neck.
- Reason: Keep the head from moving too much during sleep.
- Protect the neck for 48 hours. Then start a gentle stretching program.
- Avoid any sports or work that increase the pain.
- What to Expect:
- New neck pain without a reason most often goes away in a few days.
- Neck pain from muscle overuse (strained neck muscles) goes away in 1 to 2 weeks.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Neck pain becomes severe
- Stiff neck occurs
- Pain starts to shoot into the arms, upper back or legs
- Pain lasts more than 2 weeks
- Your child becomes worse
Author: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last reviewed: 12/14/2012
Last revised: 12/15/2012 2:12:52 PM