What to Do About a Stiff Neck
A stiff neck without other symptoms is often caused by minor muscle strain from sleeping in an odd position or looking down at a phone too long. This usually gets better with home care.
But a stiff neck that happens after an injury (like a fall) or along with a fever and headache could be more serious. For example, meningitis is a infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord that can cause a stiff neck, headache, and fever.
How Is a Stiff Neck Treated?
If your child has a stiff or sore neck but wasn't injured and has no fever or other symptoms:
- Put a warm moist cloth on the neck for 20 minutes every 3–4 hours as needed for pain.
- Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Don't give ibuprofen to an infant younger than 6 months old.
- Call the doctor if symptoms last more than a few days or don't improve.
When Should I Call the Doctor for a Stiff Neck?
Call the doctor right away if your child has a stiff neck and:
- had a recent injury
- was bitten by a tick within the last month
- has a fever (or is a baby and has a lower-than-normal temperature)
- seems very tired or drowsy
- is very cranky (or is a baby and can't be comforted)
- has a lasting headache
- is vomiting
- has a skin rash
- has flu-like symptoms
- is an infant and has a weak suck, high-pitched cry, or a bulging soft spot on the skull
Can Stiff Necks Be Prevented?
To avoid neck pain from sore muscles:
- Encourage kids not to look down at their phones too long. It’s important to take breaks.
- Make sure your child’s sleeping area is comfortable. Check that the pillow isn’t too tall or too flat to support the neck. A lumpy pillow or toys in the bed can create an uncomfortable night of sleep.
To avoid more serious causes of neck pain:
- Make sure your kids get all recommended vaccines on time, especially the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against bacterial meningitis.
- Help kids avoid bites from ticks that may carry meningitis:
- Use insect repellent (with no more than 10% to 30% concentration of DEET).
- Check kids and pets for ticks after they've been outdoors.
- Have kids wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in high-risk outdoor areas.