Sudden Neck Pain in a Child

Sudden neck pain in your child is frightening. Fortunately, most incidents involving this type of pain are due to muscle soreness or slight infections. It is important, however, to rule out other, less-common illnesses that can be serious. Learn when to see the doctor and what measures you should take when your child complains that something is wrong with his neck.

Possible Reasons

According to the Emergency Medical Journal, the two most common causes of sudden neck pain in children are infection and trauma. Infections can cause swelling of the glands in the neck, which can produce intense discomfort. A neck injury or sudden sharp movement of the neck can result in a strain or crick that causes pain and difficulty in turning the head. Another less common, but much more serious cause of neck pain is meningitis -- a condition in which there is an infection present in the brain and spinal cord.

When to Get Medical Care

Get your child to her physician immediately if she experiences a fever as well as sudden neck pain. You have to rule out the slim possibility of spinal meningitis. Also, see the doctor as soon as possible if others in the area have been recently diagnosed with meningitis. Other reasons to see a doctor are if your child's neck pain persists for three or more days, or if she reports dizziness, becomes lightheaded, suffers a headache or numbness or tingling anywhere in her body.


A physician will perform a physical assessment of your child, including an interview with you both. The doctor will probably ask if there has been an obvious injury, when the pain started and whether there are other symptoms of ill health. The doctor may manipulate your child's neck by turning his head up and down and from side to side. An x-ray or some other type of scan may also be in order, if the doctor deems it necessary for a diagnosis. You child could be prescribed antibiotics in the case of infection, as well as anti-inflammatory and pain medications.

Home Care

The Mayo Clinic recommends alternating hot and cold therapies to relieve neck pain. Ice the area with an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel. Continue this treatment for 15 to 20 minutes. Following the cold treatment, you can put a heating pad set on low directly on the area of soreness for up to 20 minutes. Give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen in the dosage recommend on the label. The dosage is generally determined most accurately by your child's weight. Other home care includes advising your child to gently stretch her neck muscles. You can also provide a gentle massage yourself.