Neck Pain in Children

Pediatric neck pain is tough on kids and on parents, who may not feel comfortable judging the severity of the situation. Although pain in the neck can be the result of muscle strain, infection, or other easily treatable problems, it can also be a sign of a more serious condition.

Neck pain may be the foremost – or only – symptom, but looking at other symptoms, as well as the type of pain they’re experiencing, can help pinpoint the cause. If the child has no other symptoms and otherwise feels fine, it’s likely that their pain is caused by muscle strain from sleeping at an odd angle, staring upward (such as at the ceiling or a TV), or holding one position for a long time (the computer, TV, and even a book are common culprits). Signs of muscle strain include muscles that are sore to the touch, and the child may cock their head to one side to compensate for the pain.

A stiff neck is somewhat different from neck pain: whereas with neck pain it may be painful to touch the chin to either shoulder or to the chest, with a stiff neck it’s not possible at all to touch the chin to the chest. A stiff neck is a symptom of meningitis, so it’s important to consult a medical professional immediately if your child has this problem, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms like fever, fatigue, a rash, sensitivity to light, or nausea.

A swollen lymph node may cause pain in the neck due to its position next to a muscle, where the swelling can cause the muscle to spasm. Swollen nodes are signs of an infection, such as the common cold or flu. A sore throat from infections like strep throat can cause pain in the muscles at the front of the neck; a child who may not be able to communicate their pain as effectively as an adult may also confuse the neck and throat and refer to it as neck pain.

In many cases, children’s neck pain can be treated at home with over the counter painkillers and a hot compress to the neck, which will help relieve sore muscles or spasms. If the pain is severe, follows an injury or bug bite, or is accompanied by other symptoms (especially those of meningitis), you should seek immediate medical treatment.


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