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First Aid: Stiff Neck

First AidA stiff neck without other symptoms might be caused by minor muscle strain from sleeping in an odd position or sitting in front of a computer too long.

But other signs may accompany neck stiffness, making it a more serious complaint. For instance, meningitis is a rare infectious illness that can result in stiff neck, headache, and fever.

What to Do

If your child has a stiff or sore neck but no fever or other symptoms:

  • apply a warm moist cloth to the neck
  • give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain
  • call the doctor if symptoms persist

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child Has a Stiff Neck and:

  • had a recent injury
  • has been bitten by a tick within the last month
  • a fever (or lower-than-normal temperature in babies)
  • fatigue, drowsiness, or loss of energy
  • extreme irritability (or trouble being comforted in babies)
  • persistent headache
  • vomiting
  • eye sensitivity to light
  • a skin rash
  • flu-like symptoms
  • for infants: a weak suck, high-pitched cry, or a bulging soft spot on the skull

Think Prevention!

  • Get all routine immunizations on time, especially the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against meningitis.
  • Help avoid tick bites by using insect repellent (with no more than 10% to 30% concentration of DEET); checking kids and pets frequently for ticks; and making sure kids wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in high-risk outdoor areas.
  • Have children avoid activities and equipment known to be risky for neck injuries.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014