First Aid

    A stiff neck without other symptoms might be caused by minor muscle strain from sleeping in an odd position or looking down at a phone too long.

    If your child has a stiff neck along with a fever and a headache, it could be more serious. For instance, meningitis is a rare infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord that can cause a stiff neck, headache, and fever.

    What to Do

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

    • put a warm moist cloth on the neck as often as needed for pain
    • give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain
    • call the doctor if symptoms last more than a few days

    Get Medical Care if Your Child Has a Stiff Neck and:

    • had a recent injury
    • has been bitten by a tick within the last month
    • has a fever (or lower-than-normal temperature in babies)
    • 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

    Think Prevention!

    • Get all routine immunizations on time, especially the meningococcal vaccine, which protects against bacterial meningitis.
    • Help kids avoid tick bites:
      • Use insect repellent (with no more than 10% to 30% concentration of DEET).
      • Check kids and pets often for ticks.
      • Make 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.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2021 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com