Although often a temporary condition attributable to sprains, neck pain can be a sign of serious health issues in a toddler. Neck pain in which your child complains of a stiff neck or keeps it turned to one side, or pain accompanied by fever or nausea, can indicate a need for immediate medical attention. Parents might wonder when their child’s condition requires patience and a heating pad or a trip to the emergency room.
Because toddlers are less likely to participate in activities that cause neck strains such as carrying heavy bags, typing on the computer or playing certain sports, it's important to have your child’s neck injury thoroughly examined by her doctor to rule out more serious causes, such as torticollis. Torticollis is a physical condition that forces toddlers to hold their neck to one side, perhaps due to their position in the womb. Most cases of torticollis are diagnosed in infants, but it can also be acquired later and might signal a spinal cord or brain tumor.
Neck strains, in which the muscles are pulled or stretched, are the most common type of neck injury that occur in toddlers. Sleeping positions, some sports and carrying items incorrectly can all result in temporary neck strain, which should resolve itself within two weeks without medical assistance.
If your child incurs a fall that you suspect might have caused the neck injury, make sure he stays still and quiet and call immediately for emergency medical help. Paramedics must use a backboard to lift your child and stabilize him until treatment.
Diseases and Conditions
Bacterial and viral meningitis are critical medical conditions in which the lining of the child’s brain, known as the meninges, become infected. If left untreated, meningitis potentially causes brain damage and death. According to pediatrician and child development expert doctor William Sears, the key to meningitis identification is the stiff and sore neck. If your child complains of a painful stiff neck accompanied by fever, severe headache, vomiting and sensitivity to light, take your child to the emergency room immediately.
If your toddler is pre-verbal, serious neck pain indicating meningitis can be hard to diagnose. Watch for fever, nausea, seizures, extreme lethargy and extreme irritability. According to livestrong.com, children in this age group who contract meningitis display some unique symptoms, such as severe leg pain or pulling their legs close to their bodies when parents try to push their necks forward.
Give your child a dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help alleviate the worst of the pain and to enable her to rest. During the first two days of the injury, apply ice packs for 20 minutes up to four times a day. After the first two days, apply a warm heating bottle or a heating pad on the lowest setting to the injury for up to 20 minutes. Help guard against neck pain by monitoring your child’s sleeping position and making sure her head is well supported, especially when she sleeps in a car seat.