There are a handful of medical issues that can cause neck pain in toddlers. The most common of these include neck sprains, torticollis and meningitis. As with adults, sleeping in an awkward position can also cause neck pain the next morning. While neck pain typically goes away on its own, it can be a sign of a larger issue when coupled with other symptoms.
Toddlers are naturally active and generally fearless. This can lead to accidental falls that can result in a sprained neck. In most cases, this type of neck pain in toddlers is not a cause for alarm. Discomfort can be eased with warm compresses, infant or children ibuprofen as recommended by the child’s pediatrician and neck massages. Neck sprains usually heal themselves within two to three weeks, but if the child is in a large amount of pain, a trip to the doctor may be necessary.
Torticollis, a contraction of neck muscles on one side of the head, can also cause pain. While many assume this medical issue only applies to infants, known as congenital torticollis, it can also develop during the toddler years. This most commonly occurs after some type of neck injury or sleeping in an awkward position on a routine basis, such as in a car seat. In some cases, it can also be a side effect of a severe cold. The neck pain that may accompany torticollis can be treated in the same manner as a neck sprain, while the neck muscle contraction is typically treated with stretching exercises and occasionally physical therapy or medications.
While neck pain in toddlers by itself is not usually serious, when coupled with a high fever, fatigue or sensitivity to light, it is one of the prime symptoms of meningitis. This disease is the result of a bacterial or viral infection in the lining and fluid surrounding the brain. If a toddler is experiencing neck pain, especially if he is completely unwilling to look downward, he should be taken to the emergency room as quickly as possible. As with most diseases, meningitis is best treated early and aggressively. While viral meningitis can, in many cases, be treated with plenty of rest, fluids and pain killers to ease symptoms, bacterial meningitis typically requires antibiotics and oftentimes corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation in the brain lining.
A much less serious cause of neck pain in toddlers can simply be sleeping in a funny position. Young children often go until they drop, and may fall asleep in whatever way they first lay down. This can cause a toddler to awaken with a stiff neck and some amount of neck pain. If this is the case, there is usually no cause for concern; as when adults sleep in an uncomfortable position, the feeling of stiffness or pain will often wear off by the end of the day.