Neck Strain in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Your child has strained the muscles and ligaments in his or her neck. A sudden, awkward movement can strain the neck. This often occurs with falls or car crashes or during certain sports. Everyday activities like using a computer or sleeping can also cause neck strain if they force the neck to be in an awkward position for a long time.

It is common for neck pain to get worse for a day or two after an injury, but it should start to feel better after that. Your child may have more pain and stiffness for several days before it gets better. This is expected. It may take a few weeks or longer for it to heal completely. Good home treatment can help your child get better faster and avoid future neck problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If your child was given a neck brace (cervical collar) to limit neck motion, make sure your child wears it as instructed for as many days as your doctor says to. Do not have your child wear it longer than you were told to. Wearing a brace for too long can make neck stiffness worse and weaken the neck muscles.
  • You can try using heat or ice to see if it helps.
    • Try using a hot water bottle for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. Keep a cloth between the hot water bottle and your child's skin. Try a warm shower in place of one session with the hot water bottle.
    • You can also try an ice pack on your child's neck for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Gently rub the area to relieve pain and help with blood flow. Do not massage the area if your child says that it hurts to do so.
  • Help your child to not do anything that makes the pain worse. Have him or her take it easy for a couple of days. Your child can do usual activities if they do not hurt his or her neck or put it at risk for more stress or injury.
  • Have your child try sleeping on a special neck pillow. Place it under the neck, not under the head. Placing a tightly rolled towel under your child's neck while he or she sleeps will also work. If your child uses a neck pillow or rolled towel, do not let him or her use another pillow at the same time.
  • To prevent future neck pain, have your child do exercises to stretch and strengthen the neck and back. Teach your child to use a good posture, safe lifting techniques, and proper body mechanics.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child is unable to move an arm or a leg at all.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse symptoms in his or her arms, legs, chest, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
  • Your child loses bladder or bowel control.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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