Montana Public Radio

What Kids Can Do About A Stiff Neck: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Sep 17, 2018

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about a stiff neck.

A stiff neck is just exactly that: one day you wake up and your neck feels stiff. When you turn or bend your head, it really doesn’t want to go and your neck hurts a bit when you try.

Kids often get a stiff neck after spending a lot of time texting or working on a computer or playing video games. That’s because they’re usually bent and hunched over. When you do that for a while, the muscles in your neck and shoulders get tired and sore. Then they get tight, and then you’ve got a stiff neck.

You can also get a stiff neck from sleeping in a weird position – like when you fall asleep in a chair or a car with your head tilted backwards. Your neck can get stiff from falling or from a bad bounce on a trampoline or from the rough shake you get when you ride your bike over a big curb. Any time your head suddenly goes in an unusual direction, you can end up with a stiff neck.

If you get a stiff neck, tell an adult. If you are not sick to your stomach, you don’t have a fever or a bad headache, you’ve probably got a simple stiff neck. You don’t need to be worried. You just need to do a few things so you can feel better quickly.

A good way to treat a stiff neck is to put moist heat on those tender muscles. Ask your parents to soak a towel in hot, hot water, wring it out, and wrap the towel around your neck. Then cover the moist towel with a dry towel to keep the heat in. Leave it on for 5 or 10 minutes. After that - and this part is hard – ask one of your parents to gently rub an ice cube all over your neck for about 30 seconds. This mix of hot and cold will bring lots of blood into the muscles of your neck. That will help them loosen up and heal.

The second thing to do for a stiff neck is stretch. First, slowly roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times. Next, squeeze your shoulder blades (those two wing-like bones that are at the upper part of your back) together, then release, 10 times.

Third, bend your neck and head slowly and carefully in all four directions. Start by slowly lowering your right ear toward your right shoulder, until you can feel it stretch. Hold it there and count to ten. Raise your head up to center; then slowly lower your left ear to your left shoulder and hold it there for 10 seconds. Come back to center, then roll your head forward, chin to chest. Hold there for 10 counts. Then slowly roll your head backward and hold it while you count to 10.

Another treatment is massage. Ask an adult to gently press and rub all the muscles of your neck, downward from your head to your shoulders. Then massage in small circles in the back of your neck, at the place where your skull and neck come together. Don’t overdo it on the massage! Five minutes at a time is enough. If someone massages a stiff neck for too long, you’ll also get a bruised neck!

Usually kids with a stiff neck feel better in one or two days. If you don’t, your parents should take you to your doctor for an exam and a visit. I hope these tips help!

I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.