Neck complaints in the pediatric emergency department: A consecutive case series of 170 children

Cosette Pharisa, Nicolas Lutz, Mark G. Roback, Mario Gehri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objectives: To describe the spectrum of pathologies responsible for neck ailments in a primary care pediatric emergency setting and evaluate their outcome. Methods: All children aged 16 years or younger, who presented to the emergency department of the Children's Hospital of Lausanne during a 1-year period, were retrospectively identified and charts were reviewed. Causes of neck complaints were classified as traumatic (group 1), infectious (group 2), postural (group 3), or miscellaneous (group 4) according to the final diagnosis. History and physical examination findings, radiological and laboratory Results, as well as patient outcomes were recorded. Results: During the study period, 28,722 children were observed in the emergency department, and 170 were identified as having neck complaints. The number of patients with neck ailments in group 1 was 105 (62%). Group 2 contained 33 patients (19%), of which 28 (16.5%) had a viral infection and 5 (2.9%) had a bacterial infection. Group 3 contained 30 children (17.6%) and group 4 contained 2 children (1.2%). Cervical spine radiography was performed on an emergency basis in 60 children (57 in group 1, 2 in group 2, and 1 in group 3). Significant abnormalities were observed in 6 children. Cervical computed tomography (CT) was performed in 9 children, from which 5 were in group 1, 3 were in group 2, and 1 was in group 4. The CT scan revealed pathologic findings in 6 children. Follow-up data were available in 135 patients (79.4%), of which 129 (95.6%) experienced complete recovery in less than 2 weeks. Admission to the hospital was necessary in 4 children (1 in group 1 and 3 in group 2), including 2 for emergency surgical drainage of retropharyngeal abscesses. One child with posttraumatic torticollis was treated conservatively as an outpatient and recovered in 7 weeks. One child was had his/her condition eventually diagnosed with osteoid osteoma and treated with oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Conclusions: Most cases of neck ailments in children presenting to the emergency department were due to trauma or infection, which were effectively managed as outpatients. When signs and symptoms suggested an emergent cause, CT provided a definitive diagnosis. The evaluation of a child presenting with acute neck complaints should be based on history and physical examination. Plain radiographs and CT scan are contributive in selected cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)823-826
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric Emergency Care
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009


  • Neck
  • Torticollis


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