Trauma, inflammation, or abnormal growths may lead to neck pain on the left side. The human neck is formed of muscles, ligaments, nerves, and tissue supported by the vertebrae (the 33 bones that form the spinal column).
As the spinal column runs from the lower back to the base of the skull, the health of the cervical spine is crucial for the mobility and stability of the head. Improper posture and underlying medical conditions may cause the mild to severe pain on the left side of the neck. Treatment may range from rest and exercise to physical therapy and surgery, depending on the cause of the neck pain.
Neck pain on the left side may be accompanied by weakness or numbness in the neck, shoulder, or arm. The complex structure of the neck allows us to move the head backward, forward, and from side to side.
Daily activities such as standing or sitting posture and movement may cause temporary or permanent nerve or muscle damage. Being aware of the causes of neck pain may help in preventing serious complications, as well as identifying a proper treatment.
What Can Be Done for Neck Pain on the Left Side?
Relieving neck pain starts with knowing what caused the mild to severe discomfort. If you are wondering, “Why is my neck so stiff in the mornings?” use the following information to determine the cause.
1. Poor Posture
Holding the neck in a left-facing position for prolonged time periods may cause neck pain. Cradling a phone between your neck and shoulder or sitting with your shoulders hunched upwards may also cause neck pain. This may injure the portion of your spine found within the neck, known as the cervical spine. It can also lead to issues with the support of your core.
Treatment for poor posture starts with being conscious of maintaining your head in proper alignment with the back and neck. Sit up straight, and turn your whole body to the left if your head needs to face this direction.
2. Muscle Tension
Muscle tension is a common cause of neck pain due to the constant movement of your muscles throughout the day. Strain and tension on the muscles occur with odd sleeping positions and excessive turning of your head.
Treatment of the dull ache or severe pain due to muscle tension may include changing your pillow or mattress to one with a firmer control. Avoiding stressful situations and placing your neck in proper position will help alleviate tensed muscles.
3. Whiplash Injury
Whiplash is a sudden, forceful movement of the neck and head in a backward and forward motion. This violent motion may cause the muscles and ligaments to extend and stretch beyond their normal capacity. This is commonly seen in motor vehicle accidents and body tackles in sports.
Treat the pain on the left side of the neck due to whiplash with ice or a cold compress for the first 24 hours and a stable cervical collar. The collar should not be worn for an extended period of time, as it may cause weakening of the muscles.
4. Stingers and Burners Injuries
These injuries refer to the stinging, burning, and shocking pain experienced when nerves in the neck are compressed or stretched beyond their limits. This may occur after a sports injury or trauma with pain that may last up to several days.
Treatment may be resting the neck and shoulders for a short time. If pain persists for several days, therapeutic treatment by a professional therapist may be required. The use of a neck roll or extended shoulder pads is recommended for athletes with recurring stingers and burners injuries.
Also known as cervical radiculopathy, damage to a nerve served by the left side of the neck may be caused by a herniated disc, bone spur, or compression. This pinched nerve may present muscle weakness as well as pain.
Treatment may be as simple as resting and not moving the neck. A combination of medication to reduce inflammation and a medical support device such as a brace may also be used. Doctors will perform surgery in cases of extremely damaged nerves.
6. Cervical Herniated Disc
A cervical herniated disc condition may cause pain on the left side of the neck, as well as the shoulder and arm. Trauma, injury, or wear and tear over time to one of the neck spinal discs can cause the fibrous fluid to escape from a disc and come into contact with a nerve.
Treatment depends on the severity of the impaired disc. Minor cases may see pain medication, targeted exercises, and bed rest as part of the treatment. With a compressed nerve, surgery may be necessary.
7. Cervical Osteoarthritis
Neck pain on the left side may be caused by the osteoarthritis condition. Over time, the bones, joints, and cartilage of the neck begin to deteriorate. Bone spurs may develop and cause the pain and stiffness. This condition is also known as cervical spondylosis.
Treatment may include a range of medications, neck exercises, cold and hot compresses, physical therapy, and the use of medical support devices such as a cervical collar.
Spinal stenosis refers to the entrapment of the nerves of the neck due to the restriction of the spinal column. This may result from an injury, arthritis, genetics, or the aging process. Numbness, tingling, and weakness in the left side of the neck, shoulder, and arm may accompany the pain.
Treatment often entails physical therapy, targeted massage, cold and hot compresses, and in some cases, surgery. Depending on the cause and severity of the stenosis, doctors may surgically remove tissue, bone, or discs, or fuse the vertebrae.
Fibromyalgia may cause chronic pain in the left side of neck, back, and shoulder. It may also cause severe depression and sleep problems, as the exact cause has yet to be determined. Therefore, it is often dismissed as a medical condition. Factors thought to contribute to fibromyalgia include stress, genetics, trauma, and infections.
Treatment for the pain may include medications, massage, and physical therapy, while other symptoms may respond to a combination of medication, exercise, stress management, and counselling.
10. Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis
Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, or DISH, sees abnormal bone development as the ligaments calcify and harden. Known as Forestier’s disease, this condition is a form of arthritis, and the exact cause of the calcification is unknown.
Treatment primarily focuses on any symptoms. Exercise, pain medications, therapy, and surgery may be recommended. Surgery is done in cases where the airway can be constricted or obstructed by the hardened ligaments.
11. Other Conditions
Neck pain on the left side may also be seen with swollen lymph nodes, spinal cord tumors, and spinal infections, or as the outcome of a heart attack, throat abscess, meningitis, throat infections, or cancer in the neck region.
Treatment of neck pain in these cases is focused on the underlying cause of the condition.
Prevent Neck Pain on the Left Side: Best Sleeping Positions
In preventing neck pain not associated with an underlying medical condition, choosing a proper sleeping position may help.
The best sleeping position for neck pain may be on the back. Some may find good results by lying on the side as well. The natural arching of the back and neck can be achieved by using a rounded pillow form under the neck with a flat pillow for your head.
Place a small horizontal neck roll on the inside of a pillowcase, underneath the pillow. A feather-filled pillow or one containing memory foam may also give the same head-neck displacement.
When traveling, use a u-shaped pillow to stabilize your head and neck to avoid overextending the neck muscles while sleeping.
In addition to the sleeping position, you may also prevent neck pain with a proper night’s sleep. Insomnia and frequent waking episodes may cause constant movement that leads to neck pain.
When to See a Doctor
Persistent neck pain or pain that does not subside with treatment may need to be examined by a medical professional.
See a doctor for neck pain that travels to the arms or legs, produces a tingling or numbness sensation, or is accompanied by a headache.
Neck pain with a high fever, muscle weakness that causes mobility issues, or as a result of trauma such as a fall or motor vehicle accident should be checked immediately.
Other signs to seek emergency care for include:
- Unexplainable neck pain
- Bump on neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swollen neck glands
- Breathing difficulty
- Inability to swallow
- Bladder or bowel issues
Neck pain on the left side can happen suddenly and may disappear just as fast. For pain that lingers or progressively becomes worse, treatment may lie in the initial cause as a preventative measure.
More serious cases may see the loss of range of motion, stiffness, and radiating pain to the shoulder and arm accompany the neck pain. Damage or injury to the tissue or bones of the cervical spine may need specialized treatment such as medication, physical therapy, or possibly surgery.
Whether odd sleeping positions or a hidden growth is causing the neck pain on left side, any case of persisting or worsening pain with should be addressed by a physician.
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“Burners and Stingers”, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00027, last accessed October 25, 2017.
“Spinal Stenosis Treatment Overview,” Brigham and Women’s Hospital; http://www.brighamandwomens.org/Departments_and_Services/spinecenter/resources/spinal-stenosis-treatment.aspx, last accessed October 25, 2017.
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