17 Possible Causes Of Neck Pain In Your Left Side
August 24, 2023

17 Possible Causes Of Neck Pain In Your Left Side

17 Possible Causes Of Neck Pain In Your Left Side

By Dr. Shoaib Muhammad , published on August 24, 2023
Dr Shoaib Muhammad,MD

If you've got neck pain in your left side, you're not alone. This is one of the most common types of neck pain and, most of the time, it's quite easy to treat.

Today I'll be covering a complete list of causes of this condition. Let's start off with a look at the anatomy of your neck for those interested.

As always, feel free just to use the table of contents to skip forward to the causes if you prefer.

The Anatomy of Your Neck

Your neck is a complex of several muscles, glands, organs, arteries, and nerves that divides into four neck spaces: vertebral, visceral, and two vascular compartments. These compartments encase the following structures in your neck, and vertebrae and muscles of the neck control their mobility and protection.[1]

Neck Spaces Components Functions
Vertebral compartment Cervical vertebrae and postural muscles. Controls neck motion and provide protection to neck structures.
Visceral compartment Glands (thyroid, parathyroid, and thymus)

Organs: the larynx, pharynx and trachea.
Production of 2 hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) involved in metabolic processes.

Encloses voice box consisting of nine cartilage Swallowing and breathing Conduction of air.
Two vascular compartments Two vascular compartments: contain the common carotid artery, internal jugular vein and the vagus nerve, on each side of the neck.  Blood and nerve supply to the neck.

Diagnosing & treating left-side neck pain

Symptoms of Sensorimotor Problems

Neck pain can cause sensorimotor disturbances, including atrophy, degeneration, and fatty infiltration, affecting cervical afferent input by changing proprioception and joint mechanics.

Sensorimotor impairments in the neck can cause the following disturbances in your body: Visual disturbances Poor head neck posture awareness Balance and posture instability Altered cervical joint position (proprioception) Altered eye movement control Dizziness, lightheadedness and unsteadiness[2]

Common Causes Of Left-Side Neck Pain

Let's explore common causes of why you might be feeling neck pain on your left side.

Neuro-Muscular Inflammation

Pain in your neck can also be due to inflammation of nerves causing shooting pain that radiates into the arm. You may also feel numbness, reduced reflexes, and tingling sensations. As a result,

You may feel neck pain due to inflammation of muscles in the neck.[3] shooting pain in neck is common in the elderly[4]. Stiffness and pain in your neck can also be a result of untreated meningitis (brain swelling and seizure) caused by viral or bacterial infection. [3]

Nerve Compression

Emotional stress and neurological conditions, e.g., stroke or compressed nerves, may also cause your head to bend, causing difficulty or pain while moving your neck. You should apply heat, massage the affected area, or stretch the neck muscles to relieve pain and induce relaxation.[5]

Tearing of Cervical Disc Outer Layer

Tearing of the cervical disc outer layer presses nerves passing throughout vertebrae that, In addition to pain in the neck, also cause numbness, weakness, or tingling that can extend down into the arms.[5]

Strain in Trapezius and Sternocleidomastoid Muscle

Sleeping in an awkward position causes muscle strain in tendon or neck muscles. Lifting heavy objects during a workout causes overstretching in neck muscles, causing stress that results in swelling, pain, or reduced neck Range of Motion.[3]

A strain occurs between the upper trapezius and the sternocleidomastoid, which may increase with shoulder or neck movement. [4]

Muscular strains reduce neck ROM and hence pain and stiffness in neck.[5]Traction can also be helpful. Sometimes you may get rid of this pain without any treatment in a few days [4]

Compression of Subclavian Vein, Artery and Brachial Plexus Bundle

The subclavian vein, artery, and brachial plexus bundle compression in the lower neck area results in thoracic outlet syndrome. You may feel one-sided neck pain due to these structures compressed during a traumatic injury or due to repetitive overuse of the arm. [4]

Common causes of left-side neck pain

Atypical anatomy Presence of extra cervical rib in your body can also cause the neck pain[4]

Narrowing and Fracture of Cervical Vertebrae

Narrowing vertebrae in the cervical region occurs in osteoporosis, which can also cause pain in your neck.

You may also feel pain and cramps in the neck during cervical vertebrae fractures that can cause damage to nerves, tendons, and ligaments in the neck.

Narrowing of spinal cord also exert pressure on nerves in neck causing weakness and numbness in neck that propagates in arms and hands [3]

Exposure to Cold

Poor posture and exposure to cold temperatures can cause sudden neck muscle contraction and twisting head to one side (Torticollis), causing one-sided neck pain. [3]

Traumatic Injuries

You may feel one-sided neck pain due to whiplash injury resulting in neck stiffness and headaches. Traumatic injuries can also cause severe damage to the cervical spine, resulting in neck pain, bulging discs out of spinal canal contacts with nerves, and you may experience shooting pain in your neck.[3]

Trigger Point Problems

Some tight knots in your neck also cause pain; these are tense areas that may not go on their own.

It forms in a body or neck in response to stress or repetitive activities like swinging a tennis racket over and over or – for many of us – hunching over our desks and pounding the keyboard daily.[6]

Fibromyalgia Pain

In the neck and throughout the body, the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown and can be challenging to treat.[3]

Comorbidities

You can experience left-side neck pain also due to a heart attack due to the presence of your heart in the left side of your body that radiates into the jaw or back too.[4] Women are more likely to report non-chest pain as a heart attack symptom as compared to men[3] Specific types of lung cancer can also cause neck pain, e.g., pancoast tumours in people who smoke or have secondhand exposure to smoke. [4]

Poor Ergonomics

Use of Poor ergonomics in the workplace can lead to neck pain. Workers in sedentary, computer-intensive jobs have a higher incidence of neck pain than many other jobs.[7]

Poor Desk Posture

Furthermore, using poor posture at your desk throughout the day can lead to a forward head posture, which increases the likelihood of neck pain.[7]

Forward head posture can increase the stress on the cervical spine, alter the curve of the cervical spine in the neck region. That causes neck muscles to overwork to counterbalance the gravity pull during the forward head posture, resulting in painful strains of the muscles in the neck, and spasms. [8]

This is common in teenagers who use mobile devices or computers for several hours of the day, with poor posture habits resulting in neck and shoulder pain commonly. [9]

Stress and Anxiety

Your neck muscles may tense up during stress and anxiety, resulting in pain and stiffness in the neck. Research has shown that people experiencing higher stress are at a greater risk of neck pain. [10]

Rarer Causes of Left-Side Neck Pain

Let's next take a look at some of the more rare conditions that can cause your left-hand side pain and discomfort.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

You may feel pain in the left or right side of the neck depending on the part of the joint lining affected by arthritis, causing pain, stiffness, numbness, and muscle weakness in the neck area. [3]

Inflammation of the C1 and C2 vertebrae occurs due to arthritis in synovial joints (synovitis inflammation) that causes compression of blood vessels and develops pressure on nerves, disrupting the blood supply to the neck area. As a result, you may feel numbness and tingling in your neck. [11]

Rare causes of left-side neck pain

Osteoporosis

Cervical fractures are common in osteoporosis due to thinning and weakening of bones, and you feel pain in the neck due to weakness of bones in your neck region (either left or right). [3]

It causes the decreased density of neck bone, and hence neck bones become weakened. As a result, you may feel discomfort in your neck. [12]

Spinal Tumors

A spinal tumour can also cause neck pain when it grows within the spinal canal or the bones of your spine. Weakness is observed in the neck muscles, along with neck pain. [3]

Congenital Abnormalities

The neck of newborn babies may be injured during delivery, causing neck pain on the left side. Pain can also be seen due to abnormally shaped cervical vertebrae forming in the neck region during embryonic development.[3]

What to Do About Left Side Neck Pain?

Physical therapy interventions and patient education by a physiotherapist are the most effective treatment plans compared to the cervical collar. This improves neck ROM, reducing pain, improving neck function, and decreasing muscle impairments in the cervical region.[13]

You should pay attention to your pain while performing stretching and strengthening exercises.

Exercises for Neck Pain

Simple exercises and stretches including chin tucks, neck flexion stretch, neck extension stretch, neck side flexion stretch, neck rotation stretch and levator scapulae stretch either performed in sitting or standing position have proven to decrease neck pain.[14]

Stretching exercises, including the diagonal neck stretch, neck stretch, and dorsal glide chin tuck, are effective stretches to improve neck pain.

Other stretching exercise examples include:

  • Deep anterior neck flex
  • Neck rotation
  • Neck bending

Stretching exercises target the sternocleidomastoid and scalene neck muscles involved in flexing, bending, and turning your neck. [15]

Neck Strengthening Exercises

Isometric exercises can be used to strengthen your neck muscles, including side bend strengthening, forward bend strengthening, and neutral position strengthening are effective in treating neck pain. [15]

Back Strengthening Exercises

Neck pain can often be caused due to back pain. For example if the lower back isn't strong enough to support the upper back or if there's a pre-existing condition.

In many cases, exercises your back can help with your neck pain. I have a full article here on back stretches and exercises.

Laser and Dry Needling

Are effective treatments, along with intermittent traction, for reducing your chronic neck pain; a physical therapist also advises TENS and collar use for neck positioning to manage chronic neck pain.[13]

Swimming

Because swimming is a low-impact exercise, it can be great for neck pain. It's important to start of gentle, especially if your neck pain is more serious. If that's the case, check in with your doctor first.

Meanwhile, see my article here on swimming and back pain for suggestions on how to approach this swimming for therapeutic purposes.

Trigger Point Massage

Trigger point massage can release tight knots in your neck through self-massage or massage provided by your physiotherapist. Simple pressure exerted by your physiotherapist can help muscles relax. Here’s how to massage the trigger point on the neck.

  1. Find the tight spots
  2. Use your fingers or tools like foam rollers and massage balls to press firmly into the trigger points.
  3. Repeat for three to five minutes, ideally as often as five or six times per day. “It needs to be part of the daily routine,” Dr. Adams says.[6]

Other Interventions to Reduce Neck Pain

Develop good postural habits while using a computer; your eyes should be straight, your forearms should be parallel, and your feet should be flat on the floor to avoid neck pain.

  1. During consistent tasks, e.g., driving and sitting, you should maintain symmetry in your neck and body.
  2. You can also use a stopwatch as a reminder to check your neck symmetry and body posture during static and repetitive tasks.
  3. It would help if you also took breaks rather than keeping your neck immobile for long periods.[7]
  4. It would help if you tried yoga to cope with anxiety and stress. That may ease muscle tension in your neck and reduce neck pain.
  5. It would help if you stopped the unhealthy habits, e.g., smoking cigarettes, caffeine intake, and undue stimulants that undue tension on the neuromuscular system resulting in stress-related neck pain. [16]

References

1. Kenhub [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 22]. Neck anatomy. Available from: https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/neck-anatomy

2. Physiopedia [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 22]. Sensorimotor Impairment in Neck Pain. Available from: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Sensorimotor_Impairment_in_Neck_Pain

3. Healthline [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Aug 19]. Pain on the Left Side of the Neck: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/neck-pain-left-side

4. Verywell Health [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 19]. 8 Reasons for Left-Sided Neck and Shoulder Pain. Available from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/neck-and-shoulder-pain-on-left-side-7556439

5. Neck pain on the left side: Causes, diagnosis, and relief [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/neck-pain-on-the-left-side

6. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Aug 20]. How Trigger Point Massage Helps Neck Pain. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/knots-in-your-neck-how-to-try-a-trigger-point-massage-to-release-them/

7. Morrison G, PT, Peer-Reviewed PT. Workplace Ergonomics and Neck Pain | Spine-health [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 19]. Available from: https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/workplace-ergonomics-and-neck-pain

8. Morrison G, PT, Peer-Reviewed PT. How Poor Posture Causes Neck Pain | Spine-health [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Available from: https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/how-poor-posture-causes-neck-pain

9. Pain in the neck? How to fix your posture. - UCHealth Today [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Available from: https://www.uchealth.org/today/pain-in-the-neck-how-to-fix-posture/

10. Verywell Mind [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Understanding Stress and Neck Pain. Available from: https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-neck-pain-treatment-coping-6500999

11. Rheumatoid Arthritis Neck: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/rheumatoid-arthritis-neck

12. Martin M. Osteoporosis Neck Pain [Internet]. MelioGuide Physical Therapy for Osteoporosis. 2011 [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Available from: https://melioguide.com/osteoporosis-treatment/osteoporosis-neck-pain/

13. Physiopedia [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 19]. Evidence Based Interventions for Neck Pain. Available from: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Evidence_Based_Interventions_for_Neck_Pain

14. 6 Simple & Gentle Neck Exercises for Seniors - Hood MWR [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Available from: https://www.hoodmwr.com/neck-exercises-for-seniors/

15. Verywell Health [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 19]. What Are Some Good Neck Stretches? Available from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/neck-stretches-7557800

16. Zwarensteyn J, M.D DLA. How to Get Rid of Neck Pain Caused by Stress and Anxiety (2023) [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Aug 20]. Available from: https://www.sleepadvisor.org/5-ways-get-rid-neck-pain-caused-stress-anxiety/