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What Neck Pain on the Left Side Means

Neck pain on the left side can be very distressing as it restricts movement and flexibility and affects your ability to perform daily life activities. Resulting from several common, less common, and rare conditions, severe and frequently occurring conditions, left-sided neck pain indicates a more serious underlying issue that must be checked by a doctor. Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential for easing the pain and keeping it away. Dr. Eric Freeman is a pain management and rehabilitation specialist who focuses on addressing the source of your pain for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Visit Redefine Healthcare, New Jersey’s premier pain management practice for advanced spine and neck care. The specialists focus on discovering what neck pain on the left side means and offer the highest quality care to help you feel better.

The neck is a significant part of the skeletal system and crucial for overall bodily structure. It supports the head, connects the cervical spinal cord to the brain, and helps essential blood vessels circulate throughout the body. It is important to understand that neck muscles are highly delicate, and even a minor injury or sprain can lead to dangerous complications.

Neck Pain on Left Side

Neck pain is one of the most common complaints in the world. Temporary neck pain, particularly on the left side of the neck, could be a result of fatigue, bad sleeping posture, and activities that stress the neck muscles.

Most people experience neck pain due to inflammation, muscle strain, or tension. Occasional neck pain may not be something serious or worthy of a trip to the emergency room. However, sharp and persistent neck pain on the left side, or pain that does not have any specific causes and fails to go away with rest or home treatments indicates something serious that needs medical attention.

What Causes Neck Pain on the Left Side?

Neck pain on the left side may range from mild and common to severe and rare. It could be anything from a strained muscle to a pinched nerve. Luckily, most of these causes are not serious, or life-threatening and can be treated effectively.

The most common causes include:

Tension or Muscle Strain

Tension and muscle strain are the most common issues that can lead to pain on the left side of the neck. When the tendon or neck muscle is torn or overstretched, it can lead to muscle strain. Tension in the muscle occurs when it does not fully relax or release completely after contracting.

Muscle tension or stress could result from:

  • Leaning forward at a computer screen or desk for hours
  • Cradling a phone between your right ear and left shoulder
  • An awkward sleeping position, like with a twisted or bent neck
  • Putting too much force on the neck muscles during exercise
  • Stress
  • Wear and tear or joints with age
  • Compression of nerves
  • Falling or crashing into someone causing whiplash
  • Overexerting the neck muscles when lifting heavy objects or exercising

Stressing your neck muscles otherwise also leaves you with mild to severe neck pain on the left side.

Muscle Strain Anatomy


Forceful back and forth thrusting results in painful neck or head injury, known as whiplash. It may be a result of auto accidents, playing sports like football, and violent falls. Whiplash causes pain on the left side of the neck, headache, and muscle stiffness that can restrict your range of motion.

Cervical Radiculopathy

If your nerve fibers on the left side of the neck have been irritated, squeezed, or compressed as they branch out from the spinal cord, it can cause considerable pain. This condition is also known as the pinched nerve that occurs from a herniated disc, bone spurs, or inflammation. The pain radiates down from the neck to the arm and shoulder. You may also experience numbness due to nerve compression.

Acute Torticollis

Acute torticollis, also known as wryneck, is a medical condition that causes the neck to bend, twist or tilt to one side. It occurs as a result of sudden contraction of neck muscles. This condition can lead to neck pain on the left life.

Common causes of acute torticollis include:

  • Injuries or accidents
  • Congenital irregularities
  • Neurological conditions, such as stroke or compressed nerves
  • Prolonged exposure of the neck to cold temperatures
  • Certain medications
  • Infections
  • Emotional stress
  • Poor posture
  • Sleeping awkwardly without proper head support

Neck spasms can cause the head and neck to twist to one side, causing pain and the inability to turn the head.

Less Common Causes of Neck Pain on the Left Side

Degeneration of the Cervical Disc

The cervical or neck discs are sandwiched between the bony building blocks that serve as shock absorbers to protect the bones. They are flexible and allow motion between adjacent segments. However, these discs are also vulnerable to injury and degeneration. As they get weak, their outer covering tears with time. If it breaks, the internal fluid comes out and accumulates on the spinal cord or a nerve root.

Cervical disc injury or degeneration can cause pain in the left side of the neck.


Meningitis is the inflammation of the fluid and three membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by a virus. There are also bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections that can lead to an inflammatory condition. It can result in muscle stiffness and pain in the neck, as well as headaches. If it is not treated timely, meningitis can lead to seizures and brain swelling, causing life-threatening complications.

Cervical Fracture

The seven bones at the top of the vertebra are known as the cervical vertebrae. A cervical fracture, also called a broken neck can occur as a result of violent contact in sports, falls, auto accidents, or other traumatic injuries. Fractures in any of these bones can lead to debilitating pain on the left side of the neck. Damage to the spinal cord is the most serious risk with a cervical fracture.

Herniated Cervical Disc

Cervical disc herniation occurs when the tough outer layer or covering of the cervical disc tears, allowing the nucleus to push through and press on the nerves and spinal cord encased in the vertebra. The pressure on the nerves leads to pain in the neck, as well as numbness, stiffness, and arm pain.

Rare Causes of Neck Pain on the Left Side

Neck pain on the left side may indicate less common but more severe medical conditions, such as:

Congenital Anomalies

A range of conditions can affect newborn babies, causing pain on both or the left side of the neck and other similar symptoms. They include congenital torticollis, in which the neck is injured during delivery, and congenital vertebral defect, which includes abnormally shaped cervical vertebrae.

Spinal Tumor

A spinal tumor is a growth that forms within the spinal canal or the bones of your spine. It may be benign that is non-cancerous, or cancerous, and cause pain at the site of the tumor. Spinal tumors can lead to neurological symptoms and restriction in range of motion, muscle weakness, neck pain, and severe inflammation. The pain and other symptoms keep on worsening until the tumor is treated.

When to Seek Medical Help for Your Neck Pain on the Left Side?

Mild to moderate pain may not need medical help, and you may start feeling better with some rest and home remedies. However, severe and persistent pain that does not improve may be a sign of something serious that requires medical attention. Neck pain accompanied by a headache should also be checked promptly to avoid complications. Call your doctor immediately if you feel the neck pain radiating to your arms, you start feeling numbness with tingling, or your pain is accompanied by fever, vomiting, or loss of coordination.

If the neck pain is resulting from an obvious incident such as a car accident, fall, or sports injury, rush to an emergency room.

How Is Neck Pain Diagnosed?

The doctor will physically examine you first and ask about any other symptoms you are experiencing. He will also evaluate the range of motion and pain in the affected area and check for visible symptoms, such as swelling, redness, and palpable lumps under the skin.

The doctor will go through your medical history to rule out preexisting conditions. He may recommend imaging tests, including x-rays, CT scans, and an MRI, to make an accurate diagnosis and determine what is causing the pain.

Treating Neck Pain on the Left Side

Most of the treatment options depend on the severity of the pain and its diagnosis. Mild to moderate neck pain can be relieved with the following at-home treatments:

  • A hot bath or shower
  • Neck massage to ease the muscle tension
  • A neck pillow to support the muscles
  • Hot or cold compresses
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain-relieving medications
  • Gentle stretching to improve flexibility in the neck
  • Practicing good posture when standing, sitting, or walking

Your doctor may recommend physical therapy depending on the causes of your pain. The therapist can guide you regarding better posture and movements through various exercises to ease the discomfort.

If your neck pain does not get better, the doctor may give corticosteroid injections to lessen the pain and inflammation in the neck. If the pain is resulting from fractured bones or severely compressed nerves, surgery may be the only option. Minor fractures get better with a neck collar.

Do not ignore pain on the left side of the neck as it is not easy to live with and causes severe motion restriction and inability to carry on your normal routine. Rare, undiagnosed, or untreated neck pain can result in permanent disability. Visit Redefine Healthcare to get specialist guidance for effectively and safely managing your pain and eliminating it for good. Dr. Eric Freeman is an experienced and board-certified specialist and uses the most advanced minimally invasive treatments for comprehensive, cutting-edge care. He helps you understand your condition and the causes behind it and ensures you get long-term relief from pain with the best course of treatment.

Page Updated on Dec 12, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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