Waking Up With Severe Neck Pain on the Left Side

Waking up with a stiff or sore neck can be an annoying and inconvenient start to your day. However, if the pain is severe and localized to one side, it could indicate an underlying condition that needs medical attention. In this article, we’ll discuss the common causes of severe left-sided neck pain and when to see a doctor.

Causes

There are several possible explanations for why you may wake up with intense neck pain isolated to the left side:

  • Sleeping in an awkward position – Sleeping in a position that twists or overextends your neck to the left can lead to muscle strains or pinched nerves on that side. Using too many pillows or sleeping on your stomach are common culprits.
  • Injury – If you have recently suffered any trauma to the neck, such as from a car accident or contact sports, this could be the source of the pain. Injuries like whiplash can cause severe unilateral neck pain.
  • Herniated disc – Pressure on a nerve root from a herniated cervical disc can radiate pain into the neck that is often worse on one side. Herniated discs sometimes occur spontaneously but may also result from injury.
  • Arthritis – Osteoarthritis of the cervical spine is a degenerative condition that causes neck stiffness and pain that is typically worse in the morning. The arthritis may affect just one side of the cervical joints.
  • Pinched nerve – Compression of a nerve in the neck, such as from a herniated disc or bone spur, can irritate the nerve and result in radiating left-sided neck and shoulder pain.

When to See a Doctor

It’s a good idea to consult your doctor if your left-sided neck pain:

  • Is severe, persistent, or worsening
  • Radiates into your shoulder, arm or hand
  • Is associated with numbness, tingling or weakness
  • Follows an injury
  • Is accompanied by fever, headache, nausea or vomiting

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and may order imaging tests like x-rays or an MRI to pinpoint the underlying cause. Most cases of neck pain resolve within a few days or weeks with rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, ice packs and gentle stretching. However, if the pain is severe or accompanied by neurological symptoms, you may need prescription medication, physical therapy or rarely, surgery.

Getting to the source of severe unilateral neck pain is important, as some causes can lead to permanent nerve damage if left untreated. While waking up with a stiff neck once in a while is normal, persistent or intense left-sided neck pain should be evaluated promptly. Being attuned to your symptoms and seeking medical care when appropriate can help prevent minor issues from escalating.