At best, neck pain can be a mere discomfort; at worst, neck pain can indicate a serious health problem. Such pains may spread across the whole neck or localize in a particular area. If a person experiences left neck pain, the discomfort typically results from problems with one of four bodily components: muscles, nerves, bones, or the cardiovascular system.
One of the most common types of neck pain manifests due to strained muscles. The neck contains many muscles and ligaments that attach the head to the shoulders, back, and chest. Thus, shoulder and neck pain, or neck and back pain combined, often signal an injury to these tissues. Such injuries are often the result of whiplash, overuse, or holding the neck in an abnormal position for a long period of time. Typical indicators of muscle injury include swelling, bruising, and weakness.
Pinched nerves are another common cause of left neck pain. When the portion of the spine located in the neck experiences inflammatory arthritis, it may put pressure on the surrounding nerves, resulting in localized neck pain. Numbness and weakened movement often result from nerve injuries.
Neck pain and bone degeneration can also go hand-in-hand, and the result may be right neck pain, frontal neck pain, or left neck pain. One degenerative disease that affects the discs in the neck is cervical spondylosis, a disorder that leads to the development of painful bone spurs. A different syndrome, diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, occurs when the tendons and ligaments around the spine harden and stiffen. A herniated disc resulting from injury may also lead to left neck pain. Loss of movement, swelling, and severe neck pain manifest in these bone conditions.
Cardiovascular disease is perhaps the most serious potential cause of left neck pain. Many people know the most prevalent symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain and pain in the left arm, but many may not be aware that these pains can also travel up the left side of the neck. This type of referred pain may be sudden and intense, and generated in waves. Arteries and veins in the neck may suffer from a vascular blockage as well, particularly the carotid artery. Any coolness or color change around the neck area could signal this type of problem.
Treating neck pain—left neck pain or otherwise—is dependent on the original cause. Mild injuries, for example, can be treated through rest, massage, or over-the-counter pain relievers. Preventative measures like proper exercise or caution when performing strenuous activities can also curtail injuries. Some more severe symptoms, however, may signal emergency medical care is in order, including the following: sharp, stabbing pain, accompanying chest pain, numbness, tingling, intense headache onset, nausea, dizziness, or shortness of breath. Prescription medications, cervical braces, or surgery may be needed for more severe conditions.