8 Reasons for Left-Sided Neck and Shoulder Pain (2024)

Several nerves and muscles travel between your body's neck and shoulder regions. As a result, it is not uncommon to experience left-sided pain that occurs in both of these areas at the same time.

This type of pain can be caused by common conditions like muscle strain or cervical stenosis. Or, it may stem from rarer but more serious concerns like a heart attack or lung cancer. This article will detail eight potential causes of left-side neck and shoulder pain and address how to find relief from each.

8 Reasons for Left-Sided Neck and Shoulder Pain (1)

8 Causes of Left-Sided Neck and Shoulder Pain

From commonplace concerns to rare but potentially life-threatening diagnoses, many different things can cause left-sided neck and shoulder pain. Paying attention to the accompanying symptoms and the way the pain originated can help you distinguish among them. Here are eight conditions that could be to blame.

Muscle Strain

One of the most common causes of left-sided neck and shoulder pain is a strain. There are several muscles, including the upper trapezius and the sternocleidomastoid, that span between these two regions.

Strains can occur as a result of an acute event, like a fall, or chronic, repetitive neck or shoulder movements over time. Maintaining a static posture, like sitting at a computer for a long time, can also increase the tension in these structures and lead to a low-level strain.

Pain from a muscle strain is usually worse with neck or shoulder movements and better with rest. It may be accompanied by a headache, neck stiffness, or numbness and tingling in the arm.

Cervical Disc Bulge

The vertebrae in the cervical (neck) portion of the spine are separated by soft discs that act as shock absorbers. Occasionally, the gelatinous inner portion of these discs bulges out and makes contact with one of the spinal nerves in this region.

Because these nerves control the sensation and strength in the upper extremities, this condition may cause symptoms in both the neck and shoulder.

The pain from a bulged cervical disc is typically shooting in nature. Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand may also be present. In addition, pain in the shoulder blade region may also be present.

Cervical Stenosis

Cervical stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows, which then puts pressure on the spinal nerves. Like a disc bulge, this impingement irritates the nerve and causes shooting pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. Stenosis may also cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in these areas.

While anyone can get this condition, it is more common in older individuals.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

The thoracic outlet is a space in the lower neck through which the subclavian artery, subclavian vein, and brachial plexus nerve bundle pass. Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) occurs when one (or several) of these structures becomes compressed.

Thoracic outlet syndrome can happen for various reasons, including a traumatic injury, repetitive overuse of the neck or arm, or atypical anatomy (like the presence of an extra rib).

People with TOS generally complain of one-sided neck and shoulder pain and other symptoms like chest pain, a headache near the temples, and numbness or tingling in the fingers. Color changes in the arm or hand may also be noticeable if the subclavian vein or artery is compressed.


Whiplash injuries are often seen after a traumatic incident like a car accident or a sports-related collision. This condition occurs when the neck moves in one direction and then the other in a rapid fashion. When this happens, the muscles, nerves, and ligaments in this area often become irritated and one-sided pain in the neck and shoulder may be present.

The pain from a whiplash injury could be accompanied by other symptoms like numbness in the arm, dizziness, ringing in your ears, blurred vision, irritability, or difficulty concentrating.

Heart Attack

Because the heart is located on the left side of the chest, pain that shoots into the left arm and neck could indicate a heart attack. Other warning signs of this potentially fatal issue include tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, and jaw or back pain.

Sometimes these symptoms begin gradually, while other times, they come on very quickly. If you suspect you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Lung Cancer

On rare occasions, certain types of lung cancer may cause left-sided pain in the neck and shoulder. One rare version, called a Pancoast tumor, causes sharp shoulder pain in its early stages.

Accompanying symptoms include neck, rib, shoulder blade, and chest wall pain. Upper arm swelling, chest tightness, hand tingling and weakness, fatigue, drooping of the eyelid, and unexplained weight loss may also be present.

Pancoast tumors are most commonly seen in people who smoke or have significant exposure to secondhand smoke.

Cervical Fracture

On very rare occasions, a sudden twist or significant impact to the neck or head can cause one of the cervical vertebrae to fracture. This extremely serious condition can cause significant damage to the surrounding muscles, ligaments, nerves, and even the spinal cord.

Not only can this lead to intense neck and shoulder pain (which may occur on one or both sides of the body), but it can also cause altered sensation in the arm, weakness or paralysis, difficulty breathing, and even death. Cervical vertebral fractures are considered a medical emergency and should be treated immediately by a medical professional.

Self-Treatment for Left-Sided Neck and Shoulder Pain

Left-sided neck and shoulder pain from some conditions may benefit from certain at-home interventions. Common first-line treatments for cervical strains, disc herniations, and stenosis include:

  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) to alleviate pain
  • Applying ice to the sore region for 15 to 30 minutes several times daily
  • Utilizing a moist-hot pack over the painful areas for up to 20 minutes at a time
  • Wearing a soft neck brace for a very short period to alleviate pressure on the injured structures
  • Staying relatively active and avoiding bed rest

Use of Cervical Collars

Soft neck collars may help alleviate your neck pain, but it is best to seek out a healthcare provider’s recommendations first. Wearing this type of brace for too long may actually prolong your recovery.

Providers Who Treat Left-Sided Neck and Shoulder Pain

If you are experiencing new or worsening pain in the left side of your neck and shoulder, the first step is to have your symptoms examined by a primary care provider. An emergency medicine doctor can also perform this same process for more emergent concerns like a heart attack, whiplash injury, or a cervical fracture.

Once a diagnosis has been established, the healthcare provider may refer you to several different providers, including:

  • A neurosurgeon for a disc herniation, cervical stenosis, or a cervical fracture
  • A vascular surgeon for thoracic outlet syndrome
  • An oncologist for lung cancer
  • A cardiologist for a heart attack
  • An orthopedic specialist for a whiplash injury or a strained neck muscle

Medical Treatment and Therapies for Neck and Shoulder Pain

Depending on the cause of your pain, several different medical interventions may be utilized. Among the most common are:

  • Physical therapy (PT): PT can help address the pain from strains, spinal stenosis, herniated discs, whiplash injuries, and thoracic outlet syndrome. Common PT interventions include massage, strengthening, stretching, and pain-relieving modalities.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used to reduce inflammation caused by stenosis, disc herniations, and thoracic outlet syndrome.
  • Acupuncture: While the evidence is mixed, acupuncture may be able to improve the pain from stenosis in certain individuals.
  • Medications: Chemotherapy and cancer-fighting medications are frequently utilized when treating lung cancer. Drugs that break up blockages in the arteries may also be urgently administered during a heart attack.
  • Surgeries:Spinal surgery is commonly needed to stabilize the vertebrae after a cervical fracture. A laminectomy or a discectomy may be used as a last resort with stenosis or a disc bulge to alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves. In the case of a heart attack, an angioplasty, coronary bypass, or stenting procedure is frequently needed. Procedures to decompress the structures in the thoracic outlet are sometimes performed if conservative treatments fail.


Many different conditions can cause neck and shoulder pain on the left side of your body. These range from commonplace diagnoses like a neck strain to urgent concerns like a heart attack. Paying attention to any corresponding symptoms can help diagnose the cause of your pain. Following a healthcare provider's evaluation, a wide range of treatments may be needed, including physical therapy, pain relieving injections, medications, and even surgery.

8 Reasons for Left-Sided Neck and Shoulder Pain (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Duane Harber

Last Updated:

Views: 5545

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Duane Harber

Birthday: 1999-10-17

Address: Apt. 404 9899 Magnolia Roads, Port Royceville, ID 78186

Phone: +186911129794335

Job: Human Hospitality Planner

Hobby: Listening to music, Orienteering, Knapping, Dance, Mountain biking, Fishing, Pottery

Introduction: My name is Duane Harber, I am a modern, clever, handsome, fair, agreeable, inexpensive, beautiful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.