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Pain can occur on either side of your neck. It may be related to simple muscle strain or to more serious conditions like nerve damage or spinal injury.
Your neck moves a lot and is not protected by other parts of your body, so it’s prone to injury or strain. The neck connects to several other parts of the body. For this reason, neck pain can lead to pain in other areas of your body, including your shoulders, arms, back, jaw, or head.
Neck pain on the right or left side of your neck may go away on its own, or with home-based treatments, after a few days or weeks. You should see a doctor if you have chronic or severe neck pain.
Some causes of neck pain include:
You may notice that your neck hurts after using a computer or smartphone for an extended period of time. You may also experience pain in the neck after driving long distances or engaging in work or hobbies that restrict head movement for prolonged periods.
These actions can cause the muscles in your neck to weaken. If your neck muscles are weak, your neck joint may become stiff and you may have difficulty moving your neck. A stiffened neck joint may contact nerves or muscles when rotating, resulting in pain.
Learn more about muscle strains.
Poor sleeping position
Your neck may hurt after sleeping in an unusual position. You may be more likely to experience neck pain if you sleep on your stomach. Sleeping with too many pillows can also cause neck pain because your head and neck are not in line with the rest of your body.
Also, your mattress may be too soft and cause the alignment between your head and neck to be off compared to the rest of your body.
Learn more about the health risks of sleeping on your stomach.
Posture is important to preventing, reducing, or eliminating neck pain. Poor posture directly affects the muscles near your neck and shoulders as well as your spine.
The longer you maintain poor posture, the weaker these parts of your body become, leading to more pain.
Anxiety or stress
Experiencing anxiety or stress can lead to your muscles tightening. You may especially feel this around your neck and shoulders.
Learn more about stress and anxiety.
Trauma to the neck can cause a neck sprain, leading to pain. Whiplash is another term used for neck sprain. This occurs when your ligaments or muscles in the neck become injured because something impacts your body that causes your neck to overextend and snap back into place too quickly.
This type of impact can occur if you’re in a car accident. It may also occur in other instances like when riding a roller coaster or encountering a blunt force during a sports activity.
Brachial plexus injury
A brachial plexus injury can occur when you play contact sports or are in a traumatic accident. This can damage the brachial plexus, a set of nerves connecting your spine, shoulders, arms, and hands, resulting in neck pain.
Learn more about a brachial plexus injury.
There are several degenerative conditions related to the joints, vertebrae, muscles, and other parts of your neck that can cause pain. These conditions can occur from aging or from another health conditions. Some of these degenerative conditions are:
- pinched nerves
- inflammation in the nerves or joints
- cervical disc degeneration
- cervical fractures
Other sources of neck pain
Neck pain can also be associated with an accident, a high fever, and symptoms such as pain in your arms and legs, or a headache.
The cause of these symptoms should be diagnosed by a doctor immediately.
Mild to moderate neck pain will often heal after a few days or weeks.
Several home-based treatments may help neck pain heal with time. You can try:
- taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
- icing the injured area
- applying heat to the neck or taking a warm bath
- moving the neck gently from side to side
- stretching your muscles gently
- staying active despite the pain
- getting someone to massage the area
- practicing proper posture
- finding ergonomic ways to work on the computer or for other intensive tasks
- sleeping with just one pillow on a firm mattress
- reducing stress with relaxation methods like yoga or meditation
Neck pain that does not go away on its own after a few days or weeks should be treated by a doctor. Additionally, you should see your doctor immediately for debilitating neck pain.
Your doctor’s first line of action will be to conduct a physical exam and take a health history. You may also need other testing to diagnose the condition.
Tests that may help with a diagnosis include:
Treatments for neck pain guided by your doctor may include:
- prescription strength pain-relieving medication
- injectable medications like a corticosteroid applied directly into the site of the neck pain
- muscle relaxants
- physical therapy
Work with your doctor to manage severe or chronic neck pain. Your doctor may recommend home-based treatments along with other medical interventions to soothe your symptoms.
Experiencing pain on the right side of your neck is not unusual and most likely not something to be concerned about. Neck pain often will go away on its own after a few days or weeks, particularly if you engage in self-care treatments and do not strain your neck further.
Severe neck pain that occurs after an accident or seemingly out of nowhere should be seen by a doctor, as well as neck pain linked to other serious symptoms.
Pain in the right or left side of your neck is usually nothing serious. It’s often caused by muscle strain, poor sleeping position, or bad posture. If the pain continues for more than a few days, see a doctor for recommendations on medical treatments as well as home-based remedies.