Unilateral neck pain, discomfort on just one side, is a common issue, according to the Mayo Clinic. While most neck pain stems from poor habits, in some situations it can be the result of a serious problem or even arthritis. Most neck pain resolves on its own or with home therapy, but how quickly you heal depends on the cause.
Symptoms will vary for people with unilateral neck pain based on the cause. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is important to pinpoint the exact location of discomfort because it can help your doctor figure out the cause. Also, noting which movements and head positions worsen and ease the pain is also crucial information for rooting out the cause.
One of the most common causes of neck pain is overuse of a muscle. When you hunch over or sit in one position too long, like behind the wheel of a car or in front of a computer, the muscles in your neck get tired and then strained. If you keep your head in one position during these times, one side of your neck is more likely to become strained than the other, leading to unilateral neck pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, even minor things like teeth grinding and reading reclining on the couch or in bed can strain your neck muscles.
Unilateral neck pain can also result from a variety of diseases. For example, osteoarthritis can affect one or more joints in your neck, the pain coming from worn-out joints. According to the Mayo Clinic, the neck is the second most common place for osteoarthritis to form after your hands and feet. Also, cancer or meningitis can be the cause of neck pain.
Unilateral neck pain can also be the result of nerve compression. As you get older, the discs that pad the vertebrae dry out and stiffen, cutting down room for nerves between the bones. When the nerves rub against the bones, it causes pain. If the disc becomes herniated, it pushes on the nerves, causing pain also.
While unilateral neck pain usually isn't anything that will seriously impact your health, you should see a doctor if the pain continues to worsen or fails to resolve on its own. If you experience weakness or numbness in either arm, a shooting pain down your arm or if you can't touch your chin to your chest, see a doctor immediately.