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What Causes A Lump At The Back Of The Neck?

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The most primary worry of most adults, when they have a neck lump, is the possibility that it could be malignant. However, a lump at the back of your neck isn’t always a sign of cancer, and it may be something completely normal. While malignant lumps are always a possibility, the benefits of detecting neck lumps early on are more considerable than the risks of ignoring them.

But what can cause a lump at the back of your neck? There are three likely explanations: active injury, swollen lymph nodes, or mild-to-moderate skin conditions. The only way to make sure is to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor.

Causes Of Lumps In Your Neck And Throat

Neck lumps are fairly easy to detect if the patient is paying attention and are usually found on the patient’s daily routine or their regular check-ups. While several conditions ranging from tissue infection to muscle knots can cause neck lumps, here are the three primary factors that can make them appear:

1. Injuries, muscle strain, or other active traumas

Lumps can sometimes be mistaken for swelling and inflammation that occurs whenever the area around the head, neck, or shoulders has received a considerable injury. Because the body swells to accommodate the increased flow of white blood cells and other essential nutrients to the injury site, the area can often manifest in small lumps.

Muscle knots, a pinched nerve, or contracting tissue may sometimes give the appearance of neck lumps, especially after strenuous exercise and physical exertion. These lumps are fairly common, appearing with both children and adults.

These lumps go away after the underlying condition has been treated, though patients may still feel a bit of tenderness or discomfort for a few days. Topical creams, over-the-counter medications, and natural home remedies like hot and cold therapy can help manage these symptoms.

2. Skin conditions and blocked glands

Skin conditions like sebaceous cysts can sometimes cause neck lumps to form, especially if they haven’t been treated for a long time. They can be found all around your face, neck, and torso, and they’re generally harmless. If you have sebaceous cysts, your doctor or a cosmetic practice can remove them with little difficulty.

Other skin conditions like ingrown hairs, boils, and lipomas can also manifest in lump-like growths. However, these conditions are fairly mild and can be treated with medications or minor cosmetic/surgical procedures. In most of these cases, genetics, skincare, and environmental factors can contribute to the likelihood of these conditions occurring. Patients may choose to either leave them be or consult their doctor for preventive or therapeutic solutions. In severe and rare cases, they may cause difficulties in breathing and swallowing.

3. Swollen lymph nodes

By far the most common cause of neck lumps, swollen lymph nodes indicate an ongoing infection that your body is trying to fight off. The lymphatic system is a network that spans the entire body, like the posterior cervical lymph nodes at the back of your neck and around the sides of your throat.

Lymph nodes generally remain small and pliable, but they can swell up to double or triple their size once the body gets infected. Since they function by trapping viruses, bacteria, and other potential carriers of sickness and disease, your lymph nodes will swell in proportion to how sick you are.

Swollen lymph nodes are not a cause for alarm and will subside once the underlying infection has been treated. Aside from tenderness, pain, and general swelling of multiple lymph nodes, they shouldn’t cause anything more than mild discomfort.

On rare occasions, lymph nodes may remain permanently enlarged after recovering from a particularly severe infection. These lymph nodes are non-tender, are less than 1cm in size, feel rubbery to the touch, and are relatively benign. If a patient still wishes to have them removed (usually for aesthetic reasons), surgery may be considered.

Why You Need To See Your Doctor

Most of the time, lumps in the back of the neck are nothing to be concerned about and will go away after home remedies and bed rest. However, patient anxiety may cause them to pick at the lumps or try removing them on their own, which can increase the chances of infection and other complications occurring.

However, this does not mean that the lumps cannot be signs of cancer. Any lump that unexpectedly appears and persists at the back of the neck should always be checked by your doctor to rule out any serious issues like thyroid cancer. 

Even routine infections that can cause lymph nodes to swell should not be ignored, as they may mask or happen with the early warning signs of more serious complications.

If you have any other symptoms that accompany the swelling, always inform your doctor so they can give you a better diagnosis. Symptoms like a sore throat, congested nasal cavity, weakness, muscle spasms, and tender tissues can all be signs of an underlying medical issue.

Accurate And Fast Diagnosis At The Spine And Rehab Group

While lumps at the back of the neck may seem like a cause for alarm, you must consult with your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Neck lumps do not always mean that the mass is cancerous, though the best course of action is to have it examined by a medical professional. It’s crucial that patients always self-monitor themselves for any sign of unusual lumps around the neck, especially if they’re older adults.

The Spine And Rehab Group has extensive experience in the proper diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare of any spinal or back-related conditions that may cause neck lumps. We pride ourselves on offering long-term, effective, and actionable solutions, and have been a reliable healthcare partner to many residents in New York City. For a complete list of our services, contact us today for a consultation.

Page Updated on Jun 20, 2022 by Dr. Hosny (Interventional Spine Specialist) of The Spine & Rehab Group
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