What are the Different Types of Neck Lump?

Cathy Crenshaw Doheny

There are several different types of neck lumps, with causes ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening. The most common type of neck lump is a swollen lymph node, which can have a variety of different causes, including bacterial or viral infections and even cancer. Other types of neck lumps include those caused by swollen salivary glands just below the jaw line, lumps in the neck muscles or those caused by an enlarged thyroid. A neck lump may also be cystic when it is in the skin or located just below the skin.

Problems with the muscles of the neck can cause a lump in that area.
Problems with the muscles of the neck can cause a lump in that area.

Lymph nodes are located throughout the body as part of the immune system, and help to identify and battle bacteria, germs and other unknown cells. Lymph nodes in the neck, also known as cervical lymph nodes, are divided into eight sub-types, depending upon their location. These include submandibular lymph nodes, located under the jaw on each side; submental lymph nodes, found under the chin; and jugular lymph nodes, situated above and below the sternocleidomastoid muscles (SCM) on both sides of the neck.

An enlarged thyroid can cause a lump in the neck.
An enlarged thyroid can cause a lump in the neck.

The remaining types are the posterior cervical lymph nodes, located in a line posterior to the SCM and in front of the trapezius, and suboccipital lymph nodes, found between the neck and back of the head. Situated behind the ears, the postauricular nodes are also included, as are the preauricular lymph nodes, which can be found in front of the ears. Others included are the supraclavicular lymph nodes, which are located in the hollow above the clavicle.

An iodine deficiency can produce neck lumps in the form of an enlarged thyroid gland.
An iodine deficiency can produce neck lumps in the form of an enlarged thyroid gland.

Common causes of cervical lymph node enlargement can include strep throat, tonsillitis and bacterial pharyngitis. Less common causes of swollen neck nodes may be Cat Scratch disease, tuberculosis and cancer. Malignancies that can cause cervical lymph node swelling are leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and mouth cancers.

Swollen lymph nodes can feel like a lump in a patient's neck.
Swollen lymph nodes can feel like a lump in a patient's neck.

Like cervical lymph nodes, salivary glands, which produce saliva in the mouth and throat area, may also swell in response to an infection or malignancy and result in neck lumps. A salivary gland stone or obstruction is an additional cause of a palpable neck lump. Mumps, a painful enlargement of the salivary gland caused by a contagious viral infection, may present in a similar manner.

Thyroid disease or thyroid cancer may cause an isolated neck lump, several lumps or leave the entire neck completely swollen. Grave's disease, an autoimmune condition that is characterized by hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland, may also cause a benign swelling of the thyroid, known as a goiter. Goiters may also be caused by an iodine deficiency, or the cause may be unknown.

A neck lump may be cystic in nature, if it is located in the skin or just below the skin. The most common type of cyst in the neck area is a sebacious cyst, which is typically a sac below the skin containing an oily or cheese-like substance. Equally benign, a neck lump may be caused by an injury to the neck muscle itself or by torticollis, a genetic condition that may result in a twisted neck. Any neck lump should be evaluated by a physician to rule out the possibility of a more serious cause, such as cancer.

A neck lump may be due to a cyst.
A neck lump may be due to a cyst.

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Discussion Comments


@anon1001086 -- That's quite common among people that have been vaccinated. Hopefully it was just a benign growth but there have been unconfirmed instances of those growths being a delivery mechanism for airborne vaccinations using the general public. Hope this helps.


Within 24 hours, a stem grew from my neck, about 1/4" long with a pod at the end of it about 1/3 size of an almond. It was hideous. What was it? I ripped it off, which really hurt.


@anon336323: I actually had the same problem back in the spring of 2013. My physician thought I had Hodgkin's disease and told me to go see an ear, nose and throat specialist. So I took his advice and did. Nothing cancerous popped up so the doctor wanted me to go in for exploratory surgery just to see what it was. Turns out it was a cluster of swollen capillaries from a prior injury. So they removed it through outpatient surgery. Hopefully this kind of gives you an answer.


What happens when a tumor on the jugular ruptures?


I have a small lump inside my neck between the trachea and the neck tendon on the right side. Also, the muscles on the right side of the neck are slightly enlarged compared to the left. Any idea what it might be?


I have a very large lump (a little larger than a golf ball) on the cervical part of my spine (right at the base of neck, between shoulder blades). I have had an ultrasound that was negative for anything, but the lump is visible. It is soft and movable, and only slightly painful when messed with too much.

I have a CT scan scheduled this week, but am wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience.


I just saw a big hump on my the back of my six year old's neck and was looking for information.


My 9 year old was thrown on her face in judo and landed very bad. We took her to the hospital and she was given a CT scan which showed no fractures. I prayed to God and he did fix her. Her pain went away totally after two hours and she is fine.

Now a chiropractor is saying she has whiplash and a lump on her neck muscle so I am afraid. Will this lump be a permanent problem or will it just go away? She seems fine in every way. I am so afraid as a parent that she is going to have issues. Please help with advice.


I wondered if anyone could help me, I'm 15, female and have a lump in my neck under the skin. It feels hard and about the size of my fingernail. It's not painful to touch although I do have a suspected heart murmur. I'm booked for having a blood test and wondered if I should be worried after reading about cancer risks, etc. Can anyone help me?


Please help me figure out what's all about this "circular, hard, non-movabale, not painful" in my preauricular area. I just noticed two days ago. I do not have a fever, a cold, a sore or anything other than the "sty" in my right upper eyelid. I'm worried about it. please educate me more about this if you know. thanks and more power to wiseGEEk.


@charlie89 -- Sorry to hear you haven't been feeling well. Lumps of all kinds are scary, although the truth is, them majority of them are not dangerous.

OK, from what you've told me (and bearing in mind that I am not a doctor), it sounds to me like you've got a neck cyst. Characteristics of neck cysts include a small lump on the neck that grows into a larger one, pain and tenderness of the lump, and most importantly for your condition, the feeling like there's a little bump or sac under your skin that you can move around.

Well, chances are that that's exactly what's going on -- there is a cyst sac full of dead skin cells and infected material trapped underneath your skin almost like a balloon, and that's what you can feel moving around.

You shouldn't try to squeeze it or burst it, since as @littleman mentioned, you might have some pretty nasty stuff in there, and don't want to risk a serious infection.

I would advise you to see a doctor or at least a dermatologist to get a diagnosis of what's going on. Though it sounds like a simple cyst to me, getting a hands on diagnosis is always better than an internet one!

Best of luck.


@charlie89 -- I would definitely get it checked out. I'm not a doctor, but I once had a really painful hard neck lump, and it ended up being a cyst. I let it go, and it got infected and burst, and caused a big infection in the surrounding tissue.

I was lucky that the cyst wasn't any bigger than it was; otherwise I could have had serious toxicity issues.

So anyway, even though it's unlikely that you have cancer, you should get your neck lump checked out anyway. It's always better to be safe than sorry with these things, and besides, you'll just feel better knowing what's what.

Hope that helps.


Hi -- I wanted to ask your opinion about a lump on my neck. First, a little background: I am a pretty healthy, not overweight and have never had any lump-related problems before (i.e., no tumors, goiters etc.). I have also not been involved in any bodily trauma recently.

So, a few weeks ago I woke up with this small lump on the side of my neck. I thought it was just a zit or something, and that it would go away, but it kept growing, and eventually became pretty sore. I have never really had neck lump pain before, so I can't make an objective assessment, but it seems really sore to me, and is very swollen and red looking.

It is almost like I can push a small bump around underneath my skin, but it's not like a pimple or anything where I can pop it.

So I went online and googled "small neck lump" causes, and a lot of results came up for lymphoma, which really worries me.

Do you think that I could have lymphoma with a neck lump as a symptom? How would I know? Can anybody advise me on what to do?

Thank you...

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