Lump on Shoulder: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments (2022)

A shoulder lump refers to a bump, growth, or mass in your shoulder area. You might feel it rub against clothing or the straps of a bag.

Not all lumps are equal. Some might hurt, while others are painless or cause mild discomfort. The lump might also look pink, white, or the same color as your skin. These traits depend on what’s causing the lump.

While there are many possible causes, most are harmless. But it’s a good idea to visit the doctor if the lump is new, growing, or painful. You should also seek emergency help if you were recently injured.

In this article, we’ll discuss the potential reasons for shoulder lumps, along with symptoms and treatments.

The causes of shoulder lumps vary in type and severity. To determine what you might have, take note of other symptoms.

Lipoma

A lipoma is a lump of fat tissue underneath the skin. It’s a benign (noncancerous) soft tissue tumor. Scientists don’t know why they occur.

Lipomas are common. About 1 in every 1,000 people have one. Often, lipomas show up on the shoulders, trunk, neck, and armpits.

They’re usually:

  • rubbery, soft, and doughy
  • movable
  • usually less than 2 inches, but may be bigger
  • occasionally painful

Usually, the lipoma itself doesn’t cause pain. But if it presses on nerves or has blood vessels, it can hurt.

Cyst

Your shoulder lump might be a cyst, or a closed sac of tissue. Depending on the type of cyst, it might contain air, pus, or fluid. Cysts are usually benign.

There are many kinds of cysts. But some types can appear on the shoulder, including the following:

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  • Epidermoid cyst. An epidermoid cyst, also called a sebaceous cyst, is a painless flesh-colored sac under the skin. It’s filled with a protein called keratin, a thick, yellowish material that may drain from the bump.
  • Paralabral cyst. This cyst contains joint fluid and develops around the shoulder joint. While it’s usually painless, it can hurt if it presses against nearby nerves or tears the surrounding cartilage.
  • Ganglion cyst. Ganglion cysts usually form on the hands or wrists, but in rare cases, they can occur near other joints, like the shoulders. A ganglion cyst is often round or oval and painless.
  • Bone cyst. A bone cyst is a fluid-filled pocket in the bone. It usually isn’t painful, though it can get big enough to cause a fracture.

Abscess

Another cause is a skin abscess, or a pus-filled lump deep under the skin. It’s typically caused by a bacterial infection.

An abscess might look like a big pimple. Other symptoms include:

  • round shape
  • firm, yet squishy
  • pain
  • redness
  • pus draining from the center
  • warm to the touch

Since an abscess is caused by a bacterial infection, you may also have a fever and chills.

Trauma or injury

A shoulder lump can form after hurting your shoulder. Potential causes include:

  • Fracture. A shoulder fracture, or broken shoulder, involves a break in one of your shoulder bones. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and a lump where the bone broke.
  • Separation. A separated shoulder occurs when the ligaments between the collarbone and shoulder blade tear. The shoulder blade can move downward, which forms a bump on top of your shoulder.
  • Muscle contusion. A muscle contusion, or an injury to the muscle fibers, causes swelling and bluish discoloration. If blood collects within the tissue, it can form a bump called a hematoma.

Muscle knot

A muscle knot is a group of tense muscle fibers. It happens when muscle tissue contracts, even when you’re relaxing.

Also called myofascial trigger points, muscle knots can affect any part of the body. They commonly form on the neck and shoulders.

Symptoms include:

  • aching and pain
  • sensitivity when touched
  • hardness
  • swelling

Muscle knots are often caused by inactivity or overuse. Regular exercise and therapeutic massages can help get rid of them.

Large pimple or wart

Your shoulder lump might be a big pimple or wart. These skin conditions are usually harmless, though they can cause discomfort and pain.

Pimples, or acne, happen when your pores are clogged with oil and dead skin cells. They often form on the shoulders, face, upper back, and chest.

Larger pimples are most likely:

  • Cystic acne. Cystic acne are painful bumps filled with pus. They form underneath the skin.
  • Nodular acne. Nodules are harder lumps. Like cystic acne, they develop beneath the skin and are painful.

On the other hand, warts are caused by a human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. They usually show up on the hands, but they can appear anywhere, including the shoulders.

Warts might be:

  • small or big
  • rough or smooth
  • white, brown, pink, or flesh-colored
  • itchy

Arthritis

Arthritis, or joint inflammation, can lead to shoulder lumps. The characteristics of the lump will depend on the kind of arthritis you have.

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a type of autoimmune arthritis, can cause rheumatoid nodules. These nodules form under the skin and usually appear on bony areas, like the shoulders.

A rheumatoid nodule can be as big as a lemon. They are:

  • flesh-colored
  • hard or dough-like
  • movable or connected to underlying tissue

Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative arthritis, can cause bone spurs called osteophytes. These bony lumps grow around joints affected by osteoarthritis.

Osteophytes often appear on the shoulders, neck, knees, fingers, and feet. They don’t always cause symptoms. If a lump presses against nerves or other tissues, you may have pain or loss of joint motion.

Cancer

A shoulder lump might indicate soft tissue sarcoma. This is a rare cancer that forms a tumor in the connective tissue, including the muscle, tendons, and nerves.

The tumor is typically painless. It most often affects the:

  • shoulders
  • thighs
  • pelvis
  • abdomen
  • chest

As the tumor progresses, it may cause pain and restrict your movement.

Squamous cell carcinoma, as type of skin cancer, can also cause shoulder lumps. These bumps are rough scaly patches that may look like warts.

The location of your shoulder lump can tell you more about the cause.

Lump on shoulder blade

A lump on your shoulder blade might indicate a fracture or separated shoulder.

Lump on shoulder bone

The shoulder bones include several bones, including the shoulder blade. Bumps in this area might be caused by:

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  • separated shoulder
  • fracture
  • rheumatoid nodule
  • osteophyte
  • bone cyst

Shoulder lump under skin

Typically, a shoulder lump under the skin’s surface is a:

  • lipoma
  • cyst
  • cystic or nodular pimple
  • abscess

Shoulder lump on the skin

If the lump is on the skin’s surface, it might be a:

  • non-cystic pimple
  • wart
  • squamous cell carcinoma tumor

Lump on shoulder muscle

Possible causes of shoulder muscle lumps include:

  • muscle contusion
  • muscle knot
  • soft tissue sarcoma

Most causes of shoulder lumps are painful or uncomfortable. However, the following causes are typically painless:

  • lipoma
  • cyst
  • rheumatoid nodule
  • osteophyte
  • warts
  • cancerous tumor

In general, the above lumps only cause pain when they put pressure on nearby nerves or tissue.

Most lumps aren’t serious. But if the shoulder lump doesn’t go away in 2 weeks, it’s best to visit a doctor.

You should also seek medical help if the lump:

  • gets bigger
  • hurts
  • doesn’t move
  • comes back after it’s removed

If you were recently injured, get medical attention immediately. You might have a serious injury, like a broken bone.

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To diagnose your shoulder lump, a doctor might use a:

  • Physical exam. A doctor will examine the lump by touching it. They’ll also look for other symptoms, like redness and swelling.
  • MRI scan. An MRI uses radio waves to take an image of soft tissues.
  • X-ray. If a doctor thinks the lump is on your bone, they’ll have you get an X-ray.
  • CT scan. A CT scan takes X-rays at multiple angles.
  • Biopsy. If a doctor suspects a lipoma or tumor, they might request a biopsy. A sample of tissue from the lump will be examined in a lab.

Because there are many causes of shoulder lumps, there are many possible treatments. The appropriate method depends on the condition.

Some options include:

  • Surgical removal. Some lumps can be surgically removed. This is best for conditions like lipomas, cysts, warts, and rheumatoid nodules.
  • Drainage. Drainage is useful for lumps like abscesses, cysts, and hematomas.
  • Prescription medication. If you have cystic acne, the doctor can prescribe topical or oral medication. They can also prescribe medication to shrink rheumatoid nodules.

Minor causes of shoulder lumps usually don’t need treatment.

Shoulder lumps can vary in size. Depending on the cause, the lump might feel hard, doughy, smooth, or rough. It may or may not be painful.

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Generally, shoulder lumps aren’t a cause for concern. Most lumps go away on their own. But if your lump keeps growing, or if it doesn’t go away in 2 weeks, see a doctor. You should also seek medical help if it hurts or causes discomfort.

FAQs

What causes lumps on shoulders? ›

A lump on the shoulder, back, chest or arm is most likely to be a lipoma or a cyst. A lipoma is a soft, fatty lump that grows under the skin. It's fairly common, harmless and can usually be left alone. When you press a lipoma, it should feel soft and 'doughy' to touch.

Should I be worried about a lump on my shoulder? ›

Generally, shoulder lumps aren't a cause for concern. Most lumps go away on their own. But if your lump keeps growing, or if it doesn't go away in 2 weeks, see a doctor. You should also seek medical help if it hurts or causes discomfort.

What cancer causes lump on shoulder? ›

A soft tissue sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that generally forms as a painless lump (tumour) in any one of these soft tissues. It can develop anywhere in the body, but most commonly in the thigh, shoulder, arm, pelvis and abdomen.

Can shoulder bursitis cause lumps? ›

Other inflammatory conditions of the joints such as bursitis can also result in swollen bumps in the shoulder [3,4].

How can you tell if a lump is cancerous? ›

Bumps that are cancerous are typically large, hard, painless to the touch and appear spontaneously. The mass will grow in size steadily over the weeks and months. Cancerous lumps that can be felt from the outside of your body can appear in the breast, testicle, or neck, but also in the arms and legs.

Why do lumps occur? ›

The most common cause of skin lumps is trauma or injury. This type of lump is sometimes called a goose egg. It occurs when you hit your head or another part of your body. Your skin will begin to swell, causing a lump that may also be bruised.

What does a shoulder tumor feel like? ›

Instead, many patients experience sharp shoulder pain, arm pain and muscle weakness as a result of a tumor placing pressure on a nearby nerve. Patients may also experience other neurological symptoms like tingling sensations, impaired hand function and sensation loss.

When should you get a lump checked? ›

See a GP if:

your lump is painful, red or hot. your lump is hard and does not move. your lump lasts more than 2 weeks. a lump grows back after it's been removed.

Do cancerous lumps move? ›

Cancerous lumps are usually hard, painless and immovable. Cysts or fatty lumps etc are usually slightly softer to touch and can move around.

What are the symptoms of bone cancer in the shoulder? ›

Signs and symptoms of bone cancer

swelling and redness (inflammation) over a bone, which can make movement difficult if the affected bone is near a joint. a noticeable lump over a bone. a weak bone that breaks (fractures) more easily than normal. problems moving around – for example, walking with a limp.

How do you know if shoulder pain is cancer? ›

If shoulder pain occurs when resting, worsens at night or doesn't involve any loss of motion, it may indicate lung cancer. Other lung cancer signs include: A chronic, hacking cough. Blood-tinged mucus.

Is a tumor hard or soft? ›

In fact, tumors may feel hard from the outside, but research has shown that individual cells within the tissue aren't uniformly rigid, and can even vary in softness across the tumor. However, cancer researchers didn't understand how a tumor could be both rigid and soft at the same time, until now.

Does shoulder bursitis show up on xray? ›

Imaging tests.

X-ray images can't positively establish the diagnosis of bursitis, but they can help to exclude other causes of your discomfort. Ultrasound or MRI might be used if your bursitis can't easily be diagnosed by a physical exam alone.

How do I know if I have shoulder bursitis? ›

Shoulder stiffness or a feeling of swelling. Painful range of motion. Nighttime pain when lying on the affected side. Sharp or pinching pain with overhead shoulder motions.

What is the bony bump on your shoulder called? ›

Bone spurs (also called osteophytes) consist of excess bone growth around your joints, and are common in older adults. Bone spurs in the shoulders may develop as a result of degenerative joint conditions as well as injuries and general wear and tear. At first, a bone spur in the shoulder may not present any symptoms.

Which doctor should I consult for lump? ›

In case it is painful and increasing in size, it requires urgent medical attention. Consider meeting a Dermatologist or surgeon for physical examination and if needed a fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) or skin biopsy can be done to ascertain the nature of this lump.

How do I know if my lump is sarcoma? ›

A sign of soft tissue sarcoma is a lump or swelling in soft tissue of the body. A sarcoma may appear as a painless lump under the skin, often on an arm or a leg. Sarcomas that begin in the abdomen may not cause signs or symptoms until they get very big.

How do you tell if a lump is a cyst? ›

The best test to determine whether a cyst or tumor is benign or malignant is a biopsy. This procedure involves removing a sample of the affected tissue — or, in some cases, the entire suspicious area — and studying it under a microscope.

Are lumps normal? ›

Lumps, bumps, or growths under your skin aren't uncommon. It's completely normal to have one or more of these throughout your life. A lump can form under your skin for many reasons. Often, lumps are benign (harmless).

Do lumps go away on their own? ›

Most lumps are not breast cancer, but something less serious, such as a benign (not cancer) breast condition. Some lumps go away on their own. In younger women, lumps are often related to menstrual periods and go away by the end of the cycle.

What cancers cause shoulder pain? ›

Shoulder pain is the most common symptom of a type of cancer called Pancoast tumor. These tumors are rare.

What causes lipoma on shoulder? ›

Madelung's disease: This condition occurs most often in men who drink alcohol excessively. Also called multiple symmetric lipomatosis, Madelung's disease causes lipomas to grow around the neck and shoulders.

Can a cyst in shoulder be cancerous? ›

These hard nodules that appear beneath your skin may be cause for concern, but most of them are harmless. However, cancerous cysts do occur, so have any growth that is causing you pain or increasing in size diagnosed by a doctor.

Are all hard lumps cancerous? ›

A hard lump under the skin does not necessarily indicate cancer. Infections, clogged glands, and hormonal changes can all cause noncancerous lumps under the skin. People should not try to remove or pop a lump. Doing this may lead to an infection or cause the lump to get bigger.

What to do if you feel a lump? ›

After you have marked the lump's location, call your primary care physician or gynecologist to schedule an appointment. Your physician will examine your breasts and the lump in question. She may schedule imaging to get a better look at the breast tissue, and if necessary, a biopsy.

Do tumors hurt when you touch them? ›

They can feel firm or soft. Benign masses are more likely to be painful to the touch, such as with an abscess. Benign tumors also tend to grow more slowly, and many are smaller than 5 cm (2 inches) at their longest point. Sarcomas (cancerous growths) more often are painless.

How do you examine a lump? ›

Temperature - Is the lump warm to touch? Transillumination - Apply a light source to the lump using a pen torch; fluid-filled lumps will allow light to pass through (e.g. hydrocoele) Consistency – Describe how the lump feels, such as soft (e.g. lipoma), firm (e.g. lymph node), or fluctuant (e.g. hydrocoele)

What is lump medical term? ›

Listen to pronunciation. (NAH-jool) A growth or lump that may be malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer).

What do fatty lumps feel like? ›

They: feel soft and squishy. can be anything from the size of a pea to a few centimetres across. may move slightly under your skin if you press them.

Can bone cancer be seen on xray? ›

Bone x-ray

Bone x-rays may show if the cancer started in the bone (primary bone cancer). Or if the cancer spread to the bone from somewhere else in the body (secondary bone cancer). Sometimes the way the bone looks on an x-ray can help the doctor tell which type of bone cancer it is.

What is the best scan to detect bone cancer? ›

CT scan. CT scans are usually used to help form an initial bone cancer diagnosis and to see whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. CT scans may also be used to guide the biopsy needle.

What does the beginning of bone cancer feel like? ›

Pain caused by bone cancer usually begins with a feeling of tenderness in the affected bone. This gradually progresses to a persistent ache or an ache that comes and goes, which continues at night and when resting.

Can blood test detect cancer? ›

Samples taken for cancer blood tests are tested in a lab for signs of cancer. When viewed under a microscope, the samples may show the actual cancer cells. Other blood tests might find proteins or other substances made by the cancer. Blood tests can also tell your provider how well your organs are working.

What are the signs and symptoms of cancer? ›

Signs and symptoms Cancer
  • Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness. Speak to a GP if you've had a cough for 3 weeks or more. ...
  • Changes in bowel habits. Speak to a GP if you've noticed these changes and it's lasted for 3 weeks or more: ...
  • Bleeding. ...
  • Lumps. ...
  • Moles. ...
  • Unexplained weight loss. ...
  • Tummy or back pain. ...
  • Indigestion and heartburn.

What does a shoulder tumor feel like? ›

Instead, many patients experience sharp shoulder pain, arm pain and muscle weakness as a result of a tumor placing pressure on a nearby nerve. Patients may also experience other neurological symptoms like tingling sensations, impaired hand function and sensation loss.

When should I worry about a lump under my skin? ›

your lump is painful, red or hot. your lump is hard and does not move. your lump lasts more than 2 weeks. a lump grows back after it's been removed.

What does a lipoma look like? ›

Lipomas often form in the fatty tissue under the skin. These are also the most noticeable ones, as they look and feel like soft, dome-shaped lumps under the skin. They vary in size from pea-sized to several centimetres in diameter.

What causes lipoma on shoulder? ›

Madelung's disease: This condition occurs most often in men who drink alcohol excessively. Also called multiple symmetric lipomatosis, Madelung's disease causes lipomas to grow around the neck and shoulders.

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