What can cause a lump on the back of the neck hairline? (2022)

Lumps and bumps are relatively common along the hairline at the back of the neck. Some possible causes can include skin irritation, acne, cysts, boils, and muscle knots.

The skin on the neck hairline frequently comes into contact with potential irritants, such as shampoo, clothing detergent, sweat, and hair-care products. This area of skin is also subject to friction from a person’s hair and clothes. Irritation and friction can sometimes lead to lumps, bumps, and other skin problems.

In this article, we describe some of the most common causes of lumps on the back of the neck or along the hairline. We also cover when to see a doctor.

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The lymph system is part of the immune system and comprises a network of lymph vessels and lymph nodes. Lymph nodes help the body kill germs and filter out harmful substances from the fluid that travels along the lymph vessels.

When lymph nodes swell, it can be a sign that the body is fighting an infection, such as a common cold or the flu.

Several lymph nodes run along the back of the neck, on either side of the spine. There are also lymph nodes behind each ear.

A lump on the back of the neck may be a swollen lymph node if it:

  • feels tender
  • is around the size of a marble
  • moves slightly when a person touches it

Sometimes lymph nodes swell when there is an infection nearby. For example, a swollen lymph node on the neck can be a sign of an ear or throat infection. The swelling tends to go down when the infection clears up.

Less commonly, swollen lymph nodes can indicate a noninfectious condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer.

Lymph nodes can also swell for no apparent reason.

(Video) Neck lumps: are they normal?

It is advisable for anyone who has swollen lymph nodes to see a doctor if the swelling gets worse or does not disappear after a few weeks.

Acne can cause lumps and swellings at the back of the neck. Acne is a common skin condition that can occur when oil, bacteria, or dead skin cells block the pores or hair follicles.

Acne can develop on any part of the body where hairs grow, but common sites include the face, neck, and shoulders.

Acne outbreaks are common during puberty and adolescence due to hormonal changes. People of any age can get acne, however.

Types of acne lesion include:

  • blackheads and whiteheads
  • papules
  • pustules
  • nodules
  • cysts

Hair products, sweat, and clothing can irritate the back on the neck, all of which can make acne worse.

A person can often treat acne on the back of the neck at home with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. Other tips include switching shampoos, keeping the neck clean and dry, and keeping the hair off the neck.

If acne is severe, very painful, or does not respond to home remedies, a dermatologist may prescribe a stronger medication.


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If the lump feels fleshy and is on top of the skin, rather than beneath the skin or in the muscle, it may be a mole.

Most people have some moles on their body. Moles typically appear during childhood, but new moles can develop at any age.

While most moles are harmless, they can sometimes become cancerous. So, it is essential to monitor moles, particularly new moles, for changes that can signal cancer.

A person can use the ABCDE rule to check for signs of skin cancer:

  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole is different in appearance to the other half.
  • Border: The mole has an uneven or irregular border or edge.
  • Color: The color is uneven, or there are unusual shades, such as blue and red.
  • Diameter: The mole is wider than 6 millimeters, which is around the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving: The mole is changing in appearance over time.

People who suspect that a mole is cancerous should consult a primary care doctor or dermatologist. They can also consider scheduling an annual checkup with a dermatologist to ensure all their moles are healthy.

A sebaceous cyst is a fluid-filled lump that sits just below the surface of the skin. These cysts tend to be slow growing but can get very large.

Sebaceous cysts are generally harmless and are usually painless. Cysts can come and go, or they may continue to grow larger.

Some cysts come to a head or ooze when a person squeezes them. Popping a cyst, however, will not get rid of it, and it can cause an infection. Doctors can often remove a cyst with a simple, in-office procedure.

A person can see a doctor if the cyst becomes painful, tender, or red, as this is a sign of infection. Infected cysts may resemble large pimples.

Warm compresses and OTC pain medication can help relieve discomfort from an infected cyst.

(Video) Lymphnodes

A red, painful, pus-filled bump on the back of the neck may be a boil.

Boils, or furuncles, result from localized bacterial infections, which means that the infection is not affecting the surrounding skin or tissues. Cysts, acne, and blocked hair follicles can become infected and turn into boils.

Squeezing a boil can cause the infection to get worse or spread. Instead, applying warm compresses and keeping the area clean can ease the discomfort.

Again, it is advisable to see a doctor if the boil lasts more than a few days, is very painful, or a fever develops. A doctor may drain the boil or prescribe antibiotics.

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Many substances can irritate the back of the neck. Shampoo, hair products, clothing detergent, sweat, and sunscreen can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people. Friction from clothing can sometimes also irritate the neck, causing a rash.

If the lump is small, red, and itchy, or there are patches of dry skin on the neck, it may be a sign of skin irritation or an allergic reaction.

To reduce or prevent skin reactions try:

(Video) If You Have a Lump on Your Neck, Check It ASAP!

  • changing or using less skin and hair products
  • trying a different detergent for clothes washing
  • keeping the hair off the neck
  • keeping the neck clean and dry

Moisturizers and OTC antihistamine creams and tablets may also help to relieve symptoms. Seeing a doctor is an option if skin reactions or rashes are severe or persistent.

Injured or tense muscles can form knots, or myofascial trigger points, that a person can feel just below the skin. These tense bands of muscle tissue can vary considerably in size but do not usually cause a visible lump or bump above the surface.

The neck is a typical site for muscle pain and tension. Long days sat working at a computer or desk can strain the muscles and irritate the nerves around the hairline.

Muscle knots can be painful, sore, or tense, but they are not usually a serious health problem. However, they can affect a person’s mobility and sleep and can sometimes lead to other issues, such as headaches.

Ways to help relieve or prevent muscles knots in the neck include:

  • massage
  • gentle stretching
  • frequent breaks from computers and desk
  • maintaining a good posture while sitting
  • making adjustments to workstations

Lumps or bumps near the hairline at the back of the neck are usually not a cause for concern. Possible causes of lumps in this area can include acne, muscle knots, boils, and skin irritation.

Speak to a doctor for lumps that are painful, do not go away after a few days, or accompany other concerning symptoms. Also see a doctor for new or existing moles that change in color, shape, or size.


What can cause a lump on the back of the neck hairline? ›

Lumps or bumps near the hairline at the back of the neck are usually not a cause for concern. Possible causes of lumps in this area can include acne, muscle knots, boils, and skin irritation. Speak to a doctor for lumps that are painful, do not go away after a few days, or accompany other concerning symptoms.

What does a lump on your hairline mean? ›

While some lumps can be a cause for concern, a lump on the back of the neck or along your hairline usually isn't anything serious. It could be anything from an ingrown hair to a swollen lymph node.

What could lump on back of neck be? ›

The most common lumps or swellings are enlarged lymph nodes. These can be caused by bacterial or viral infections, cancer (malignancy), or other rare causes. Swollen salivary glands under the jaw may be caused by infection or cancer. Lumps in the muscles of the neck are caused by injury or torticollis.

What does a cancerous lump on the back of neck feel like? ›

What does a cancerous lymph node feel like? Cancerous lymph nodes can occur anywhere on the neck and are typically described as firm, painless, and sometimes may be immovable. A lump will form when a cancer cell infiltrates the capsule and multiplies.

Can you get a cancer lump on the back of your neck? ›

A Lump on the back of Neck, Jaw, or Mouth

A lump in the neck may be a sign of thyroid cancer. Or it may be caused by an enlarged lymph node. Swelling in one or more lymph nodes in the neck is a common symptom of head and neck cancer, including mouth cancer and salivary gland cancer.

When should I worry about lump back of neck? ›

Remember that lumps can appear anywhere on your body - not just your neck - and usually they're harmless. If you're particularly worried about a lump on your neck or the lump hasn't gone away after 2 weeks, always get it checked by a doctor.

Is a cancerous lump hard or soft? ›

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.

Are neck tumors hard or soft? ›

Where neck lumps come from. A lump in the neck can be hard or soft, tender or non-tender. Lumps can be located in or under the skin, as in a sebaceous cyst, cystic acne, or lipoma.

How do I get rid of the lump on the back of my neck? ›

Start by doing chin tucks of the neck where you pull the chin straight back. This is good for the discs in the neck and strengthens the neck muscles. Perform scapular squeezes, where you squeeze the shoulder blades together, to improve the upper back muscles.

What percentage of neck lumps are cancerous? ›

More than 75% of lateral neck masses in patients older than 40 years are caused by malignant tumours, and the incidence of neoplastic cervical adenopathy continues to increase with age.

Can a lump in the neck be nothing? ›

A lump on your neck could be anything from a minor infection to a serious condition. Most moveable lumps aren't serious. In general, if the lump is soft and goes away on its own, it's probably nothing to worry about. A neck lump that persists, grows, or hurts could be a sign of infection or other illness.

Can lumps in neck be harmless? ›

It may be surprising and upsetting when you discover a lump on your neck that you haven't previously noticed. The good news is that neck lumps are common and most often harmless. They can come in different sizes and textures, and they're usually non-cancerous.

Which are warning signs of head and neck cancer? ›

The warning signs of head and neck cancer include:
  • Painless white patch or red patch in the mouth.
  • Hoarseness or change in voice.
  • Sore throat.
  • Painless lump in the mouth or neck.
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing or breathing.
  • Frequent nosebleed, particularly on one side of the nose.

What does a neck cyst feel like? ›

Lumps in your neck can also be cysts. Cysts are fluid-filled sacs of tissue. They can form almost anywhere in the body. A cyst is not solid and usually feels soft.

How does neck cancer look like? ›

Head and neck cancer symptoms may include a lump in the neck or a sore in the mouth or the throat that does not heal and may be painful, a sore throat that does not go away, difficulty in swallowing, and a change or hoarseness in the voice. These symptoms may also be caused by other, less serious conditions.

Can stress cause lumps on neck? ›

Anxiety and stress can also cause a considerable amount of muscle tension in your neck. You may feel like you have a lump in the throat, while another person may feel more pressure on the sides of the neck towards the lymph nodes. A common anxiety symptom is neck pressure, which you feel when you swallow.

What causes cyst on back of neck? ›

An epidermoid cyst is a small, slow growing, benign cyst most commonly found on the face, head, neck, back, or genitals. It's usually caused by a buildup of keratin under the skin.

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

If the lump has solid components, due to tissue rather than liquid or air, it could be either benign or malignant. However, the only way to confirm whether a cyst or tumor is cancerous is to have it biopsied by your doctor. This involves surgically removing some or all of the lump.

What kind of lumps should you worry about? ›

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 doctor should I see for lump on neck? ›

See your doctor and/or an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist, if the lump in your neck lasts longer than two to three weeks. This is a persistent neck mass, which means that the lump has not gone away.

Do cancerous lumps hurt? ›

Cancer lumps usually don't hurt. If you have one that doesn't go away or grows, see your doctor. Night sweats. In middle-aged women, it can be a symptom of menopause, but it's also a symptom of cancer or an infection.

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.

How do you know if a lymph node is cancerous? ›

The only way to know whether there is cancer in a lymph node is to do a biopsy. Doctors may remove lymph nodes or take samples of one or more nodes using needles.

Should I get a lump on my head checked? ›

Most bumps on the head are harmless. If you're unsure what's caused the bump on your head, inform your doctor and watch the bump closely. If it changes or any of the following occur, call your doctor immediately: bleeding.


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