Glands and Neck Pain

Swollen glands in the neck can cause pain, whether due to infection or other pathology. Inflamed lymph nodes can lead to neck pain and tenderness, but should settle back down within one to two weeks in the majority of cases and leave no lasting damage.

When to See the Doctor

If lumps in the neck and back of the head do not dissipate within two weeks, are larger than 2cm in diameter, feel fixed under the skin, or have an odd color different to the surrounding skin, then a doctor’s diagnosis should be sought. If fever, numbness, or an inability to touch the neck to the chest occurs then immediate medical attention is advised as these symptoms could demonstrate the presence of meningitis, and other life-threatening diseases.

Other Lumps in the Neck

Sometimes a lump in the neck can be a benign cyst, infected pore from an ingrowing hair or blemish, or something more serious such as a cancerous growth or glandular problem. Cancerous growths usually grow in size gradually and do not appear overnight. They generally feel firm to the touch unlike lymph nodes, and they appear fixed to the underlying skin. There may be changes in coloration of the surrounding skin, and similar lumps in the vicinity. If in doubt check with the doctor for a proper diagnosis.

The Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is in the centre of the neck, just above the collar bone and below the Adam's apple in men. It surrounds the trachea/windpipe, and may cause problems with the vocal cords (including hoarseness) if it become inflamed or enlarged. It is not uncommon for postmenopausal women to have problems with an underactive thyroid and this can cause the gland to swell, leading to a goitre of the neck.

Thyroid problems may also lead to both neck and head pain, due to the pressure on other structures, and mucous deposits behind the eyes which cause pressure headaches. If an individual has noticed any swelling of the neck, weight gain, general lethargy, loss of hair on the body, and poor concentration, this may be a sign of a problem with the thyroid gland. These are not the only symptoms of thyroid issues however, and a doctor should be able to determine the likelihood of thyroid dysfunction during a general examination and assessment.

Lymph Glands in the Neck

A large proportion of the body’s lymph glands lie in the neck, so are the most prominent to swell upon the presence of an infection. If the glands are swollen under the chin or the jaw then this often indicates a dental problem, or a mouth infection of some kind. Other locations may indicate specific issues also as each lymph gland drains lymphatic fluid from a particular region of the head.

Other Causes of Gland and Neck Pain

Other causes of swollen neck glands can include tuberculosis, mononucleosis, syphilis, and cancer (such as Hodgkin’s Disease). These are unlikely causes, but require ruling out, as they are very serious. If the swollen glands are accompanied by a persistent sore throat then medical attention should be sought as this could be strep throat which can lead to rheumatic fever and heart damage.

Further Tests for Neck Swelling

If the cause of the swelling is not initially apparent then the doctor may order both blood tests and x-rays to check for problems with the thyroid, or anatomical irregularities. A needle biopsy of an inflamed lymph node may also be conducted to take a sample of the material inside the gland to determine the cause of the infection. This is usually conducted with a local anaesthetic and should not be very painful.

There are many causes of gland and neck pain, and a thorough assessment should be carried out to ensure a proper diagnosis. Enlargement and swelling of the glands can cause both acute and chronic pain depending in the condition and the intensity of infection.




Last Updated: 10/09/2011