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Nodules Under Skin

Nodules under the skin can be associated with several health conditions, some of which can be minor while others can be quite serious. Read on to find out more about skin nodules and their causes.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Apr 4, 2018
Having lumps under the skin can be quite an annoying experience. But, a great majority of skin nodules are usually benign or non-cancerous. Such nodules can be soft or hard to touch and are often painless.

Some people on the other hand, can get painful nodules under the skin, which are usually caused by an infection or trauma.

There can be several factors or conditions that can cause skin nodules or lumps, some of which can be minor and do not require any treatment as such. A few of the most common causes of skin nodules are explained below.

What Causes Lumps Under the Skin


Lipomas are common, but harmless nodules that can develop under the skin. They are basically composed of fatty tissues. They are soft and painless, and are movable. People usually get this type of skin nodules on the legs, trunk, arms, neck, and the shoulder. However, lipomas can develop in other parts of the body as well.

Symptoms: Lipomas are usually less than 5 cm in diameter and they do not produce any other symptom. However, if they compress the adjoining nerves, one can feel pain.

Treatment: In general, lipomas do not require any treatment, unless they are painful, or when they compress the surrounding structures, or get infected. The standard treatment option for such lipomas is surgical removal or excision. Lipomas are also removed surgically when they become a cosmetic concern.

Sometimes, the content of a lipoma is squeezed out by making a small incision, especially when it develops in the face or other areas with thin dermis. If the lipoma is quite large in size, then it can be removed with the help of liposuction-assisted lipectomy.

Skin Cysts

Skin cysts are another type of nodule that can develop on or under the skin. Cysts are basically enclosed sacs filled with fluid, pus, or other semisolid material. They can appear as small lumps under the skin. Skin cysts can be caused by several factors, of which infections, clogged sebaceous glands, and chronic inflammatory conditions are the most common causes.

Symptoms: Skin cysts are usually painless and smooth to touch. However, infected or inflamed skin cysts can produce pain.

Treatment: Skin cysts that become infected need to be drained in order to relieve the pain and swelling. Usually, such cysts are pierced with a sharp object and then their content is squeezed out.

However, a skin cyst can recur if the sac is not removed. Physicians usually opt for the surgical removal of a recurrent cyst when it does not respond to other treatment options. Sometimes, antibiotics can also be required for the treatment of infected skin cysts.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes

Enlarged lymph nodes can also look like nodules or lumps under the skin. Such skin lumps can be more commonly found in areas like the neck, armpit, and the groin. Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes are usually associated with infections. But at times, they can be a sign of some serious health conditions, like cancer or HIV infection.

Symptoms: Along with swelling, the lymph nodes may feel tender or painful. Enlarged lymph nodes can also be accompanied by some other symptoms depending on their underlying causes. If they are associated with an upper respiratory tract infection, then the affected individual can experience a runny nose, a sore throat, and fever.

Treatment: Treatment for swollen lymph nodes can vary significantly depending on their underlying causes. If they are caused by a bacterial infection, then physicians can prescribe antibiotics. Enlarged lymph nodes caused by a viral infection usually return to their normal size once the infection subsides. But, if the enlargement is caused by conditions like HIV infection or cancer, then treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, and intake of antiretroviral drugs.

Corns and Calluses

Corns and calluses are thick and hard lumps that commonly appear on the feet. However, they can also develop on the hands, fingers, and toes, along with the soles of your feet. They are usually caused by the continuous pressure placed on these areas. Repeated friction and irritation of a particular area can also cause the development of corns and calluses. Foot corns are usually found in those individuals who wear tight shoes.

Symptoms: Corns and calluses can be identified as a patch of thick, and hardened skin. A hard and raised bump can be felt on the affected area. Sometimes, one can also feel pain or tenderness when pressure is applied on the area.

Corns usually form on or between the toes and they appear as small circles of thick skin with a hard center. On the other hand, calluses usually develop on the soles of your feet and the palms. They can be distinguished as hard and rough areas of skin. They are usually larger than corns and rarely painful. They do not have a well-defined border unlike corns.

Treatment: The conventional treatment options for corns and calluses include trimming the thickened skin with the help of a scalpel and application of pads containing salicylic acid. Sometimes, antibiotic ointments are also recommended for treating corns and calluses. In rare cases, surgical intervention can be required for the effective treatment of this condition. It is important to wear comfortable and properly fitting shoes and use protective pads or shoe inserts, in order to avoid any friction on the affected area.

Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion cysts are skin nodules that commonly appear around the joints and tendons of the hands and feet. More commonly, they can be found on the wrist joint. Ganglion cysts contain thick, but clear, jelly-like fluid. Ganglion cysts are sometimes called 'bible bumps'. An old practice to treat a ganglion cyst was to hit it with a hard book, like the bible. This usually broke the cyst and caused the fluid to flow into the surrounding tissues.

Symptoms: Ganglion cysts are usually round or oval in shape, and are soft and smooth to the touch. They are non-cancerous and usually painless, unless they press against the surrounding nerves. Sometimes, they can enlarge when the particular joints are used for repetitive action.

Treatment: Ganglion cysts are harmless and may disappear on their own. They do not require any treatment unless they press on a nerve and cause pain and discomfort. For such cysts, doctors may opt for needle aspiration, where the cysts are drained with the help of a needle. Sometimes, immobilization of the affected area with the help of wrist braces or splints is also recommended. If all other treatment options fail to provide relief, then the cysts are surgically removed.


A boil is a red and painful bump on the skin and is also known as furuncle. It is often caused by an infection of the hair follicles by bacteria. The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is usually responsible for causing an infection of the hair follicle.

Symptoms: A boil first appears as a reddened area on the skin and then becomes hard and firm. Eventually, a tender and swollen lump can be felt on or under the skin. Finally, a white or yellowish area develops on the central part of the boil due to the accumulation of pus. Boils can appear on any part of the body.

Treatment: A small boil usually bursts and then drains on its own. But, a large boil can sometimes require medical intervention. Physicians can drain such a boil by making a small incision on its tip. For large and recurrent boils, doctors can also recommend antibiotics.

Other Possible Causes of Skin Nodules

Apart from the aforementioned causes, nodules or lumps under the skin can sometimes develop due to the following conditions:

✦ Neurofibromas
✦ Rheumatoid arthritis
✦ Abscess

Neurofibromas are soft and fleshy benign growths. But on rare occasions, they can turn cancerous as well. Sometimes, they can press against a nerve and produce pain and neurological problems. Such neurofibromas are surgically removed. An abscess on the other hand, is formed when pus accumulates within the tissues in response to an infection caused by bacteria, or other foreign substances. Like boils, treatment for abscess also includes drainage and antibiotics.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can cause the development of nodules on the joints. Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis can include various drugs, like steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-rheumatic drugs, and immunosuppressants, along with surgery and physical and occupational therapy.

Cancerous Skin Nodules

Sometimes, cancer can also cause the development of lumps or nodules under the skin. If such nodules develop on the breasts (breast lumps), then they can be a sign of breast cancer. However, conditions other than cancer, such as mastitis, fibroadenoma, lipoma, and enlarged milk ducts can also cause the development of breast lumps.

Apart from breast cancer, skin cancer can cause the development of nodules or lumps as well. Skin cancer can cause the development of hard and firm lumps, and abnormal moles. Cancerous moles usually have irregular borders and they do not have a uniform color. They are also known to grow and change their color.

As skin nodules can be associated with so many conditions, it is important to ascertain their underlying causes. This would help find out whether the nodules are benign or cancerous, and then treat them accordingly. So, consider visiting a physician if you observe any kind of abnormal skin nodules.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.