A swollen neck can occur from many possible causes, including spinal, muscular, disease-oriented, infectious and idiopathic processes. Since swelling can affect many types of tissues, and since many types of bodily growths can be mistaken for swelling, expert diagnosis should be sought from a qualified physician. Swelling may or may not be related to a neck pain condition. Furthermore, in some cases, the cause of inflammation might be obvious, while in other scenarios, the source of swelling might be a mystery to the patient. Swollen neck conditions may be indicators of potentially serious health issues, so each should receive proper medical attention in order to ensure that there is no immediate significant threat presented.
This guide explains many of the common causes of neck swelling, as well as categorizing inflammatory conditions by location and root origin.
Swollen Neck Explanation
Swelling describes an abnormal increase in size in an anatomical location, tissue or structure. The word can be a synonym for inflammation, growth, protuberance, puffiness, lump, bump, hump or distention.
The most accurate meaning of swelling in the neck describes a condition wherein fluid accumulates in a region, causing a shiny, red, painful and warm symptomology. The patient will typically feel tightness in the area, heat, discomfort and pressure.
Other meanings of neck swelling can describe hard or soft bumps of any size, small hard cysts, large hard growths, anatomical skeletal irregularities that distort posture and even puffy, raised rashes that might affect the skin alone.
Neck Swelling Locations
The neck actually consists of 3 main zones. The spinal zone consists of the rear of the neck, focusing on the area immediately surrounding the spinal structures on the posterior midline of the body. The throat is the diametric opposite of the spinal zone, being that it exists in the midline of the body on the anterior surface. The third zone consists of both sides of the neck, spanning from the top of the shoulder to the side of the skull, near each ear. Swelling might occur in any of these areas or in multiple regions at once. The location of the symptoms might help to diagnose its origin.
Generally, swelling in the throat or side of the neck has a greater chance of being enacted by some type of infectious or disease process, such as an bacterial or viral infection or disorder of the lymph nodes, thyroid or other glandular tissue or organ. Meanwhile, swelling that occurs in the rear of the neck usually can often be traced to injury, muscular problem or spinal deformity. However, these are certainly not absolute rules.
Swollen Neck Causations
There are many possible sources of inflammation in the neck anatomy. These causations can include any of the following factors and processes:
Injury is the most common direct cause of swelling that relates to the expression of neck pain. Neck injury can occur to the spinal structures or to the surrounding musculature. Significant soft tissue injuries might produce traditional inflammation along with the expected symptomology of tightness, heat and pain. Most patients will remember hurting themselves and should therefore not be surprised at swelling that might be observed around an obvious trauma site.
Spinal abnormalities might cause lumps or distortions in posture, sometimes referred to as humps. These irregularities will virtually always occur directly over the spinal bones. Various types of hyperkyphosis can create seeming swelling at the base of the neck, although these conditions do not involve any true inflammatory process, but rather, simple postural distortions from an altered skeletal structure. Rare cervical scoliosis can also create bony protrusions that can be seen externally.
Muscular constriction, imbalance or abnormality, like torticollis, might cause a lump on the affected side.
Infection can affect virtually any area of the neck and may be caused by bacterial, parasitic or viral contaminants. Infection might target the throat, the glands, the lymph system, the spine, the skin or other structures. Some of the more common causes of neck swelling due to infectious contamination include mononucleosis, some sexually transmitted diseases, mumps, tuberculosis, tonsillitis, streptococcus contamination and bacterial abscesses.
Neoplastic process, such as Hodgkin’s Disease, lymphoma, mouth and throat cancer, leukemia or isolated tumor formation, can occur anywhere in the anatomy of the neck or might exclusively affect the lymph nodes in the neck.
Thyroid concerns, such as hyperthyroidism and goiter formation, can cause massive swelling in the frontal throat.
Lymphatic conditions might involve direct or systemic infection, serious systemic disease threat or idiopathic inflammation.
Allergies can cause the build-up of fluids under the skin, as well as general redness, swelling and raised rash formation.
Dental concerns, such as infections and abscesses, can create swelling below the lower jaw, in the front or side of the neck.