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What Causes Back Bumps & When to Seek Care

A man with multiple bumps on his back.
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Different skin conditions can cause one or multiple back bumps. The most common causes of a bump on the back include skin abscess, cysts, warts, or a back pimple. Other causes for lump on the back can arise from lipoma or non cancerous cell growth. Read below for more information on causes and how to treat back bumps.

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Back bump symptoms

The health of your back determines your posture, ability to move, and if your body is balanced. It also allows your organs, skeletal structure, and more to be in working order. Most of the time, a back bump is related to the spine and its 33 vertebrae (bones), but bumps can also be related to the muscles, nerves, ligaments, and even skin of the back. A bump in the back can be a sign of various conditions that present different symptoms.

Common symptoms of a back bump

The following symptoms may affect the bump or back itself.

  • Redness
  • Pain or discomfort: Especially when changing positions or pain is worse at night
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Changes in the appearance of the lump
  • A burning or aching sensation

Common accompanying symptoms of a back bump

You may also experience the following associated symptoms.

Less-concerning characteristics

A back bump may be the initial sign of a cancerous process. However, there are signs and symptoms that may make a back bump less worrisome, such as the following.

  • Easily mobile
  • Transient: This means it comes and goes.
  • Well-circumscribed: It appears rounded with even borders.

More-concerning characteristics

You should see a physician for a back bump with the following characteristics.

What causes back bumps?

Back structure

A back bump is usually the result of an underlying structure in the back growing irregularly. There are various specific structures within the back, including the following.

  • Nerves: The back is home to the spinal cord, which is the body’s central support structure and relay center for messages going to and from the body and brain. The nerves that originate in the spinal column provide sensation and allow movement for different parts of the body.
  • Muscles: There are many muscles in the back, both superficial and deep. These muscles allow you to bend, twist, stand, and lift. Extensor muscles help hold the body upright, flexor muscles help you bend, and oblique muscles help you rotate.
  • Fat: There is a layer of fatty tissue under the skin that stores energy, regulates the body’s temperature, and serves as a protective cushion.
  • Lymphatics: The lymphatic system helps rid the body of waste and toxins. It includes a network of tissues and structures both in the body and underneath the skin, such as lymph nodes, that play an important role in fighting off infections.
  • Skin: It may seem obvious, but the skin is an important organ to the entire body and is often the most common cause of bumps and lumps on the skin. All three layers of the skin — the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer — can result in bumps. Hair follicles within the skin can also cause bumps in the back.

Neurologic causes

The spinal cord has many nerves protected by a membranous sheath, called the dura, as well as a column of bones, known as the vertebrae. Bumps or masses can arise from any of the structures within this system — including the dura — resulting in a bump you may be able to visibly feel and see in the back. These bumps or masses can either be benign or malignant and require follow-up with a healthcare professional.

  • Intramedullary: This term can be translated as “in the membrane” and refers to growths from the cells within the spinal cord itself.
  • Extramedullary: This term can be translated as “outside the membrane” and refers to growths from any of the structures outside of the spinal cord, including the nerves that extend from the canal, the bones, and the dura itself.

Skin/Soft tissue causes

A back bump may be related to the skin or soft tissue.

  • Dermatologic: There are many dermatologic conditions that can result in bumps in the back. For example, melanoma is a dangerous form of skin cancer that can occur on any part of the body. It may start as a small blemish or point on the skin that can grow and become hard and discolored in the process.
  • Soft tissue: Growths can arise from any of the tissues that support and surround the different parts of the body such as the muscles, fat tendons, and even lining of the joints. Growths of the fat and soft tissue of the skin are known as lipomas and often present as soft, round, or oval painless nodules. They most commonly occur on the back and upper extremities but can appear in other locations.

Lymphatic causes

The lymph nodes contain immune cells for fighting infection and filtering harmful substances from the body. When the nodes become infected, they can swell and result in palpable lumps. If swollen lymph nodes are causing the lump in your back, you may also experience tenderness and a fever as well.

Malignant causes

In general, any growth is the result of cells dividing and growing uncontrollably. Sometimes there is a genetic mutation in DNA or a specific protein or failure in an important checkpoint. These abnormal cells accumulate to form a noticeable lump. A lump (also known as a tumor) can be benign; however, if this lump grows and invades the body, it is considered malignant. A back bump may be the result of a growth in the back itself or the result of a cancerous process spreading from another organ/body part. This process is known as metastasis.


Warts, also called common warts or verrucae, are small, rough, rounded growths on the top layer of the skin. They may appear singly or in clusters.

Common warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and are contagious through direct contact, especially through a break in the skin. They may spread from one place on the body to another simply through touch.

Anyone can get warts but they are most common in anyone with a weakened immune system, as from illness or chemotherapy. Children and teenagers are also susceptible to warts.

Warts often first appear on the hands and fingers, especially near the nails or after any injury to the skin. This is why biting fingernails is a risk factor for warts.

Warts are benign, meaning they are not cancerous. But they can be unsightly and interfere with normal use of the hands, so treatment is often beneficial.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination. Warts in children sometimes go away without treatment, but otherwise most warts can be easily removed in a doctor's office.

Skin cyst

A cyst is a small sac or lump, filled with fluid, air, fat, or other material, that begins to grow somewhere in the body for no apparent reason. A skin cyst is one that forms just beneath the skin.

It's believed that skin cysts form around trapped keratin cells – the cells that form the relatively tough outer layer of the skin.

These cysts are not contagious.

Anyone can get a skin cyst, but they are most common in those who are over age 18, have acne, or have injured the skin.

Symptoms include the appearance of a small, rounded lump under the skin. Cysts are normally painless unless infected, when they will be reddened and sore and contain pus.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination. A small cyst can be left alone, though if it is unsightly or large enough to interfere with movement it can be removed in a simple procedure done in a doctor's office. An infected cyst must be treated so that the infection does not spread.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: skin-colored armpit bump, marble sized armpit lump, small armpit lump

Symptoms that always occur with skin cyst: skin-colored armpit bump

Urgency: Wait and watch

Skin abscess

A skin abscess is a large pocket of pus that has formed just beneath the skin. It is caused by bacteria getting under the skin, usually through a small cut or scratch, and beginning to multiply. The body fights the invasion with white blood cells, which kill some of the infected tissue but form pus within the cavity that remains.

Symptoms include a large, red, swollen, painful lump of pus anywhere on the body beneath the skin. There may be fever, chills, and body aches from the infection.

If not treated, there is the risk of an abscess enlarging, spreading, and causing serious illness.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

A small abscess may heal on its own, through the body's immune system. But some will need to be drained or lanced in a medical provider's office so that the pus can be cleaned out. Antibiotics are usually prescribed.

Keeping the skin clean, and using only clean clothes and towels, will help to make sure that the abscess does not recur.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with bumps or blisters, red rash, red skin bump larger than 1/2 cm in diameter, pus-filled rash, rash

Symptoms that always occur with skin abscess: rash with bumps or blisters

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Pimples are also called comedones, spots, blemishes, or "zits." Medically, they are small skin eruptions filled with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.

Pimples often first start appearing at puberty, when hormones increase the production of oil in the skin and sometimes clog the pores.

Most susceptible are teenagers from about ages 13 to 17.

Symptoms include blocked pores that may appear flat and black on the surface, because the oil darkens when exposed to the air; blocked pores that appear white on the surface because they have closed over with dead skin cells; or swollen, yellow-white, pus-filled blisters surrounded by reddened skin.

Outbreaks of pimples on the skin can interfere with quality of life, making the person self-conscious about their appearance and causing pain and discomfort in the skin. A medical provider can help to manage the condition, sometimes through referral to a dermatologist.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment involves improving diet; keeping the skin, hair, washcloths, and towels very clean; and using over-the-counter acne remedies.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painful facial bump, marble sized facial lump

Symptoms that always occur with pimple: pink or red facial bump

Urgency: Self-treatment


Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole. Most s have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or "ugly looking."

You should visit your primary care physician. Surgery is the first treatment of all stages of melanoma. Other treatments include chemotherapy and radiation, biologic, and targeted therapies. Biologic therapy boosts your body's own ability to fight cancer. Targeted therapy uses substances that attack cancer cells without harming normal cells.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: brown-colored skin changes, atypical features of a facial bump, black-colored skin changes, growing facial lump, large facial lump

Symptoms that always occur with melanoma: atypical features of a facial bump

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Lipoma is a word that translates as "fatty tumor," but a lipoma is not cancer. It is simply a growth of fat between the muscle layer and the skin above it.

The exact cause is not known. The condition does run in families and is associated with other unusual syndromes such as adiposis dolorosa, which is similar. Lipomas most often appear after age 40.

Symptoms include a soft, easily moveable lump beneath the skin, about two inches across. A lipoma is painless unless its growth is irritating the nerves around it. They are most often found on the back, neck, and abdomen, and sometimes the arms and upper legs.

It is a good idea to have any new or unusual growth checked by a medical provider, just to make certain it is benign.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, biopsy, and imaging such as ultrasound or CT scan.

Most of the time, treatment is not necessary unless the lipoma is unsightly or is interfering with other structures. It can be removed through surgery or liposuction.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: skin-colored groin bump, marble sized groin lump, small groin lump

Symptoms that always occur with lipoma: skin-colored groin bump

Urgency: Wait and watch

Cherry angioma

A cherry angioma is a noncancerous (benign) skin growth made up of blood vessels.

You do not need to see a doctor for a cherry angioma. If you want to get rid of the spot, a doctor can prescribe propranolol, topical beta-blockers, and systemic corticosteroids on a case-by-case basis.

Boil (furuncle)

A furuncle, also called a boil, is infection of a hair follicle. The infection forms under the skin at the root of the hair and may occur anywhere on the body.

The infection is caused by bacteria, most often Staphylococcus aureus or "staph." Irritation caused by clothes or anything else rubbing the skin can cause the skin to break down and allow bacteria to enter.

Staph bacteria are found everywhere. Frequent and thorough handwashing, and otherwise maintaining cleanliness, will help to prevent its spread.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system; diabetes; and other skin infections.

Symptoms include a single bump under the skin that is swollen, painful, and red, and contains pus.

It is important to treat the boil, since infection can spread into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes fluid sample from the boil.

Treatment may involve incision and drainage of the infection, followed by creams to apply to the site of the boil and/or a course of antibiotic medicine.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painful facial bump, marble sized facial lump, constant skin changes

Symptoms that always occur with boil (furuncle): pink or red facial bump

Symptoms that never occur with boil (furuncle): fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common kind of skin cancer. It can develop almost anywhere on the body. It appears as abnormal spots or bumps on the skin. These bumps are often pink, red, or skin-colored and sometimes have a shiny surface. The main risk factor for developing this condition is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sun exposure and tanning beds are both sources of UV radiation. People with a history of sunburns, previous skin cancer, and a weakened immune system are at higher risk for this condition.

Most cases of BCC can be easily treated because they grow slowly. Though if not treated, it can spread inside the body. Your provider will do a skin exam and possibly skin sample test, known as a biopsy. Treatment will depend on where the cancer is, its size, and your medical history. Some treatment options include cutting out the bump, freezing it, or using medicated skin cream.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: facial skin changes, pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painless facial bump, growing facial lump

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Back bump treatments and relief

When to see a doctor

Since the causes of back bumps vary, it is important to make an appointment with your physician to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. Depending on the cause of your symptoms, your physician may suggest the following.

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the first-line option for removing both benign and malignant growths from the back and other areas of the body. It is important to take very important care in removing such growths since damage to the spinal cord and its components can result in serious consequences such as permanent paralysis.
  • Noninvasive surgical removal: There are many noninvasive semi-surgical options for removing certain dermatologic bumps that may appear on the back. Treatment modalities such as electrodesiccation, shave excision, and even scissors can remove lesions on the back.
  • Antibiotics: If you have swollen lymph nodes due to infection, your physician will provide appropriate antibiotic treatment.
  • Cancer treatment: If your back bump and associated symptoms are due to cancer, your physician will discuss treatment options including surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

OTC Treatment Options:

  • Pain Relievers (like Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen): These can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with the bump.
  • Warm Compresses: Applying a warm compress can help reduce pain and swelling and might help bring an infection to the surface.
  • Anti-Itch Cream: If the bump is itchy, an anti-itch cream with hydrocortisone can provide relief.

When it is an emergency

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience bowel or bladder issues in addition to pain, numbness, or tingling in the lower back that spreads down the legs. These could be signs of cauda equina, a medical emergency of the spine.

FAQs about back bump

Can I lay down on a back bump?

Sometimes back bumps may be painful and uncomfortable and make activities such as lying down very difficult. However, sometimes they can be almost unnoticeable. If you can tolerate lying directly on your back, it is okay to do so.

How will a back bump affect how I walk?

Most of the time, bumps on the back are benign and involve the superficial skin. However, depending on the cause and location of your back bump, your gait may be affected. For example, if your back bump is a growth of the spinal cord/column, the nerves that assist in walking may be damaged, or the growth may compress the nerves necessary for this task. If you experience clumsiness or trouble walking in addition to symptoms such as fatigue or unexplained weight loss, make an appointment with your physician promptly.

Will it be difficult for me to exercise with a back bump?

Exercise is often the main therapy for back bumps related to cancerous processes, especially if they affect the nerves and cause pain or weakness in the arms and legs. Physical therapy is often part of treatment and can help alleviate some symptoms and hasten recovery.

Will my back bump grow larger?

Depending on the cause of your symptoms, a back bump may grow in size. For example, in the cases of cancerous growths such as melanoma or soft tissue sarcoma, growth and sometimes spread of the initial tumor happens often.

Can a back bump be inherited?

Some back masses related to cancerous processes can be inherited. For example, the mutation that causes some forms of soft tissue sarcoma can be inherited. However, for conditions with an infectious component that may affect the lymphatics, for example, inheritance is less likely.

Questions your doctor may ask about back bump

  • What color is the bump?
  • Do you feel pain when you touch the bump?
  • Do you purposely tan (using sun, tanning beds, or UV rays)?
  • Has anyone in your family had cancer?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hear what 1 other is saying
Once your story receives approval from our editors, it will exist on Buoy as a helpful resource for others who may experience something similar.
The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Blackhead with ointment-like dischargePosted November 27, 2019 by H.
Male, age 32. I had a blackhead on my back at the slight left side of my vertebral column. I don't know when I got that, but once my wife saw it and tried to remove it. She popped it and a bit hard, sort of pus material with unpleasant odor came out of it. Was like texture of thin ointment ... I am worried about it... It looked like a blackhead with greyish little area surrounds it ... and it was coming out of that small patch ... she just cleaned it with tissue and after some time she again popped it and it the same thing appeared…. I am wondering if it is harmful but I am too busy and can hardly find time to go to the doctor ...
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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