Try our free symptom checker
Get a thorough self-assessment before your visit to the doctor.
Are you noticing a hard lump on your shoulder? Lumps on the shoulder are often associated with traumatic events, however, causes can also be inflammatory, cancerous, or environmental. It's important to pay attention to the lump on your shoulder and its associated symptoms to determine if you should seek medical attention. Read below to learn 8 possible causes, treatment, and more.
Symptoms of lump on a shoulder
The shoulder is a very mobile and vulnerable joint. It consists of the shoulder blade (scapula), the collarbone (clavicle) and the bone of the upper arm (humerus). The head of the humerus sits in a socket of the scapula called the glenoid. There is a ring of tissue that surrounds the glenoid socket (labrum) that keeps all of these pieces in place. A shoulder bump is often associated with trauma or injury to this delicate system and may present with the following characteristics.
Common characteristics and accompanying symptoms of a shoulder bump
Symptoms you may also experience include:
- Feeling of shoulder instability
- Bruising in the shoulder area
- Warmth or redness of the shoulder area
- Limited range of motion
- Decreased strength
A shoulder bump may signal a serious underlying issue and requires prompt medical attention. Make an appointment with a healthcare professional if you notice any of the above symptoms.
What does a shoulder lump mean?
Though shoulder bumps are usually associated with traumatic events, there are many other potential causes for bumps and its associated symptoms. The causes of shoulder bumps can be grouped into the following categories:
Traumatic causes of shoulder bumps may include the following.
- Fracture: Any activities that cause direct trauma to the shoulder area can result in a fracture that causes a shoulder bump and its associated symptoms. Traumatic injuries include falling on an outstretched arm or a direct blow to the shoulder that results from a motor vehicle accident or even falling from a bicycle.
- Dislocation/Separation: These can also occur in the setting of traumatic events but usually do not involve any broken bones. Often the ligaments that hold the different parts of the shoulder are stretched or injured or the humerus may pop out of the socket that holds the shoulder in place.
Inflammatory or rheumatologic causes include conditions involving the body's tissues and joints that can affect people of all ages but most commonly affects older adults. Conditions such as arthritis cause inflammation that easily brings fluid into the tissues leading to swelling, redness, and tenderness in the joints in addition to the appearance of large bumps or nodules in the shoulder and hands. Other inflammatory conditions of the joints such as bursitis can also result in swollen bumps in the shoulder [3,4].
New lumps and bumps on the body are also concerning since they can be the initial sign of a cancerous process. However, there are signs and symptoms that are reassuring. A shoulder bump may be less concerning if it is soft and easily mobile; however, a shoulder lump that grows in size over time or changes in color or one that is hard, rigid or stuck in place should be followed up promptly. Cancerous growth, also called tumors, arise when cells divide and grow uncontrollably. There is either a genetic mutation in DNA or a specific protein or failure in an important checkpoint that results in this rapid growth. When the cells begin to invade other parts of the body, the tumor becomes malignant.
An insect bite from any insect — mosquito, spider, flea, etc. — can cause a bump that swells and may be itchy and painful.
8 possible shoulder bump conditions
The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced shoulder bump. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing form of skin cancer. Skin cancer falls into two major groups: Non-melanoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Top Symptoms: facial skin changes, pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painless facial bump, growing facial lump
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Shoulder Bump Symptom Checker
Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your shoulder bump
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.
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
Warts, also called common warts or verrucae, are small, rough, rounded growths on the top layer of the skin. They may appear alone or in clusters. Common warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are contagious through direct contact. They may spread from one place on the body to another simply through touch.
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 melanomas have a black or black-blue area. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. It may be black, abnormal, or "ugly looking."
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
Moles are growths on the skin. They happen when pigment cells in the skin, called melanocytes, grow in clusters. Certain moles are considered "atypical" because of their size and characteristics, which require careful watching and possibly even biopsy in order to monitor for development into cancer.
Top Symptoms: severe abdominal lump, brown-colored skin changes, moderate abdominal lump, atypical abdominal bump features, growing abdominal bump
Symptoms that always occur with atypical mole: black or brown abdominal bump, atypical abdominal bump features
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Treatment options for a lump on the shoulder
When to see a doctor for a shoulder bump
If you experience a shoulder bump or any of these associated symptoms, make an appointment with your physician to get appropriate treatment. Depending on the diagnosis, your physician may suggest:
- Repositioning: If your shoulder bump is due to a dislocation injury, your physician may first attempt to reposition the upper arm back into the shoulder socket. You may also be given a muscle relaxant or sedative before the bones are manipulated depending on the extent of pain and swelling.
- Immobilization (sling): Your physician may use a sling to keep your shoulder from moving. You may have to wear the sling anywhere from days to weeks depending on the severity of the shoulder dislocation and how soon you received medical care.
- Physical therapy or rehabilitation: Your physician may prescribe stretching exercises or a physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore range of motion, strength, and stability to your shoulder, especially after injury.
- Rheumatologic medications: There are many different types of medications that combat rheumatologic conditions that may be causing your swollen shoulder. Talk to your physicianto determine the best type of treatment for you.
- Cancer treatment: If your symptoms are due to a cancerous process, your physician will suggest therapies that include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or combinations of the three.
FAQs about shoulder bump
What is the difference between a shoulder separation and shoulder dislocation?
Even though they both might present with pain and a visible bump or deformity of the shoulder, shoulder separations and dislocations are different in the anatomy of the problem. A shoulder dislocation occurs when the connection between the humerus and the ball and socket joint of the shoulder (glenoid) become unstable or "pops out" . A shoulder separation involves injury or separation of the ligaments that stabilize the shoulder joint .
How long will the shoulder bump last?
The duration of your symptoms will depend on the specific cause. For example, shoulder bumps associated with traumatic injuries are usually the result of localized swelling that can quickly resolve, especially with proper treatment. On the other hand, bumps due to inflammatory or cancerous causes may be chronic.
What is a lipoma on the shoulder?
A lipoma is a benign tumor composed of fatty tissue. Since fat tissue can be found all over the body, lipomas can appear in multiple locations including the shoulder, upper back, arms, and upper thighs. They are reassuring in appearance and presentation as they are usually small, painless, mobile and located superficially beneath the skin.
How do you tell if you have a separated shoulder?
A separated shoulder may present with symptoms such as a visible bump in the area, pain, arm weakness, bruising or limited shoulder movement. A trained healthcare professional will be able to make the definitive diagnosis as to whether your symptoms are caused by a separation, dislocation, fracture, etc.
Does a cancerous tumor on my shoulder hurt?
Most growths on the body due to an underlying cancerous process are often painless. However, if you experience pain with symptoms associated with unexplained/unintentional weight loss, fatigue, and unexplained fevers, make an appointment with your healthcare provider promptly.
Questions your doctor may ask about shoulder bump
- What color is the bump?
- Do you purposely tan (using sun, tanning beds, or UV rays)?
- Has anyone in your family had cancer?
- Is your bump painful to touch?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
- Separated Shoulder. Mayo Clinic. Published November 22, 2016. Mayo Clinic Link
- Shoulder Trauma (Fractures and Dislocations). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated September 2007. OrthoInfo Link
- Mayo Clinic. Published August 12, 2017. Mayo Clinic Link
- Bursitis of the Shoulder. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link
- Cutts S, Prempeh M, Drew S. Anterior Shoulder Dislocation. Annals The Royal College of Surgeons of England. 2009;91(1):2-7. NCBI Link
- Dislocated Shoulder. Mayo Clinic. Published August 3, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link
- Cordasco FA. Should Separation and Dislocation: An Overview. HSS. Updated November 20, 2009. HHS Link