Symptoms A-Z

Hard Back Mass Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

If you found a hard back mass, it is most likely noncancerous. The most common causes for a hard lump on the back arise from skin conditions, like skin abscess, wart, or cysts on the back. Knots in the back can also appear as a hard back mass. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options.

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Hard Lump on Back Explained

From balance to posture, the back contains multiple important structures responsible for keeping the body functioning properly. A hard back mass can be caused by a variety of benign or more serious causes described in further detail below. It may be helpful to take note of some of the following characteristics as it is likely your medical provider will evaluate for them.

Common accompanying symptoms of a hard back mass

A lump in this area can be upsetting as it is often associated with symptoms such as:

Less-concerning symptoms

New lumps and bumps in the back are also concerning since they can be the initial sign of a cancerous process. However, there are signs and symptoms that can be less worrisome. For example, a lump in the back, even if it is hard, is less concerning if it possesses the following characteristics:

  • Easily mobile
  • Reducible: This means it can be pushed back into its place with manual pressure.

More-concerning symptoms

A hard mass in the back that requires prompt follow-up includes the following characteristics:

It is important to note that the hard mass in your back may not be directly visible at all times. Sometimes it can be better felt with deep palpation of the area. Thus, if you experience some of the symptoms above but do not visibly see a mass, do not assume there is no problem.

What Causes a Hard Lump on the Back?

Back anatomy

A hard lump in the back is usually the result of the collection or growth of underlying structures in the back. Conditions that affect these structures can result in hard back masses. There are various specific structures within the abdominal region including:

  • Nerves: The back is home to the spinal cord, the body’s central support structure and relay center for messages going to and from the body and brain. The nerves that arise from the spinal column are responsible for providing sensation and allowing movement of different parts of the body.
  • Muscles: There are many muscles in the back, both superficial and deep [1]. These muscles allow you to do everything from bending and twisting to standing and lifting objects. They include extensor muscles that help to hold the body upright, flexor muscles that help for bending movements, and oblique muscles that help with rotation.
  • Fat: There is a layer of fatty tissue under the skin that stores energy, insulates/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 allowing the body to fight off infections [2].

Neurologic causes

The spinal cord within the back has may nerves that are covered and protected by a membranous sheath, the dura, as well as a column of bones, known as the vertebrae. Masses can arise from any of the structures within this system — including the dura — resulting in a hard mass you may be able to visibly feel and see in the back. These masses can either be benign or malignant and require follow-up with a healthcare professional [3].

  • Intramedullary: This term can be translated as “in the membrane” and refers to growths arising from the cells within the spinal cord itself.
  • Extramedullary: This term can be translated as “outside the membrane” and refers to growths arising 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

Causes related to the skin and soft tissue may include the following.

  • Dermatologic: There are many dermatologic conditions that can result in hard masses 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, 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 [4]. Growths that form in this way are known as soft tissue sarcomas and can manifest as hard masses in the back [5].

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 that results in this unchecked growth. These abnormal cells accumulate to form a noticeable lump. A lump can be benign and can arise from many of the causes above; however, if this lump grows and invades the body it is considered malignant. A hard back mass may be the result of a growth in the back itself or the result of spreading of a cancerous process from another organ/body part. This process is known as metastasis.

Lymphatic causes

The lymph nodes are structures that contain immune cells that fight infection and filter harmful substances from the body. When these structures become infected, they can swell and result in palpable lumps. The back contains some lymph nodes that are susceptible to infection and swelling. If swollen lymph nodes are causing the lump in your back you may also experience tenderness and fever as well [2].

4 Possible Hard Back Mass Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced hard back mass. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

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

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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.

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

Wart

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.

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How and When to Treat a Hard Lump on the Back

When to see a doctor

Since the causes of hard back masses are varied, it is important to make an appointment with your physician in order to get the proper diagnosis and treatment. Depending on the cause of your symptoms, your physician may suggest:

  • 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.
  • Antibiotics: If you have swollen lymph nodes due to infection, your physician will provide appropriate antibiotic treatment.
  • Cancer treatment: If your hard back mass and associated symptoms are due to cancer, your physician will discuss treatment options including surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

FAQs About Hard Back Mass

Can I lay down on a hard back mass?

Often hard back masses are painful and uncomfortable and make activities such as lying down very difficult. If you can tolerate lying directly on your back, it is okay to do so.

Will a hard back mass affect how I walk?

Depending on the cause and location of your hard back mass, your gait may be affected. For example, if your hard back mass 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 [3]. If you experience clumsiness or trouble walking in addition to symptoms such as fatigue or unexplained weight loss, make an appointment with your healthcare provider promptly.

Can I still exercise with a hard back mass?

Exercise is acceptable if you take precautions to avoid aggravating the abdominal tissues or increasing intra-abdominal pressure. Low-intensity or low-impact exercises such as dancing, walking or water aerobics may be good options. However, activities such as heavy weightlifting can cause strain in that area and increase pressure in the back, causing the lump to bulge unnecessarily. Always speak with your physician before beginning an exercise regimen.

Will the hard mass on my back grow larger?

Depending on the cause of your symptoms, a hard back mass 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 hard back mass 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, inheritance is less likely.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Hard Back Mass

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

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

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Hard Back Mass Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced hard back mass have also experienced:

  • 15% Lower Back Pain
  • 12% Back Pain
  • 8% Back Bump

People who have experienced hard back mass were most often matched with:

  • 57% Skin Abscess
  • 42% Basal Cell Carcinoma

People who have experienced hard back mass had symptoms persist for:

  • 49% Over a month
  • 21% Less than a week
  • 11% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Hard Back Mass Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Back muscles. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link
  2. Swollen lymph nodes. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Reviewed July 30, 2018. U of M Health Link
  3. Spinal tumors. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. AANS Link
  4. Soft tissue masses. University of Washington Medicine: Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. UW Medicine Link
  5. Signs and symptoms of soft tissue sarcomas. American Cancer Society. Updated April 6, 2018. American Cancer Society Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.