Hard lumps on any part of your body should cause some concern. This is because cancerous lumps are almost always hard and painless in the early stages. The good news is that only about 5% of all lumps are actually malignant.
The clavicle or collarbone is a flat long bone located at the base of your neck. In people with less fat under the skin, it forms a visible bony bulge. The distal end is attached to the shoulder joint while the medial end is attached to the breastbone (sternum).
Most lumps on the clavicle are not cancerous. They result from injuries and some diseases or infections. You are advised to go for medical diagnosis if a lump on the clavicle persists for more than 2 weeks.
Causes of lump on clavicle
Shoulder muscle injuries
Lifting or pulling heavy objects can cause muscle strain on the shoulder joint. Severe injuries may even cause clavicle dislocation at the distal end. A hard, swollen and painful lump on clavicle will be the likely result. Mild swelling will resolve after a day or two. Serious injuries such as dislocated clavicle can take up to multiple months to heal completely.
If the pain is severe or doesn’t improve, your doctor may consider surgery. Anti-inflammatory medications and pain killers are the common treatment options however. At home, you can try ice treatment to reduce swelling and pain.
Clavicles take a long time to mature, 20 years in most people. The bone is also located very close to the skin. It is for such reasons that it is said to be one of the most commonly fractured bones in the body. Fractures can occur during vigorous sports activities, accidents or when carrying heavy objects on your shoulder. A lump at the bottom of the sternum can also develop after an accident due to a broken xiphoid process. Bones usually form hard calluses during the healing process. This is normal and will resolve once the injury has completely healed.
Lumps due to a fractured clavicle are usually accompanied by symptoms such as pain, tenderness and bruising. Naturally, fractured bones will heal on their own if given enough time. Severe cases however call for medical diagnosis and treatment. See your doctor if you have intolerable pain, difficulty breathing, spit blood or are unable to use your hand.
There are about 100 different types of arthritis. Generally, it is a disease that affects joints. Two main types may cause hard lumps on clavicle:
- Rheumatoid arthritis – this is an autoimmune disease of the joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis develop small nodules on the affected joint accompanied by swelling, tenderness and warmth. Fever and general weakness can also occur.
- Osteoarthritis – osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the ‘wear and tear’ type. It destroys cartilage, which is the smooth tissue that keeps bones at a joint from rubbing against each other. The disease mostly affects the distal end of the clavicle but can also develop at the medial end. Symptoms include pain, stiffness and reduced joint functionality. As affected bones grate against each other, bone spurs that feel like hard lumps on joints will form.
Aneurysmal Bone Cyst
Aneurysmal Bone Cyst (ABC) is a tumor-like benign lesion that commonly forms on long bones. It can be taken for a cancerous lump due to the fact that it is consisted of blood-filled spaces and keeps expanding. Young people are mostly affected.
Affected body parts experience stiffness and reduced range of motion. A painful lump that doesn’t disappear will also develop.
Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
This is a disorder that develops when blood vessels under the clavicle area get compressed. This results in blood clots which form hard lumps. Lack of color in your fingers or even your entire hand is a common symptom. You may also experience numbness and fatigue in the arm. This condition is different from hematoma, the kind that sometimes causes a pea sized lump in the scrotum after vasectomy.
This disorder affects soft tissues and muscles. It is caused by lump of fatty tissue under skin known as lipomas. The disorder affects the way your brain translates pain signals by amplifying them. Common symptoms include degraded memory, fatigue, sleep disorders and mood swings. If intolerably painful, lipomas can be surgically removed. They however are benign and will not lead to cancer.
A bone spur is an outgrowth that originates in the surface of a bone. It is a result of your body’s natural defense mechanism to protect a bone from injury. A hard bony lump on the clavicle can develop after repeated trauma on your shoulder such as carrying heavy objects regularly. It can also develop as a side effect of wear-and-tear arthritis (osteoarthritis). Normally, bone spurs are not painful. They can however grate on other bones and cause pain. Osteoarthritis can affect more than one joint in the body. For example, it can cause a hard lump on the elbow bone, on the knee and clavicle area concurrently.
Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. Deep cuts, open wounds and surgical operations can act as entry points for bacteria. On clavicle, this infection will result in slightly movable tender lumps on top of clavicle. Fever is also likely to develop. Like all infections, osteomyelitis requires medical treatment.
You have hundreds of lymph nodes throughout your body. Large groupings are located on the neck between clavicle bones. A small lump above the clavicle on either side of the neck that is always there is actually a lymph node. When the immune system is fighting an infection or a disease, lymph nodes swell to form painful lumps that are sometimes visible.
It is unlikely that a hard lump on clavicle will be cancerous. If so, however, it can be of the following types:
- Lymphoma – lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system. It is usually characterized by painless lumps in different locations where large groupings of lymph nodes are located.
- Chondrosarcoma – this is a type of bone cancer which develops on cartilages and connective tissues. It rarely causes symptoms expect bony lump and restricted movement.
- Breast cancer – the adipose tissue of breasts extends to near breastbone, armpits and clavicle. Breast cancer can also lead to swollen lymph nodes in the clavicle area. Other symptoms include nipple discharge, nipple retraction, changed skin color and formation of dimples on breasts.
Clavicle lump symptoms
General clavicle lump symptoms include:
- reduced bone and joint functionality
- weight loss
The specific symptoms that you will experience will depend on what is causing the lump. Injuries and fractures are in most cases painful. Resulting lumps usually subside after a few days.
Infections are mostly accompanied by fever and fatigue. Severe ones will cause swelling of lymph nodes especially on clavicle area near neck.
Tumors will in most cases gradually grow in size and form hard painless lumps.
Diagnosis and treatment for a lump on clavicle
Some lumps are identifiable after a physical exam. Some require imaging tests such as an MRI and CT scan. Infections and cancer cells are diagnosed through biopsy.
Your doctor will suggest the best treatment options based on diagnosis reports.
Tumors are commonly removed through surgery. Anti-inflammatory medications can also be prescribed. Some conditions such as arthritis can only be managed but not cured or reversed. Cancer tumors require a therapeutic treatment approach.
Painful lumps caused by injuries can be improved at home through ice treatment. This involves wrapping ice cubes in a plastic bag and then covering the bag with a piece of cloth. After that, hold the cloth on the injured part for about 10 minutes. This technique reduces swelling and eases pain.
When to see a doctor for a lump on clavicle
Some lumps on the clavicle do not require treatment as they are either not serious or life-threatening. Others are medical emergencies which require immediate treatment.
The best approach is to have a doctor check the lump and perform necessary tests. See your doctor if a lump persists for more than 2 weeks or if you:
- Develop fever
- Experience intolerable pain
- Notice swellings or lumps elsewhere in the body such as lump under the right rib cage or throat
- Experience reduced joint or hand functionality
- Have swollen lymph nodes in more than one location
- Can’t seem to find the lump’s cause
Modern medicine has come a long way. In earlier days, malignancy was almost a guaranteed death sentence. This has changed greatly for the better. Lack of information played a key role in increasing mortality rate due to manageable diseases, including cancer. The good thing is that we now have many sources of information with which informed decisions can be made. You can find online information on topics such as lump on the left side of the stomach with no pain, what does a lump mean on your body, signs of lung cancer and so on very useful. All in all, a qualified doctor should have the final say.