Thyroid Nodule Pain & General Thyroid Pain

Dr. Tarrin P. Lupo, D.C.

thyroid nodule painMost masses with thyroid nodule pain are non-cancerous; 95% of thyroid nodules are benign

The good news is most masses with thyroid nodule pain are non-cancerous. As a general rule, patients who actually have thyroid cancer nodules don't have pain or even any symptoms at all. Only a small percentage of growths on the thyroid are fatal.

  • It's estimated that over 12 million people suffer with thyroid conditions a year, but in 2013 only about 1,800 actually died of thyroid cancer. 95% of all thyroid nodules are benign. Some growths are actually just fluid-filled cysts and not even made of thyroid tissue.

It's also estimated that 1 in 12 young women have thyroid nodules but only 1 in 40 in men of the same age range have them. Women generally have more thyroid issues than men do due to hormonal differences. For this reason, many men have undiagnosed thyroid issues.

Nodules Are Common

If you've detected a thyroid nodule or nodules, the good news is that it's statistically likely that you have a non-cancerous growth on the thyroid. As we age, thyroid nodules become a lot more common.

  • About 50% of the population will develop nodules on their thyroid by age 50 and the chance increase 10% a decade. So someone who is 80 has about an 80% chance of having at least one growth and possibly multiple thyroid nodules

Of course if you have any growth in your throat region, play it smart and go get it checked out. Any mass that appears and starts growing is always a good idea to get looked at quickly.

Reasons For Thyroid Nodule Pain:


Trauma-induced

I saw a good bit of this when I used to be the head doctor for some rugby teams and American football teams. Patients who got tackled around the throat would present with thyroid pain. The swollen thyroid would stick around for weeks sometimes and even start affecting its function.

I also saw a good bit of these types of injuries when short statured people got into car wrecks: the seat belt would impact directly on their thyroids and crush it. Most of the geriatric population has a benign growth on their gland, but after the impact it could cause thyroid nodule pain.

  • The good news is that when the bruising heals, so does the thyroid. This condition usually self-resolves with time.

Suppurative Thyroiditis

thyroid nodule painIf a sinus, mouth, or throat infection runs untreated long enough it will migrate down and populate in the thyroid

This is a very rare condition but it can be very painful. If you already have a benign mass, the swelling can cause thyroid nodule pain. This is basically a runaway infection that sets up house in the thyroid.

  • If a sinus, mouth, or throat infection runs untreated long enough it will migrate down and populate in the thyroid gland.

This also can happen after some dental procedures like root canals if infection sets in or there is a leak. This condition will present as an abscess with a pus pocket or a ball of pus on the side of the neck.

Subacute Granulomatous Thyroiditis


This condition is the most common cause of thyroid pain. This presentation is also sometimes called de Quervain's thyroiditis, subacute thyroiditis, or giant cell thyroiditis. It is the result of a flu virus (usally Coxsackie virus groups A and B) which populates in your thyroid gland. A patient will get sick with the flu and then complain their throat hurts. The flu will get better but the virus sticks around and infects your thyroid gland. It can wreak so much havoc that it will present as both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid depending on what stage of attack the virus is in. Because of this the thyroid findings will change on blood tests weeks to months later.

This can take a long time to resolve; as much as 6-12 months sometimes. If the virus causes too much damage it will leave the patient with permanent hypothyroidism. About 15% of patients fall victim to that fate.


Radiation-Induced Thyroiditis

thyroid nodule painThe damaged thyroid can scar so badly that it continues causing residual pain

Sometimes a patient elects to destroy their own thyroid because the gland is completely uncontrollable. One of the more popular ways to kill off the thyroid tissue is to use radiation. Most choose to do radioactive iodine therapy to deal with their hypothyroidism. This works fast and most cells die within 10 days.

If they use too much of the radioactive iodine it causes pain until the offending iodine clears the system. After a few weeks the damaged thyroid can scar so badly that it continues causing residual pain. Unfortunately some folks are unknowingly victims of radiation exposure to their thyroid. Patients getting lymphoma treatment to the head and neck can sometimes get radiation bleed-over that damages the thyroid.

A disturbing trend in recent years is the rise of soldiers and people living in war-torn regions who are now presenting with hypothyroidism. Speculation is that they were exposed to the radiation of depleted uranium shells.

What To Expect If You Suspect Cancer

As mentioned in the beginning, if you have thyroid nodule pain, statistically speaking it is probably not thyroid cancer nodules.

However, if you are concerned and want to find out for sure, expect a few different steps in the process. First they will first do blood work, secondly an ultrasound of your thyroid, and finally if those are not conclusive, they will take a biopsy. 

If cancer runs in your family or you have habits that could contribute to the development of cancer, you should probably get them checked out to be sure. Thyroid cancers involve removal of the thyroid tissue, and are generally benign thyroid tumors (not malignant.) In other words, the survival rate is usually pretty high.


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