Lymph Node Pain

Lymph Node Pain: When to Worry

Lymph node pain can be indicative of major health problems and so should be taken very seriously. The lymph nodes perform vital functions in your body and are one of our body’s greatest allies in the fight against infection and disease.

What the Lymph Nodes Do

Lymph nodes, part of the lymphatic system, play a critical role in proper immune function. They work to trap and filter out bacteria and viruses, ever defending our bodies against invading enemies. Your lymph nodes are also home to white blood cells (known as lymphocytes), our warriors against contagions.

Lymph nodes are not glands, as they are sometimes mistakenly referred to. While glands are actually organs that are part of an entirely different bodily system, when people say “swollen glands,” they usually mean swollen lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes are roundish, small, and are located at hundreds of points throughout the body – most noticeably under the arms and on the neck, as well as at the groin. Lymphatic vessels connect the body’s many lymph nodes. Through these vessels travels lymph, a liquid that circulates through the lymphatic system and works to carry unwanted cells out of the body. Lymph is full of white blood cells as well as valuable proteins and other nutrients. As it travels to the various cells of the body to clear out dangerous materials, lymph delivers these important nutrients.

Lymph can sometimes be seen coming out of cuts or abrasions to the skin. It is clear due to the presence of so many more white blood cells than red. When lymph is unable to circulate, harmful substances build up in the body. This is a condition known as edema.

Reasons For Lymph Node Pain

Lymph node pain is usually indicative of illness or infection – nodes are swollen and inflamed because they are working at maximum capacity to fight the invading cells off.
Some swelling of the lymph nodes is perfectly normal and is the sign of a healthily functioning immune system. When the nodes are inflamed, they are doing their job in our bodies.

There are cases when swollen and painful lymph nodes need to be looked at by a doctor, because it could be a sign of serious problems. When invaders, like cancer cells, overwhelm the body’s ability to fight them, the lymph nodes will react accordingly.

Certain medications and vaccines can cause lymph node swelling. The vaccine for typhoid often has this effect, as does the anti-epileptic phenytoin.

To determine whether your lymph node pain could be something more than a common bug or a reaction to your meds, feel the affected nodes. They should be less than 1 centimeter in diameter. If they are larger than a centimeter, you should call your doctor immediately.


Your lymph nodes should be fairly firm. If they are very soft and squishy it could well mean that they are not faring so well against whatever is attacking your immune system.

Another sign that you should contact a physician is when the skin over any lymph node that is also painful looks red or pink. This is usually a signifier of severe infection in the body.

If your lymph node pain is accompanied by fever, profuse sweating, fatigue, or rapid weight loss, you should consult an expert. These symptoms are associated with serious conditions from “cat scratch fever” to lymphoma.

If you are thinking about using lymph node massage to relieve your pain, discuss it with a medical practitioner. Lymph nodes are very delicate. Manipulating them can be a dangerous prospect, and can even exacerbate the problem if not done properly and carefully.