The causes of tender lymph nodes may be from injury, disease, or infection. Lymph nodes can become tender before they become swollen. This occurs when the lymph gland is overwhelmed with filtering debris in the body.

Infection or cancer can cause swollen lymph nodes. There are hundreds of lymph nodes throughout the body that are constantly circulating and filtering lymph, often without drawing any attention.

Lymph nodes will usually return to normal and no longer be tender once the cause is treated. Some nodes will need to be removed if a biopsy is done.


The main symptom will be that there is tenderness when the lymph node is touched or bumped. The tender lymph node may also be inflamed, red, swollen, hard, or enlarged. If the tenderness doesn’t go away within about a week it is often recommended that tests be done to diagnose the cause. Tests may include lab tests, scans, or surgery.


The first thing many people fear when lymph nodes swell and become tender is that it is from cancer. This is not a common cause, but only a healthcare professional can determine if the cause is cancer or not.

Most commonly an infection near the area where the lymph nodes are swollen is the cause of the tenderness. Once the infection runs its course naturally or is treated, there will no longer be tenderness. Some of the causes of lymph nodes being tender include the following:

  • Lymphoma
  • MRSA Infection – a bacterial infection that is resistant to many antibiotics
  • Chickenpox – a viral infection that causes a rash that itches
  • Mononucleosis – a viral infection that causes extreme fatigue
  • Injury – trauma to the region near the lymph nodes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – an inflammatory disorder

An examination and lab tests will be done to determine the cause of lymph nodes that remain tender. Once the cause is determined, then treatment can begin.

Get Information – Painful Lymph Nodes


Part of the treatment will be to relieve the tenderness and any pain that is from the swollen lymph nodes. This will be done with over-the-counter pain relievers, hot compresses, and sometimes message. Resting, eating well, and allowing the body’s immune system to do its job can help reduce the tenderness. Sometimes no treatment is necessary if the symptoms are gone within a week or two.


Some health conditions will need treatment. It may be as simple as treating an infection with antibiotics or as complicated as treating cancer. Lymph node biopsies will be necessary to diagnose some stages of cancer. To perform a biopsy, the lymph node will need to be removed and depending on the location and the number of lymph nodes that are removed, it may cause additional health problems. The pros and cons can be discussed with a physician.