In this article:
It's not uncommon to feel pain and discomfort in random areas of your body. However, it can be alarming, especially if you have never had pain in a specific location before. And if you have ever had pain in your Adam's apple, you may be concerned about what's causing it. After all, many vital glands and organs reside near there, so it's essential to pay attention when your body is waving this red flag. Ahead, learn what the Adam's apple is and six reasons why your Adam's apple may be sore.
The Adam's apple is a bulge of cartilage that appears on the front of your thyroid cartilage. Contrary to its name, the thyroid cartilage has nothing to do with the thyroid and sits above the thyroid gland.
The purpose of the Adam's apple is to protect the larynx, which is where you make vocal sounds. During puberty, the Adam's apple increases in size to accommodate a growing voice box. As a result, we see the Adam's apple grow, particularly in males, because it helps deepen the voice. For this reason, Adam's apples commonly protrude more in men compared to women.
And, if you are wondering where this anatomical feature gets its unique name, it comes from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Per the story, Adam ate a piece of forbidden apple that got stuck in his throat.
Because the Adam's apple is a protuberance of cartilage, it is likely not the Adam's apple itself that is causing you discomfort. Instead, it will most likely be one of the many organs in your neck.
The neck is a highway that connects your head to the rest of your body. It contains your airway, esophagus, larynx, pharynx (throat), and thyroid, along with numerous nerves, major blood vessels, muscles, cartilage, bones, and ligaments. So, as you can imagine, there are many reasons why your Adam's apple may be sore.
#1 Muscle tension or tightness
The human neck has numerous bands of muscle that help support the weight and movement of the head. Some of these muscles run over part of the thyroid cartilage, and many run just outside it. As a result, muscle strain and tightness are common, especially in people who do repeated movements or hold their heads in the same position for a long time. Indeed, many people suffer from muscle pain around the Adam's apple when they sit too long looking at their computer. Jaw pain can also radiate lower into the neck.
To rule out muscle tension or tightness, try to stretch your neck in various ways, including looking up at the ceiling and moving your head side to side.
#2 Throat tension
Again, many different organs and tissues run through the neck. Still, most of us refer to anything above the middle as our throat. It is not uncommon to experience tension or other symptoms in this area, including:
- Feeling a lump in the throat
- The urge to swallow frequently to relieve tension
- A sensation that something is blocking the airway
- Neck tenderness
- Tightness around your vocal cords
- Feeling like something is tied around your neck
You can get these symptoms for a variety of reasons, but the most common usually include:
- Panic attacks
- Postnasal drip
Goiter is an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that lives below the thyroid cartilage. Still, an enlarged thyroid may place unusual strain on the organs surrounding it. Goiters are usually painless, but they can make it difficult to swallow, cause shortness of breath, or develop a sore throat if they become too large.
Several structures in the throat can become infected, and you can get tonsillitis, strep throat, laryngitis, epiglottis (rare), and acute thyroiditis (rare). Aside from pain around the infected organ, you may also experience fatigue, fever, or difficulty swallowing from bacterial infections.
#5 Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Many people suffer from gastric contents leaking into their esophagus. The stomach produces highly acidic digestive juices, so it can irritate when it slips through the valve connecting the esophagus to the stomach. Some people will feel that pain deeper in their chest, but many people will experience it up into their throat area. There are several treatments recommended for GERD, including:
- Medication (some of which is over-the-counter like omeprazole)
- Weight loss
- Avoiding food and drink triggers (like fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate)
- Stop smoking
- Eat slowly, and smaller portions
- Don't lay down right after eating
#6 Laryngeal cancer
The larynx includes the glottis, supraglottis, and subglottis. Most often referred to as the voice box, your larynx is about an inch long tube that sits behind the Adam's apple. Laryngeal cancer is cancer of the larynx. About 12,000 people are diagnosed with laryngeal cancer annually, and one of the possible signs includes pain around the Adam's apple. Although laryngeal cancer is less likely than other causes of Adam's apple pain, you should see your healthcare provider for a firm diagnosis so you can rule out more critical causes like laryngeal cancer.
While you wait to get in to see your healthcare provider, don't hesitate to do an at-home self-neck exam. Indeed, most people should do these regularly to know what is normal for them. Many dentists will also do it when you go in for your semi-annual cleaning.
- To start, stand in front of your mirror.
- Extend your neck and lift your chin toward the ceiling.
- Keep your neck muscles relaxed, swallow a sip of water, and look for any obstructions. Focus particularly on the base of your neck, where you may see nodules, bumps, or protrusions.
- Touch the neck area to check for any enlargement.
Of course, many of the structures that may be causing pain in your Adam's apple are not visible, so it is always best to consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about discomfort in this area.