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Experiencing pain and discomfort in various parts of your body is not uncommon. Yet, it can be alarming when it strikes, especially if it’s a new pain or in an unexpected location.
If you’ve ever felt pain or discomfort in your Adam’s apple, you may wonder what’s causing it. After all, many vital glands and organs reside near there, so it’s essential to pay attention when your body starts waving this red flag. Ahead, learn more about your Adam’s apple and six reasons why your Adam’s apple may be sore.
The neck is a highway that connects your head to the rest of your body. It contains your airway, esophagus, larynx, pharynx (throat), thyroid, numerous nerves, major blood vessels, muscles, bones, and ligaments.
When you went through puberty, your larynx (voice box) grew bigger, pushing a piece of cartilage forward to make room for it. This bulge is your Adam’s apple and helps protect your larynx. It sits in 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.
Since a male’s voice deepens during puberty, the larynx needs more room to grow. Because of this, males tend to have a more visible Adam’s apple. But women have an Adam’s apple, too!
Because the Adam’s apple is a lump of cartilage, the Adam’s apple itself rarely causes discomfort. Instead, pain in that area most likely comes from one of the many organs in your neck.
Fun fact - 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.
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.
What’s happening: Like other muscles in your body, the neck muscles may become strained or tight. Pain in the neck muscles is quite common in people who make repetitive movements or hold their heads in the same position for a long time, such as working on a computer. Jaw pain can also radiate lower into the neck.
What to do: Try to stretch your neck in various ways, including looking up at the ceiling and moving your head from side to side.
2. Throat tension
Throat tension is relatively common, with up to 46% of healthy adults reporting tension in the throat at one point or another.
What’s happening: Throat tension can present in many ways, including the following:
- The feeling of a lump in the throat or like something is tied around your neck
- The urge to swallow frequently to relieve tension
- A sensation that something is blocking your airway
- Neck tenderness
- Tightness around your vocal cords
Throat tension may occur for various reasons, but common ones include anxiety, stress, environmental allergies, and postnasal drip. Another potential cause is muscle tension dysphonia, which is extreme overuse of your voice.
What to do: Since there are many causes of throat tension, it is best to work with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause. Keeping track of what triggers your symptoms can aid your healthcare provider.
Once the potential trigger(s) are identified, your healthcare provider can direct you on the best ways to manage your throat tension. Some of the most common treatments include taking medications, avoiding triggers, managing stress, or a combination of any of these.
3. Thyroid disorder
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that lives below the thyroid cartilage and is responsible for controlling your metabolism.
What’s happening: A thyroid disorder such as an overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid can cause throat discomfort. Sometimes, those with a thyroid disorder develop goiter, an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland.
Goiter is usually painless but can make swallowing difficult and cause shortness of breath or a sore throat if it becomes too large. In addition, an enlarged thyroid may place unusual strain on the organs surrounding it.
What to do: If you suspect you have a thyroid disorder, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider or a thyroid specialist at Paloma Health. They can perform tests and recommend appropriate treatment based on your results.
Sore throats are often caused by an infection. Throat pain can be caused by a viral infection – like the common cold, flu, or COVID-19 – or bacterial, such as strep throat.
What’s happening: Infections can lead to inflammation in your throat, including the area around your Adam’s apple. And since the throat houses many organs and structures, there are ample opportunities for infections. You could 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 your infections.
What to do: Two of the best things to do when you have an infection are to rest and stay hydrated. You can also try throat lozenges to help with throat discomfort.
Make sure to see your healthcare provider if you have a persistent or worsening sore throat with or without other symptoms, such as a fever. Remember: not all infections require antibiotics to help clear them up. Sometimes, infections just need time.
5. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
You have probably heard of, if not experienced, GERD at some point.
What’s happening: GERD occurs when the valve connecting your esophagus does not fully close. As a result, stomach acid refluxes into your esophagus, irritating it. The stomach acid can cause a burning sensation in your throat, a dry cough, or trouble swallowing. If you have these symptoms more than twice a week, you may have GERD.
What to do: Never try to self-diagnose yourself with GERD. It is best to seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting any medications or implementing lifestyle changes, as GERD can result in serious medical complications.
- Take an over-the-counter medication such as a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) like omeprazole (Prilosec). (Note: These medications can interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone replacement drugs.)
- Lose weight
- Avoid food and drink triggers like fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate
- Stop smoking
- Eat slowly and in smaller portions
- Stay in an upright position after eating
6. Laryngeal cancer
Most often referred to as the voice box, your larynx is a tube, about an inch long, that sits behind the Adam’s apple.
What’s happening: Laryngeal cancer is cancer of the larynx, and one of the possible signs includes pain around the Adam’s apple. Those who drink alcohol in excess or use tobacco products are at a greater risk of developing laryngeal cancer.
What to do: Although laryngeal cancer is less likely than other causes of Adam’s apple pain, you must see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Many structures that may be causing pain in your Adam’s apple are not visible. It is always best to consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns about discomfort in this area.
If your healthcare provider thinks your thyroid may be contributing to a sore Adam’s apple, they can test levels of your thyroid biomarkers. These levels allow your provider to evaluate how well your thyroid functions and whether a thyroid disorder is present.
Paloma’s at-home testing measures the three most common thyroid biomarkers used to diagnose a thyroid disorder: TSH, free T4, and free T3. By testing your thyroid function, you are one step closer to ruling in or out the cause of a sore Adam’s apple.