What’s This Fatty, Moving Lump Under My Skin?

Lipomas are a common cause of fatty tissue all over the body

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Lumps under your skin can have many causes—and not all of them are serious. One possibility is that they are lipomas, non-cancerous tumors made up of fatty tissue that may or may not be painful. Lipomas are a common cause of movable lumps under the skin anyplace on the body. They do not always need to be treated.

This article goes over the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of lipomas. It also covers other possible causes of skin lumps and when to talk to your provider.

Symptoms of Lipoma Skin Lumps

Lipomas are rarely life-threatening and may not cause symptoms. Symptoms include

  • A soft, rubbery texture
  • Slow growth (often staying the same size for years)
  • Painless lumps (However, if they grow to be 2 inches or bigger, they may start to hurt.)

Causes of Lipoma

It's not clear why lipomas happen. Some people might have genetics that make them more likely to get lipomas than others. Researchers have not found specific risk factors—for example, working a certain kind of job and being exposed to chemicals—that make lipomas more likely to happen.

Some research suggests that having an injury to a part of the body might make a lipoma more likely to form there. Certain health conditions like high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes might also be linked to lipomas.

Dercum's Disease

A rare condition called Dercum's disease can cause large, very painful lipomas. The lumps under the skin can appear anywhere on the body, but they’re most often found on the arms, legs, and trunk.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Lipoma on the elbow
TimoninaIryna / Getty Images

Other Causes of Skin Lumps

If you have skin lumps, they may not be lipomas. Other common causes of lumpy skin include:

  • Skin tags
  • Cysts
  • Acne
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Less common but possibly serious causes of lumps under the skin include:

  • Boils
  • Abscesses
  • Tumors

Rarely, a fatty lump under the skin is a type of cancer called liposarcoma. These tumors usually grow quickly. The lumps are painful and less moveable than a lipoma).

Chronic conditions like hidradenitis suppurativa can also cause painful lumps under the skin that may need to be treated.

Diagnosing Lipoma Skin Lumps

Lipomas are usually diagnosed after other causes of skin lumps all over the body are ruled out. 

If your provider thinks that the fatty lumps under your skin are lipomas, you may not need to do anything about them. The next steps will depend on whether you have other health conditions, and whether the lipomas are bothering you.

Lipomas can be diagnosed by:

  • Having your provider look at and feel the part of your body where the lump is
  • Using imaging tests like ultrasound, MRI, or a CT scan to look at the tissue
  • Taking a sample of the tissue to look at in a lab under a microscope

Your provider might want to do other tests to look for or rule out other conditions that can cause lumps before diagnosing the lump as a lipoma. For example, blood tests can be used to check for genetic conditions and infections.

When Should Lipomas Be Treated?

Lipomas that do not cause pain do not need to be treated.

If the pain is not very bad, you may get relief by taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen). 

If OTC medicines do not help, your provider might recommend trying hydrocortisone shots to reduce inflammation and shrink the lipomas. 

It’s not usually necessary to have surgery to remove a lipoma. Liposuction is one surgical way to remove lipomas, but it can lead to more pain.

For that reason, it's not usually recommended to treat lipomas in people living with fibromyalgia. Also, the pain relief from surgery is often just temporary, as pain tends to come back over time.

Your provider may recommend other treatments for lipomas, including:

  • Lidocaine (an anesthetic or numbing agent given as a shot or a topical cream)
  • Adipose tissue therapy (a massage therapy that focuses on deep fat, connective tissue, and muscle)
  • Electrical stimulation (small electric pulses delivered to the lipoma)


Lumps under your skin anywhere on your body could be fatty lumps called lipomas. A provider can usually diagnose a lipoma by looking and feeling the area of your body where you have the lump. Imaging tests can help too.

Usually, lipomas don’t need to be treated unless they’re bothering you. To treat painful lipomas, you can start by taking OTC pain medications. If those don’t relieve the pain, cortisone shots, numbing agents, massage therapy, or electrical stimulation can help. Rarely, lipomas can be taken out with surgery but that can cause more pain. 

Do not assume that lumps and bumps are just lipomas. Have your healthcare provider take a look at the lumps and decide if you need treatment.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Lipoma.

  2. MedlinePlus. Adiposis dolorosa.

  3. Fallahian F, Ardestani A, Pranckevicius E, Raut CP, Tavakkoli A, Sheu EG. The impact of lipomatous tumors on type 2 diabetes: Are adipose-derived tumors metabolically active?. Journal of Surgical Research. 2018;222:48-54. doi:10.1016/j.jss.2017.09.040

  4. National Organization of Rare Disorders. Dercum's disease.

  5. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Lipoma.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Assocation. Hidradenitis suppurativa.

  7. Peev I, Spasevska L, Mirchevska E, Tudzarova-Gjorgova S. Liposuction assisted lipoma removal – option or alternative? Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2017;5(6):766-770. doi:10.3889%2Foamjms.2017.186

  8. Kucharz EJ, Kopeć-Mędrek M, Kramza J, Chrzanowska M, Kotyla P. Dercum's disease (adiposis dolorosa): a review of clinical presentation and management. Reumatologia. 2019;57(5):281-87.doi: 10.5114/reum.2019.89521

Additional Reading

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.