How to Do a Thyroid Neck Check

Benefits and Limitation of the Self-Exam

An at-home self-exam known as the "neck check" can help you find thyroid lumps or enlargements on your own thyroid gland. These growths may point to any number of thyroid conditions from nodules and goiters to thyroid cancer.

Lumps in the neck can be caused by thyroid disease, and they can also be caused by a variety of other conditions, such as lymph node enlargement, lymphoma, an infectious abscess, or a traumatic injury.

In general, a neck check is not considered the most accurate or reliable way to identify thyroid disease. You can have serious thyroid disease if you have a completely normal neck check. On the other hand, a major growth can often be a sign of an easily treatable condition, such as an iodine deficiency.

In the end, there are limitations as to what a neck check can tell you. A 2017 report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that neck palpation (the manual inspection of the neck) was able to detect thyroid nodules in only 11.6% of cases. Ultrasound, an imaging procedure using sound waves, was five times more accurate in detecting abnormal growths.

how to do a thyroid neck check
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell
1

Stand in front of a mirror.

Stand in front of a mirror so that you can see your neck. Be sure to remove any items, such as a scarf, necktie, jewelry, or turtleneck that could block your view of your neck. If you use a hand-held mirror, direct it to focus on the lower-front portion of your neck.

2

Extend your neck back.

Gently extend your neck back, slightly pointing your chin toward the ceiling, so that you can elongate the view of your neck.

3

Take a sip of water.

With your neck slightly extended back, take a sip water and swallow. This action will move the position of your larynx forward, which will allow you to better visualize the shape of your thyroid gland, helping expose irregularities.

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the lower front of the neck, situated just above your clavicle (collarbone) and below your larynx (voice box).

4

Look for enlargements as you swallow.

As you swallow, look for any enlargements, lumps, protrusions, or anything that is off center. It is a good idea to repeat the process again, swallowing another mouthful of water, and observing the structures in your neck a few times.

Thyroid nodules are bumps that usually appear round. You may feel a thyroid nodule rolling beneath your fingertips or see it move with your thyroid gland when you swallow. A goiter (swelling) may be seen on one side of the thyroid, and occasionally on both.

5

Feel the bumps and enlargements.

Gently touch the area around your thyroid gland to try to palpate (feel) any enlargement, bumps, or protrusions. To differentiate between the thyroid and the other structures of your neck:

  1. Slide your finger down the midline of your neck. The first hard structure you will hit is the thyroid cartilage leading to the Adam's apple.
  2. As you continue to move your finger downward, you will next encounter another bit of cartilage called the cricoid ring, which encircles the trachea (windpipe).
  3. Two digits below this is the thyroid isthmus (the tissue that connects the two lobes). To each side of this are your thyroid glands.
6

Follow up with your doctor.

If you find lumps or protrusions of any sort, you should definitely let your doctor know. You may have an enlarged thyroid or a thyroid nodule that requires further evaluation. Follow up diagnostic tests may include an ultrasound, blood hormone tests, or a​ computerized tomography (CT) scan.

Finding a thyroid nodule does not mean you have cancer. In fact, a 2018 study published in Academic Radiology concluded that only around 8% of thyroid nodules are ever cancerous.

Thyroid Disease Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

A Word From Verywell

A neck check can be especially valuable if you have a mass that is growing or changing in size or shape. Still, the exam has its limitations and challenges. Many masses can be hard to detect either visually or with your fingers.

Because many types of neck and thyroid cancer do not produce a palpable masses, it is important to have regular check-ups with your doctor and to report any symptoms of thyroid disease, even if the thyroid looks and feels normal.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lin JS, Bowles EJA, Williams SB, Morrison CC. Screening for thyroid cancer: updated evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2017;317(18):1888-903. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.0562

  2. Gregory A, Bayat M, Kumar V, et al. Differentiation of benign and malignant thyroid nodules by using comb-push ultrasound shear elastography: a preliminary two-plane view study. Acad Radiol. 2018;25(11):1388-97. doi:10.1016/j.acra.2018.02.025

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