Small, Hard, Soft, Painful Lump Near or on Knuckle on Hand, Finger & Big Toe

Knuckle lumps are usually caused by arthritis and ganglion cysts. Injuries, infections and tumors can also be responsible. Depending on the cause, a knuckle lump can be hard, soft or painful.

It is advisable to have your doctor diagnose a lump in any part of your body. This is because most conditions or diseases that result in body masses are highly manageable if discovered early. This article contains general information on causes, symptoms and treatment options for lumps on knuckles and the big toe.

Small hard lump on knuckle; ganglion cysts

A small hard lump on the knuckle can be a ganglion cyst. This is a sac-like noncancerous growth that commonly develops near joints. Ganglion cysts mostly develop on the thumb knuckle, base of the index finger, back of the hand, on the big toe, knee and ankle. They appear as oval-shaped lumps which can be the size of a pea or as big as golf ball.


It is not known what exactly causes ganglion cysts. However, they tend to develop after degradation of connective tissue in a joint. Other risk factors include:

  • Age (15-40 years)
  • Being female
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Trauma and injury
  • Overuse of joints


Ganglion cysts will always develop close to a joint or on a joint. A good example is a hard lump on the knuckle of the index finger. On fingers, the joint near the nail and at the base where fingers attach to hands is mostly affected. On back of hand, the joint at the base of the thumb is mostly affected. The cysts can also appear on top of the foot, ankle or the knee.

Some ganglion cysts are so small that they don’t form noticeable lumps. Large ones are visible and can even be painful. Pain occurs when the cyst grows large and presses against a nerve.


The best way to get rid of a ganglion cyst is to surgically remove it. Like other cysts, it can also be drained or be injected with corticosteroids. These two methods will, however, not get rid of the cyst entirely.

Lumps between knuckles on hands; osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease that causes wear and tear of the joint cartilage. It is a common cause of lumps between knuckles on the hands.


The exact cause of hand OA is not known. However, it develops after the elastic membranes that cushion the joints wears out. This causes stiffness and reduced motion in joints. Other risk factors include:

  • Aging
  • Injury and trauma
  • Having a family member with the disease
  • Overuse of joints


The most common symptom of OA on hands is formation of lumps that make the knuckles look bigger. This often happens in:

  • Joints near finger nails
  • at base of thumb knuckle
  • in the middle knuckles of the fingers
  • the wrist

Other symptoms may also include:

  • difficulty gripping objects
  • swelling and tenderness in knuckles
  • stiff joints
  • pain or ache especially when using hands


Arthritis is not curable or reversible. It can however be managed with anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers. Your doctor will decide whether to go for oral or injectable medications depending on the severity of the condition. The most important thing is to seek treatment early enough. Without treatment, the disease will only keep getting worse.

You can also try some exercises such as forming fists, knuckle bends and walking your fingers along a flat surface or a wall. These exercises are said to help improve the symptoms of arthritis of the hands. You can learn more about them, online.

Other causes of lumps on knuckle


Cysts can develop anywhere in the body including between the knuckles on hands. They are usually characterized by round, firm and slightly movable lumps under the skin. Epidermoid cysts can, for example, develop after an injury involving the outer skin layer. Cysts are in most cases not harmful and rarely require treatment. When necessary, surgery and drainage can be used to get rid of the lump. Treatment is usually recommended when a cyst forms a lump in groin area male or in other body regions with a high risk of cancer, such as breasts. This is not because cysts increase risk of cancer but because it can sometimes be hard to know if the lump is actually a cyst.


Most tumors that affect the hands are not malignant. The most common on the hands are giant cell tumors. The difference between a malignant tumor and a benign one is that the former spreads and invades other parts of the body. Tumors can originate in bones or tendons. For example, a bone spur usually forms when cartilage is worn out. Other tumors can just occur without any identifiable cause. This is commonly seen in a hard lump under tongue due to a jawbone growth. It is advisable to have such tumors checked by a doctor.

Infections and diseases

Minor infections such as folliculitis can result in soft lump on knuckle or between knuckles on hand. Boils and abscesses can also develop in these regions.


Injuries are perhaps the most common causes of harmless lumps on bones and under the skin. In most cases, a swollen lump will develop if caused by an injury or trauma. This is commonly seen in a painful lump on tailbone after falling or sitting on a hard surface for long.

Conditions such as eczema and psoriasis cause itchy, red patches of inflamed skin. They are quite common on hands and knuckles. Coming into contact with allergens and irritants may also result in swelling and inflammation on knuckles. This can be accompanied by an itchy lump under eye, neck or face. Unlike irritants, allergic reactions can sometimes take hours before producing effects.

When to see a doctor for a lump near knuckle on hand

Rarely will you have to worry about malignant tumors in your hands or fingers. The most common disease that might cause you concern is arthritis. See your doctor if you notice the symptoms of hand OA listed earlier in this article.

Also, seek medical attention for lumps that seem to pop out of nowhere or gradually increase in size.  This is a common characteristic of cancerous lumps. Boils and other infections cause signs such as fever, pus formation, general weakness, headaches or lump on right side of esophagus due to swollen lymph nodes. These should be treated by a doctor.

Note that there are other possible causes of lumps on hands, toes and fingers joints that have not been discussed in this article. It is for this reason that online information should not replace your doctor’s guidelines, diagnosis report or advice.