Ganglion Cyst

What Is a Ganglion Cyst?

A ganglion cyst is fluid-filled lump that develops on the wrists, hands, feet, or ankles, typically in proximity to a tendon or joint. The most common locations for a cyst are the fingertips, the base of the fingers on the hand’s front or palmar side, and on the top of the feet. Growths of this type are nearly always noncancerous. Ganglion cysts vary in size from very small to more than an inch in diameter and will change in size over time. Women are subject to ganglion cysts more often than men.

Most ganglion cysts are harmless. Left untouched, they often disappear on their own. If, however, your cyst becomes painful, or it begins to interfere with hand or foot function, treatment options are available. See your Baptist Health physician for treatment.

What Are the Symptoms of a Ganglion Cyst?

The following symptoms are characteristic of a ganglion cyst:

  • A stationery surface lump on the hands, wrists, feet, or ankles
  • Location near tendons or joints
  • Size ranging from small to large, often changing over time
  • Usually soft but sometimes hard on contact
  • Associated in some cases with pain, numbness, muscle weakness, or tingling sensations
  • Can limit hand or foot movement, depending on size and location

Ganglion cysts form either singly or in groups. Multiple cysts usually have a common root below the surface of the skin.

What Are the Causes of a Ganglion Cyst?

There is no consensus regarding the cause of ganglion cysts. One theory sees irritation of the joints or tendons, through overuse or repetitive motion, as a key factor. The fact that the cysts are filled with synovial fluid rather than infection is supportive, because synovial fluid normally serves as a lubricant for the joints. Other theories view cysts as a response to traumatic injury or arthritis. It’s possible that cysts may form from more than one cause.

Risk factors for ganglion cysts include age, sex, and prior damage to the joints or tendons. Women between the ages of 20 and 40 are the most likely persons to develop cysts; individuals with osteoarthritis or a history of joint or tendon injury are also at greater risk.

How Is a Ganglion Cyst Diagnosed?

Your physician will take one or more of the following steps to diagnose a ganglion cyst:

  • Physical examination: Your doctor will examine the lump, noting its location, feel, shape, and overall appearance. He or she may also backlight it with a bright light source, because ganglion cysts are often partially translucent.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can provide detailed images of joints and other structures located near the cyst. These images are used to rule out alternative diagnosis, such as arthritis or malignant tumors.
  • Aspiration: Another diagnostic option is aspiration. Your physician will use a needle to draw out a sample of the fluid in the cyst. He or she will want to confirm that this is synovial fluid rather than some form of infection.

How Is a Ganglion Cyst Treated?

If your cyst isn’t painful, or spurring some other medical problem, your physician will likely recommend that you let it go away of its own accord. If, however, your cyst is giving you trouble, he or she may suggest the following possible treatments:

  • Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain medications, including ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, can ease the irritation you’re feeling. Try loose-fitting socks and shoes when your cyst is located on an ankle or foot.
  • Braces and splints: The immobilization of cysts with braces or splints can sometimes reduce impingement on the nerves.
  • Aspiration: Aspiration can also be used to fully drain fluid from a cyst. Oftentimes, the cyst will redevelop.
  • Surgery: The surgical removal of a ganglion cyst is typically a last resort. Your physician will cut away both the cyst and its attachment to a joint or tendon. Cysts sometimes recur, even after surgery.

There are no proven methods for preventing a ganglion cyst. Reducing irritation to joints or tendons, by limiting traumatic or repetitive motion, might yield positive benefits.

Have a Ganglion Cyst?

Though ganglion cysts rarely have serious health complications, they are sometimes a source of pain and joint immobility. See your Baptist Health physician for diagnosis and treatment options.

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