Definition

What are ganglion cysts?

Ganglion cysts are noncancerous lumps that most commonly develop along the tendons or joints of your wrists or hands. They also may occur in the ankles and feet. Ganglion cysts are typically round or oval and are filled with a jellylike fluid.

Small ganglion cysts can be pea-sized, while larger ones can be around an inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. Ganglion cysts can be painful if they press on a nearby nerve. Their location can sometimes interfere with joint movement.

How common are ganglion cysts?

Ganglion cysts are the most common mass or lump in the hand. They are most common in younger people between the ages of 15 and 40 years, and women are more likely to be affected than men. These cysts are also common among gymnasts, who repeatedly apply stress to the wrist. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of ganglion cysts?

The lumps associated with ganglion cysts can be characterized by:

  • Ganglion cysts most commonly develop along the tendons or joints of your wrists or hands. The next most common locations are the ankles and feet. These cysts can occur near other joints as well.
  • Shape and size. Ganglion cysts are round or oval and usually measure less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. Some are so small that they can’t be felt. The size of a cyst can fluctuate, often getting larger when you use that joint for repetitive motions.
  • Ganglion cysts usually are painless. But if a cyst presses on a nerve — even if the cyst is too small to form a noticeable lump — it can cause pain, tingling, numbness or muscle weakness.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

 

Causes

What causes ganglion cysts?

No one knows exactly what causes a ganglion cyst to develop. It grows out of a joint or the lining of a tendon, looking like a tiny water balloon on a stalk, and seems to occur when the tissue that surrounds a joint or a tendon bulges out of place. Inside the cyst is a thick lubricating fluid similar to that found in joints or around tendons.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for ganglion cysts?

There are many risk factors for ganglion cysts, such as:

  • Your sex and age. Ganglion cysts can develop in anyone, but they most commonly occur in women between the ages of 20 and 40.
  • People who have wear-and-tear arthritis in the finger joints closest to their fingernails are at higher risk of developing ganglion cysts near those joints.
  • Joint or tendon injury. Joints or tendons that have been injured in the past are more likely to develop ganglion cysts.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are ganglion cysts diagnosed?

During the physical exam, your doctor may apply pressure to the cyst to test for tenderness or discomfort. He or she may try to shine a light through the cyst to determine if it’s a solid mass or filled with fluid.

Your doctor might also recommend imaging tests — such as X-rays, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — to rule out other conditions, such as arthritis or a tumor. MRIs and ultrasounds also can locate hidden (occult) cysts.

A ganglion cyst diagnosis may be confirmed by aspiration, a process in which your doctor uses a needle and syringe to draw out (aspirate) the fluid in the cyst. Fluid from a ganglion cyst will be thick and clear or translucent.

How are ganglion cysts treated?

Ganglion cysts are often painless, requiring no treatment. Your doctor may suggest a watch-and-wait approach. If the cyst is causing pain or interfering with joint movement, your doctor may recommend:

  • Because activity can cause the ganglion cyst to get larger, it may help to temporarily immobilize the area with a brace or splint. As the cyst shrinks, it may release the pressure on your nerves, relieving pain. Avoid long-term use of a brace or splint, which can cause the nearby muscles to weaken.
  • In this procedure, your doctor uses a needle to drain the fluid from the cyst. The cyst may recur.
  • This may be an option if other approaches haven’t worked. During this procedure, the doctor removes the cyst and the stalk that attaches it to the joint or tendon. Rarely, the surgery can injure the surrounding nerves, blood vessels or tendons. And the cyst can recur, even after surgery.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage ganglion cysts?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with ganglion cysts:

In the past, home care has included topical plaster, heat, and various poultices. It even extended to use of a heavy book to physically smash the cyst. (Sometimes this is called “Bible therapy.”) These forms of treatment are no longer suggested, however, because they have not been shown to keep the ganglion cysts from returning and could, in fact, cause further injury.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: July 12, 2017 | Last Modified: July 12, 2017

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