A ganglion cyst is a pocket of fluid that grows on a joint or tendon. They are most commonly found on the wrists and backs of the hands. However, they can sometimes grow on the knees, ankles, and feet. The jellylike fluid that fills the pocket is clear, sticky, colorless, and thick. They can vary in size and can feel spongy or firm to the touch.
These cysts may appear as a single large lump, or several small ones grouped together. There is a stalk that acts as a root embedded in the deeper tissues. Even in cases where there are several cysts grouped together, they typically come from a single stalk that connects them.
Women are affected more often than men, and people age 20 to 40 years old make up about 70% of those who develop ganglion cysts. The cause is not known, but certain risk factors may include gender and age, as well as medical conditions like osteoarthritis or injury to the tendon or joint. They are not cancerous and pose no danger to a person’s health.
Symptoms of Ganglion Cysts
There are three factors that influence ganglion cyst symptoms:
- The size and shape of the cyst – Typical presentation: oval or round, 1 inch in diameter or less. Some are too small to be felt. It can get fluctuate in size. This occurs most often when the joint is used for motions that are repetitive.
- Where the cyst is located on the body – Most often found on the joints of the hands, fingers, and wrists, may be present near other joints, including the feet and ankles, as well.
- Pain caused by the cyst – Typically painless, but if the cyst presses on a nerve it can cause pain as well as other associated symptoms including numbness, tingling, or weakness in the muscles. This can occur even if the cyst is too small to be seen or felt.
Do ganglion cysts go away on their own?
Ganglion cysts usually resolve on their own without any medical intervention. A popular folk remedy was to slam a heavy book on the area, bursting the cyst. The book often used was a Bible, giving them the nickname “Bible cysts” and inspiring terms like “Bible therapy.” Modern medicine has provided less traumatic treatment methods:
- Monitoring with no treatment – Because most ganglion cysts tent to go away on their own, many doctors prefer to take a “wait and see” approach to treatment as long as the cyst does not interfere with movement or cause pain.
- Aspiration via needle – This method is often used to diagnose ganglion cysts. A needle is inserted directly into the cyst and fluid is drawn out of it. In the majority of cases, this diagnostic tool actually becomes a treatment because it empties the cyst and nothing more needs to be done.
- Surgery – This is usually a last resort measure, although ganglion cysts that are on the feet typically require surgery. It is performed by an orthopaedic surgeon or other specialist.
If you suspect you have a ganglion cyst contact the Florida Hand Center at (941) 625-3782 to schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable, experienced doctors. Hands are important; take care of yours.