Ganglion Cysts: What to Expect from Surgery

When a patient suddenly notices a round bump under the skin, it’s easy to wonder if it might be cancer.  In fact, most of these bumps are ganglion cysts.  They are actually unsightly but benign growths.  Knowing what to expect from a surgery to remove one of these cysts can greatly reduce a patient’s anxiety.

Ganglion Cyst Overview

Although it can also develop in the feet and ankles, a ganglion cyst most often appears on the hand or the wrist.  A clear fluid that looks like jelly fills the sac.  Patients often refer these cysts as lumps because the sacs feel firm.

These growths form nears tendons or joints.  Most appear round or at least oval, according to the Mayo Clinic.  A majority are less than an inch in diameter.  Since they sometimes come and go, these cysts sometimes puzzle patients.  While most are painless, a ganglion cyst that exerts pressure on a nerve can be annoying, causing sensations of tingling or pain or resulting in muscle weakness.

A hand doctor might decide to treat a cyst by merely watching it for any changes, Cedars-Sinai indicates.  Two methods to shrink it are immobilizing the area with a splint or a brace and using a needle to aspirate it.

When the patient still experiences discomfort or objects to the cyst’s appearance, the recommendation is usually a procedure that requires a hand surgeon.  The objective is removing the source of the growth.  This could include the adjacent tendon sheath.

What to Expect from a Hand Specialist

Doctors perform most hand surgery for a ganglion cyst on an outpatient basis.  Prior to surgery, the hand specialist could require that an individual stop taking certain medications that could thin the blood or could restrict other medications on the day of the procedure, according to WakeMed Health & Hospitals.  Other typical preparation for hand surgery includes having blood drawn for lab analysis, avoiding smoking, and informing the medical staff of any unexpected health change such as a cold or a fever.

The staff in the hand surgeon’s office provides specific instructions about what to do and what to bring on the day of the surgery.  They also explain when the patient should arrive for the procedure.

Most patients are able to return home on the same day as surgery.  They leave with a bandage if they had finger surgery or a brace if the hand doctor removed a ganglion cyst on the wrist.  Soreness and swelling at the incision site are normal.  The surgeon might recommend elevating the hand and applying ice packs to reduce any swelling.

A normal recovery that includes the full use of the hand or the wrist could take up to six weeks.  Some patients also require physical therapy to regain strength and flexibility.

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