What Exactly is a Ganglion Cyst?

Ganglion cysts appear as lumps in a patient’s finger, wrist, or hand.  Fortunately, they are not cancerous.  A hand doctor can offer several types of treatment when benign these tumors become bothersome.

Overview of Ganglion Cysts

These lumps most often grow near the joints or tendons of a hand or a wrist.  The Mayo Clinic indicates that they also sometimes appear in the feet and in the ankles.  Each cyst usually has a round or an oval shape and contains a fluid that resembles jelly.

Ganglion cysts range from a diameter the size of a pea to one of nearly an inch.  According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, they often rapidly develop, change size, or disappear.  They tend to enlarge or shrink according to the amount of wrist activity.

This type of cyst grows out of a joint similar to a balloon developing on a stalk.  It arises out of tissue such as a ligament, tendon sheath, or lining that surrounds a joint.

Researchers have not pinpointed what triggers the development of these cysts.  They appear most often in individuals between 15 and 40 and more often in females than in males.

Gymnasts are particularly prone to ganglion cysts.  Cysts at the last finger joint usually link to arthritis in the joint and develop most often in women aged 40 to 70.

Diagnosis and Treatment from a Hand Specialist

A hand doctor will take a medical history and conduct an examination.  To assess the patient’s level of discomfort and confirm a diagnosis, the physician might apply pressure to the cyst and attempt to shine a light through it.  Additional diagnostic methods include X-rays, ultrasound exams, and MRI scans.

Cedars-Sinai® reports that for ganglion cysts that do not cause discomfort, the initial step is simply watching the growth and noting any changes.  However, if a cyst causes pain, limits motion, or is a cosmetic problem, a hand surgeon might recommend a specific treatment.

Nonsurgical options include:

  • Immobilizing the area with a splint or a brace, potentially followed by prescribed exercises for strengthening and boosting range of motion
  • Aspirating the cyst by puncturing it with a needle to withdraw fluid

If these methods fail, or the cyst returns even after aspiration, the specialist might recommend hand surgery.  This outpatient procedure is an excision performed under local anesthesia.  The surgery includes removing both the cyst and its attached stalk.

Patients go home with a bandage until the physician removes sutures in about a week.  They receive discharge instructions to restrict their activity level, including lifting, for several weeks and usually require some therapy to regain strength and flexibility.

Within six weeks, an individual should have full use of the affected hand or wrist.  While ganglion cysts sometimes return after surgery, the recurrence rate is less than 5 percent.