What Is a Ganglion Cyst?

If you have a round lump or mass on your hand or wrist, the most likely diagnosis is a ganglion cyst. This benign, fluid-filled pouch is harmless and most often develops on the back of the wrist, at the wrist joint, or on the palm side of the wrist. Many ganglion cysts do not require treatment, but if the cyst causes pain, interferes with movement or function, or looks unsightly, then a hand surgeon can remove the cyst safely.

What Is a Ganglion Cyst?

A ganglion cyst is a pocket of fluid that grows from a joint’s tendon sheaths or ligaments, like a balloon on a stalk. The size may vary, although the cyst often enlarges with frequent activity. Rest often makes the cyst smaller.

Ganglion cysts occur more commonly in women than in men. Most cysts appear in individuals between 20 and 40 years of age.

What Causes Ganglion Cysts to Develop?

No one really knows what makes a ganglion cyst form. Some believe that repeated trauma could cause the joint tissues to break down and form small cysts; this may explain why these cysts occur frequently among gymnasts, who apply a lot of stress on their wrists.

What Are the Symptoms of a Ganglion Cyst?

The most obvious sign is a visible lump. In some cases, if the cyst presses on a nerve, it may cause tingling, pain, or muscle weakness.

How Is a Ganglion Cyst Diagnosed?

Your hand doctor will ask how long you’ve had the lump, whether its size changes, and whether it hurts. He may push gently on it to look for tenderness or shine a penlight on it to see whether light shines through. If needed, he may order imaging tests to rule out other conditions such as arthritis.

How Are Ganglion Cysts Treated?

Initially, more conservative treatments are preferred. Some cysts disappear by themselves over time; if you have no symptoms or pain, then your hand specialist may recommend resting or immobilizing the wrist to aid its disappearance. If the cyst causes pain or limits your activities, then the fluid can be aspirated, or drained, from the cyst with a needle.

If nonsurgical treatments do not work, or if the ganglion cyst returns after aspiration, then your hand surgeon may recommend excision to cut away the cyst and part of the involved tissues. After this outpatient procedure, you may experience some discomfort, tenderness or swelling; you may resume your normal activities 2 to 6 weeks after surgery.

If you are concerned about a lump on your hand or wrist, consult a hand specialist today.