Ganglion Cyst – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

A ganglion cyst is an anomalous bump which usually appears on the joint tendons of the wrists or the hands, and may sometimes affect the feet. The cyst is filled with fluids; it may grow quickly within a short span of time, or develop slowly. The exact cause of ganglion cyst formation is not known.

A ganglion cyst is usually harmless and does not cause pain; it often disappears on its own without treatment. In rare instances, ganglion cysts may however hamper the full range of motion of the joints and/or be painful. Such cases require medical treatment.

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Patients may also seek treatment of a ganglion cyst for cosmetic reasons. Treatment involves surgical excision of the abnormal lump, or drainage of fluids from it.

Symptoms of ganglion cyst

Some of the common signs and symptoms associated with a ganglion cyst are listed below:

  • A ganglion cyst occurs as an irregular raised bump, mostly along the tendons or joints of the fingers, hands, or wrist. It is firm, circular, and smooth, and typically full of fluids.
  • Most cases of ganglion cysts do not result in any pain. Some affected individuals may, on occasions, suffer from weakness, pain, or numbness of the affected joints. Such abnormal symptoms are usually caused due to increased pressure exerted by the cyst on the nearby nerves.
  • A ganglion cyst of the wrist is the most prevalent of all types. About 10 to 11 percent of affected individuals may develop a ganglion cyst on the feet or ankles.
  • The overall activity and stress exerted by the patient on the affected limbs determine the eventual size attained by a ganglion cyst. Patients with increased use of wrists, such as carpenters, typists, and long-term computer users, are more likely to develop larger ganglion cysts than those with minimal usage of the wrists.

In some instances, patients may develop fluid-filled bumps that are not visible to the naked eye. In such cases of ganglion cysts, doctors will conduct a variety of diagnostic tests before confirming the presence of the condition.

Causes of ganglion cyst

  • The precise cause of ganglion cyst formation is currently unknown.
  • A ganglion cyst forms as a raised bulbous growth along a joint. It is filled with fluids and hangs out via a stalk-like structure from the joint. Doctors maintain that the abnormal bump develops due to dislocation or projection of the tissue occurring near the affected tendon or joint. The fluids present in the cyst are similar to the fluids present in affected joints and/or around affected tendons.

The below listed risk factors can pose increased threat to development of a ganglion cyst:

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  • Women are more likely to develop a ganglion cyst than men.
  • Underlying presence of osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis caused due to normal wear and tear of the joints, can trigger the accumulation of excess fluids in the joints; such fluids pass into the tendon capsules and collect into an already established lump.
  • Any kind of trauma or injury to the joints or tends of the hands or feet can trigger the onset of a ganglion cyst in such regions.


A ganglion cyst is treated in the below listed manner:

  • Aspiration: In this procedure, the fluids are drained from a ganglion cyst. The affected region is first numbed via local anesthesia. Then a needle connected to a syringe is inserted into the cyst and the fluids are sucked out into the syringe. The area is then disinfected with a steroid injection to prevent secondary infections. Aspiration comes with a higher risk to redevelopment of the ganglion cyst.
  • Immobilization: A ganglion cyst typically becomes larger with movements. Hence, a wrist brace or splits are used to immobilize the affected region. An immobilized wrist or hand will subsequently be at rest, resulting in diminished pressure on adjacent nerves, decrease in cyst size, and subsequent relief from pain.
  • Surgery: If the above treatment options prove to be ineffective, then doctors will surgically remove the ganglion cyst. The surgery is minor and can be performed in a doctor’s office.
    • The affected area is numbed with local anesthesia. An incision is then made on the cyst and the fluids are drained out. The doctor will then surgically cut out the cyst as well as the connecting stalk attached to the affected joint or tendon. Some doctors may also remove a portion of the surrounding tissues to prevent a re-occurrence. The cut is then sutured and the operated area is covered with a bandage.
    • Patients need to keep the affected limb in an elevated position for 48 hours or more post-surgery, so as to prevent any excessive swelling. Patients will continue to experience swelling, tenderness, and discomfort for around two to six weeks. The bandages need to be changed on a regular basis. Pain medications can help alleviate pain.
    • If patients suffer from any restrictive joint or limb movements, then physical therapy can help rectify it.
    • Immediately seek medical attention in case of redness, infections, or seepage, or continued swelling at the surgical area.
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