Ganglion Cysts

Written by Amber Erickson Gabbey | Published on January 22, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 22, 2014

What Are Ganglion Cysts?

A ganglion is a mass of biological tissue. A ganglion cyst is a round, fluid-filled lump. They usually occur on the wrist or hand, but can also occur on the ankle or foot. The cyst is an accumulation of lubricating fluid in the joint or surrounding the tendons. Ganglion cysts range in size from very small to an inch across. They are relatively common and usually harmless.

Even though the cyst appears as a lump, ganglion cysts are not cancerous. Most go away without treatment. Some cysts are visible underneath the skin, but others might be small and go unseen.

Symptoms of a Ganglion Cyst

The most common symptoms of a ganglion cyst include a visible lump, pain, and discomfort. Sometimes, a ganglion cyst can cause a loss of mobility or a tingling sensations. Some ganglion cysts change in size, becoming bigger or smaller. If the cyst is on the foot, there may be discomfort when walking or wearing shoes.

What Causes a Ganglion Cyst?

Ganglion cysts occur when there is an accumulation of fluid in the wrists or ankles. This accumulation can be caused by injury, trauma, or overuse, but often the cause is unknown.

A ganglion cyst is more likely to develop in women and people who repeatedly stress the wrists, such as gymnasts.

How Are Ganglion Cysts Diagnosed?

To diagnose a ganglion cyst, the physician will first examine the lump. He or she will take a medical history, as well as determine how old the lump is and ask what symptoms it is causing. Testing might include an X-ray or MRI, especially if the lump is not visible. They may take a sample of the fluid in the cyst for testing.

How Are Ganglion Cysts Treated?

Ganglion cysts often go away on their own without any treatment. If the cyst does not cause pain or discomfort, no treatment is needed.

Some methods for treating a ganglion cyst include:

  • Avoid repetitive hand and wrist movements.
  • Wear a wrist brace (immobilization might help the cyst shrink).
  • Wear shoes that don’t touch the cyst (if on the feet).

When a ganglion cyst causes pain or limited mobility, it can be aspirated. This means removing fluid from the cyst with a syringe. The other option is surgical removal. There is always a chance the cyst will return, even if surgically removed.

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