A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled noncancerous lump that usually develops in the wrist or hand. But some occur in the ankles or feet.
When a ganglion cyst presses on a nerve it can be painful. And depending on its location, a ganglion cyst may restrict movement.
Some cysts do not need treatment, but others must be surgically removed. During a ganglion cyst removal, a doctor removes the cyst capsule or stalk to completely remove the cyst. Even with surgery, a ganglion cyst may reoccur.
If your doctor decides that surgery is the best option, follow their specific instructions to prepare for surgery. Your doctor will likely refer you to a specialist in hand, wrist, and elbow surgery, who will perform the surgery.
Ganglion cyst removal is usually an outpatient procedure and may be performed under local or general anesthesia.
Before surgery, your doctor may draw a line above the cyst to mark the incision location. During the surgery, your doctor numbs the treatment area and cuts along the line with a scalpel. The doctor then identifies the cyst and cuts it out along with its capsule or stalk. Once the cyst is removed, your doctor stitches the opening to let the skin heal.
Surgery is usually seen as a last resort for ganglion cyst treatment. Before deciding to remove a ganglion cyst, your doctor will discuss other treatment options.
One surgery alternative is having the cyst drained. This occurs through a process called aspiration. In this procedure, your doctor punctures the cyst with a needle and drains fluids, causing the cyst to shrink. This can relieve the pain caused by the cyst pressing on the nerves in your wrist and hand. But because aspiration drains the cyst but doesn’t remove it, the cyst can grow back after this procedure.
Your doctor may also prescribe a wrist brace to prevent movement around the cyst. Movement can cause the cyst to expand and cause more pain and discomfort. By limiting movement, a brace can allow the cyst to shrink, which minimizes the pain that the cyst causes by pressing on surrounding nerves.
If you have ganglion cysts on your feet or ankles, wearing looser shoes or tying your shoelaces less tightly may minimize your pain.
Some drugs, advertised as FDA-certified, are sold that claim to dissolve ganglion cysts using capsules taken by mouth. These drugs are not FDA-approved, so talk to your doctor before attempting to use these products.
Do not try to puncture a cyst yourself with a needle or other sharp objects. This increases the risk of recurrence and can also cause infections.
A common misconception about cysts is that hitting them with a large object will make them pop or shrink and go away. The risk of recurrence is much higher when this method is used, and you can injure yourself or cause infections around the site of the cyst.
Removal of severe ganglion cysts can be quite beneficial.
Some people with a ganglion cyst may never experience pain or limited movement. These cases may not need surgery. But surgical removal can provide relief when a cyst becomes large and cannot be treated by other methods.
Surgery removes the source of your discomfort, but it does not eliminate the chance of cysts.
As with any surgery, ganglion cyst removal can cause infection. You may experience an allergic reaction to the anesthesia used in the removal, or to the stitches used to seal the removal site. Other possible risks include:
- sensitivity around scar tissue
- injuries to surrounding tendons, nerves, or ligaments
- losing the ability to move the wrist normally
Most likely, you’ll heal quickly and without difficulty after a ganglion cyst removal. The rate of recurrence can vary from person to person. But one study found a 29.7 percent recurrence rate in a sample of 52 participants. Of this group, 60 percent experienced a cyst recurrence within a year of surgical removal.
After your surgery, rest as much as you can for a few days. This will encourage the site of your cyst removal to heal. Limit movement of your hand and wrist to minimize pain and avoid irritation of the removal site.
Minimal, nonrepetitive activity is okay after a cyst removal, such as writing or carrying light objects. Your doctor may recommend finger exercises involving stretching your fingers and thumb as far out as possible and then bending them as much as is comfortable.
You may experience localized pain after surgery, which can be relieved by numbing medications, over-the-counter pain medications, or prescription pain medications.
You may also experience swelling at the removal site. Swelling can be treated with ice and will eventually go away.
In rare cases, infection may occur after ganglion cyst removal. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to prevent the infection from spreading. Keep your dressings and wounds clean to prevent infection and limit scarring. Once the surgical site has healed, rub lotion into your skin to ensure that scars heal and keep your nerves stimulated.
You’ll most likely go home the same day as the procedure. You’ll usually heal in two to six weeks following your surgery.
A ganglion cyst removal does not guarantee that ganglion cysts will not return, and you may experience new cysts a few years after surgery. But the chance of recurrence is low, and you may never have another cyst again after your initial surgery.