What causes ganglion cysts?
An exact cause for ganglion cysts is not known, but there are some known risk factors. Ganglion cysts more often develop in females age 15-40. The cysts are often associated with overuse of joints, a single or repetitive injury to a joint or tendon, or a joint already stressed by arthritis. Leakage of synovial fluid from the joint is believed to cause the formation of a ganglion cyst. Synovial fluid is the natural lubricant in joints. Most often found at the wrist or hands, these bumps may also be found on ankles or feet. Ganglion cysts that form at the end joint of a finger may also be called a mucous cyst and are generally tied to arthritis of that joint.
Treatment options for ganglion cysts
If the ganglion cyst causes no pain, physicians will most commonly suggest a wait and see approach. If the cyst is causing pain or undue stress, the physician may aspirate or drain the bump. Often that is only a temporary treatmentsince the joint fluid may continue to leak, and the cyst will re-form. Since activity or overuse of the joint can make a ganglion cyst larger, immobilization may also help for a short time. Lack of movement should not be used long-term, as patients risk muscle weakening. If the ganglion cyst is on the foot or ankle, wearing comfortable shoes that don’t rub or put pressure on the lump will help.
What not to do
Home remedies can be found for almost any illness or injury, and that is the case with ganglion cysts. But some remedies should never be considered or tried. A person suffering from a ganglion cyst should never attempt to drain the bump at home by puncturing the top with a needle. That might open and drain the cyst, but the risk of infection is very high. Because the cyst is attached to a joint or tendon, an infection could invade the joint and bone. There is also an old-time remedy in which the lump is struck with a hard, blunt object such as a book. This is not a treatment option recommended by healthcare professionals. Hitting a finger, wrist, toe or ankle hard enough to pop a cyst could cause significant damage.
Can ganglion cysts be removed surgically?
As a last resort, physicians may remove a ganglion cyst surgically. Under the skin, a ganglion cyst looks like a balloon filled with thick fluid and sitting on a straw. The straw-like part of the cyst is called the stalk and attaches the cyst to a joint of the lining of a tendon. When the surgeon removes a ganglion cyst surgically, the stalk and part of the involved joint or muscle are usually also removed to reduce the chance of re-development.
What to expect after surgery
Surgery to remove a ganglion cyst is done outpatient under local or general anesthesia. Patients generally go home after a brief time in recovery. There will be stitches at the excision site, and, as with any surgery, there is a risk of infection, so the physician will have instructions regarding the care of the site. Pain and swelling can be treated with over the counter medications and ice. The risk of damage to tendons, nerves, or blood vessels is minimal and regular activity can be resumed after a few weeks. For more information on treatment for ganglion cysts, speak with a healthcare provider.