Ganglion Cysts: Symptoms and Treatment


If you notice a lump on your hand or wrist, you may have a ganglion cyst. Ganglion cysts may feel firm or spongy. They vary in size – it’s common to have one large cyst or multiple smaller ones. The fluid-filled cysts can quickly appear, disappear and change size.

Ganglion cysts looks like a balloon on a stalk – a sac filled with a thick, clear, jellylike material. They grow out of the tissues around a joint, such as ligaments, tendon sheaths and joint linings. It’s common to get them on the back of your wrist, but they can form on your fingers and hands, too.

What causes ganglion cysts?

It isn’t known what causes or triggers ganglion cysts. People between the ages of 15 and 40 – and more commonly women -- are more likely to be affected. Physical activity can cause the ganglion to increase in size.

What does a ganglion cyst feel like?

Because ganglion cysts don’t always form visible lumps, you may not even know you have one. Smaller cysts can be hidden under the skin – and may not cause any symptoms. However, if the cyst puts pressure on the nerves that pass through the joint, it can cause pain, tingling and muscle weakness. 

What are the treatment options?

Ganglion cysts don’t always require treatment. At first, your doctor will likely recommend you keep an eye on it. Since physical activity can cause ganglion cysts to get bigger – which could put pressure on the nerve, causing pain – a wrist brace or splint may help provide relief.

If the ganglion cyst is causing a great deal of pain or is limiting your activities, your doctor may recommend draining the fluid inside the cyst. This procedure is called aspiration. Aspiration may give you some relief but doesn’t always eliminate the problem.

Since the “root” of the cyst isn’t removed, it’s likely to grow back. That’s why your doctor may also recommend removing the entire cyst. This procedure is called an excision.

When should I see a doctor?

If self-care tips like rest, bracing and over-the-counter pain relievers don’t ease the pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor. He or she doctor may ask you to perform simple actions to diagnose a ganglion cyst. This could include applying pressure to target any tenderness. X-rays or an MRI may also be ordered.  

We can help

Teri Formanek, M.D., is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in hand and upper limb surgery and treatment. He received his medical degree from the University of Iowa and completed hand surgery training at Harvard University. He is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery with a certificate of added qualifications in hand surgery and is board certified in hand surgery. He does minimally invasive surgeries including wrist arthroscopy, elbow arthroscopy, shoulder arthroscopy, endoscopic carpal tunnel release and endoscopic cubital tunnel release.

Dr. Gregory Yanish specializes in hand, forearm and elbow surgery. He received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine and is board certified in general surgery and surgery of the hand. Dr. Yanish also specializes in minimally invasive surgery including endoscopic carpal tunnel release, endoscopic cubital tunnel release, Tenex fast procedure for tennis elbow and PRP injections.

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