Ganglion Cyst

Medically Reviewed on 4/18/2023

What is a ganglion cyst?

Sometimes a ganglion cyst can rupture and go away on its own.

A ganglion is a sac-like swelling or cyst formed from the tissue that lines a joint or tendon. The tissue, called synovium, normally functions to produce lubricating fluid for these areas.

A ganglion is a cyst formed by the synovium that is filled with a thick jelly-like fluid. While ganglia can follow local trauma to the tendon or joint, they usually form for unknown reasons.

Occasionally, ganglia are early signs of arthritis that will become more obvious in the future.

What causes ganglion cysts?

Ganglions can be caused by inflammation of the tissue lining joints and tendons. This inflammation can be a result of local injury or underlying arthritis.

What are the symptoms of ganglion cysts?

Ganglia can form around any joint, but they are most frequently found in the wrist and ankles. They are usually painless and often barely visible as localized swellings. They typically do not appear to be inflamed.

The largest ganglions form behind the back of the knee, causing a sense of fullness or tightness. A ganglion here is referred to as a Baker cyst, after the doctor who originally described the condition.

Diagnosis of ganglion cysts

Doctors diagnose a ganglion by physical examination. These ganglions can usually be felt on examination.

A ganglion can be a result of underlying arthritis of the adjacent joint, and X-ray analysis is often used to determine the integrity of the joints affected.

What specialists treat ganglion cysts?

Specialists who treat ganglions include primary-care providers such as general medicine doctors, family medicine doctors, and internists, as well as rheumatologists and general and orthopedic surgeons.

What is the treatment for ganglion cysts?

A ganglion can spontaneously rupture and go away. Sometimes a gentle massage is all that is necessary. Other treatment options include the removal of the ganglion fluid with a needle and syringe (aspiration) with or without an injection of cortisone medication.

Occasionally, the entire ganglion is resected with surgery. People with a persisting or recurring ganglion should be evaluated for signs of systemic forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

What is the prognosis for ganglion cysts?

The prognosis of a ganglion is generally excellent. Usually, a ganglion does not affect joint function and is painless. They can resolve spontaneously but can require injection or resection for complete recovery.

Is it possible to prevent a ganglion cyst?

No, it is not possible to prevent a ganglion.


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Medically Reviewed on 4/18/2023
Firestein, Gary S., et al. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology, Ninth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2013.