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Ganglion Cysts

What are ganglion cysts?

A ganglion cyst is a round, fluid-filled lump of tissue that usually appears along tendons or joints. It typically occurs on the wrist or hand, but it can also appear on the ankle or foot.

Ganglion cysts can be as large as an inch across. Some cysts are visible underneath the skin, but others are so small that you can’t see them. They’re common and usually harmless. They aren’t cancerous. Most go away without treatment.

What are the symptoms of a ganglion cyst?

The most common symptoms of a ganglion cyst include a visible lump, discomfort, and pain. If the cyst is on your foot or ankle, you may feel discomfort when walking or wearing shoes. If it’s near a nerve, a ganglion cyst can sometimes cause:

  • a loss of mobility
  • numbness
  • pain
  • a tingling sensation

Some ganglion cysts can become bigger or smaller over time.

What causes a ganglion cyst?

Ganglion cysts occur when fluid accumulates in a joint or around the tendons in your:

  • hand
  • wrist
  • ankle
  • foot

This accumulation can occur due to injury, trauma, or overuse, but often the cause is unknown.

Ganglion cysts are more likely to develop in women and people who repeatedly stress their wrists, such as gymnasts.

How are ganglion cysts diagnosed?

Your doctor will first examine the lump. They’ll ask you about your medical history and how long you’ve had the lump. They’ll also ask you about your symptoms. They may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI, especially if they can’t see the lump. They may take a sample of the fluid in the cyst for testing.

How are ganglion cysts treated?

Ganglion cysts often go away without treatment. If the cyst doesn’t cause pain or discomfort, treatment isn’t necessary. Your doctor may advise you to do the following:

  • Avoid repetitive hand and wrist movements.
  • Wear a wrist brace because immobilization might cause the cyst to shrink.
  • Wear shoes that don’t touch the cyst if it’s on your foot or ankle.

If your ganglion cyst causes pain or limits your mobility, your doctor may aspirate it. During this procedure, they’ll remove fluid from the cyst with a syringe. Surgical removal is an option if other treatments haven’t worked. However, the cyst may return even if your doctor surgically has surgically removed it.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Medically reviewed on: May 11, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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