Published: Nov. 11, 2010
Updated: Dec. 28, 2010
Ganglion cysts are soft, harmless tumors or swellings that appear on top of a joint or the covering of a tendon. Often, the cyst is round and firm; it is filled with a gel-like material known as synovial fluid.
The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown. However, they are thought to be caused by trauma or a degeneration of the joint capsule or lining. The synovial fluid follows the path of least resistance, pushing out away from the joint to take the form of a cyst.
The cyst may feel spongy or firm and may change size. Some cysts cause pain, which may be intensified by joint motion or pinching of the cysts by structures around the joint.
Often, a physical exam is all that is needed to make a presumptive diagnosis.
An ultrasound, an imaging procedure using sound waves, or an MRI may be used to determine if the cyst is fluid-filled or solid. Ultrasound can detect whether there is an artery or blood vessel causing the mass.
Most cysts disappear without any treatment at all. However, it is important that you receive confirmation from your doctor that your cyst is not harmful.
Aspiration is a common and typically effective treatment for ganglion cysts. Aspiration usually includes placing a needle into the cyst, drawing the cyst's fluid out, and injecting a anti-inflammatory steroid compound.
Following aspiration, it is possible for the cyst to recur, however.
Surgical removal of the cyst is needed when the cyst is painful, interferes with daily functions, or causes numbness or tingling of the hand or fingers.
Duke Orthopaedics treats ganglion cysts at locations throughout North Carolina, including Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
Watch an educational video about ganglion cysts of the hand.
Watch an educational video about ganglion cyst removal -- a treatment offered by Duke Orthopaedics.