Ganglion Cysts of the Hand

Ganglion cysts are fluid-filled cysts that can occur in many locations of the body, most commonly the back of the hand or wrist. For the most part, these cysts are noncancerous and completely harmless — but that doesn't mean they can't cause discomfort and pain. Read below for more information on ganglion cysts and how to treat them.

What Is A Ganglion Cyst?

A ganglion cyst is a noncancerous, fluid-filled sac that can grow on any joint or tendon in the surrounding tissues. Ganglion cysts typically form on the ankles, feet, and they are most common on the hands and wrists.

Ganglion cysts can range from the size of a small pea to the size of a quarter. The fluid-filled sac connects to a stalk, which allows fluid to move between the cyst and the affected area. The stalk can act as a stop valve, causing the cyst to increase in size. How much fluid moves in the affected area, and how big your ganglion cyst grows can be affected by your daily activities and stress on your joints.

Sometimes, ganglion cysts cause no pain or discomfort, and go unnoticed. However, if the cyst is pressing down on a nerve, it can be painful and interfere with your quality of life.

What Causes A Ganglion Cyst?

There is no specific known cause for ganglion cysts. It's thought that a number of different lifestyle factors can contribute to developing the condition, including:

  • Overuse and inflammation in the hands caused by repetitive activities such as gymnastics or typing on the computer.
  • Chronic overuse in the fingers, most often on patients with osteoarthritis.
  • Any prior injury to a joint, especially if one joint has had repeat injury.

Ganglion cysts of the hand and other joints are more likely to affect women than men, and more likely to appear in patients between 20 and 40 years old. Ganglion cysts often have a comorbidity with arthritis for both men or women at any age.

There are no known hereditary or genetic causes for ganglion cysts.

Ganglion Cyst Symptoms

Ganglion cysts will always appear as a small lump or bump under your skin, near a joint. They may appear to be very small, or they may be more noticeable. They can cause some, possibly all, of the following symptoms:

  • Discomfort caused by the feeling of the cyst under your skin or up against a joint.
  • Pain caused by the cyst pressing down on a nerve, which can cause sharp or prolonged pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling.
  • Difficulty moving your affected joint because of limited motion or pain.
  • An increase in size of the cyst.
  • A visual lump underneath your skin that can be soft or hard.

Normally, if a ganglion cyst causes you no pain, discomfort, or mobility loss, they are fine to leave as is. It's possible they will disappear on their own as the fluid decreases. But if you experience any pain or discomfort, possibly resulting in a lower quality of life or decreased mobility and use, schedule an appointment with your doctor to decide on the best next step after diagnosis.

How Are Ganglion Cysts of the Hand Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose a ganglion cyst of the hand or any other joint, your doctor will need to perform a thorough exam of the affected area. This exam can involve a physical check where the doctor may need to move or press down on the cyst. Applying pressure to cysts can cause discomfort or pain.

They may also try different methods to confirm the lump is a ganglion cyst, including draining the cyst fluid with a needle and syringe or shining a light on the cyst to see if it's partially see-through due to the liquid.

It's common for doctors to use diagnostic imaging, like an x-ray or ultrasound, during your examination to get a better look at the cyst. These tools can help discover small ganglion cysts that aren't visible with the naked eye. Diagnostic imaging also helps rule out other causes of your pain, such as tumors or arthritis.

Ganglion Cyst Treatment

It's possible that your ganglion cyst will heal on its own without medical intervention, especially if it's painless to you. In general, it's a good idea to wait and see if the cyst yields over time.

However, if a cyst is interfering with your joint movement and generating pain, there are non-surgical and surgical treatment options to help alleviate your pain and remove the ganglion cyst.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Because of the nature of the ganglion cyst, a non-surgical treatment option is often the best first choice. Treatment options include:

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as Aleve, Motrin, Advil, and Tylenol to relieve pain or inflammation caused by the ganglion cyst.
  • Using a brace or splint to immobilize the area, especially if movement is increasing the cyst's size, to help relieve pressure and shrink the cyst.
  • Using warm compresses to ease pain and promote fluid drainage.
  • Temporarily reducing strenuous activity and avoiding any motion that causes discomfort.
  • Aspirate the cyst by using a syringe to drain the fluid, although it's common for cysts to refill with fluid after this treatment.
  • Observation and monitoring by you and your doctor to track when things change.

Do not attempt any at-home folk remedies, such as striking the cyst with a heavy object or attempting to drain it yourself. These actions can cause additional injury and lead to infection and cyst recurrence.

Surgical Treatment

For extreme cases, or cases where non-surgical treatment proved ineffective, your doctor may recommend surgery. It's the last option if other treatments haven't helped your condition. Removing the cyst, cyst wall, and stalk entirely is an effective pain treatment, although it doesn't eliminate the possibility of cyst recurrence.

Outpatient surgery to remove ganglion cysts is minimally invasive and comes with a short recovery time of about 2 to 6 weeks. If the cyst returns after surgery, keep track of its size and any symptoms you experience. Much like the process for the first cyst, if the cyst is painless then it can be left alone. But if it causes pain again, your doctor may recommend a second surgery or another treatment.

If you suspect you have ganglion cysts of the hands, wrists, feet, or ankles, it's a good idea to get a proper diagnosis from a physician. Schedule an appointment now and find out how the dedicated physicians at Resurgens can help you get moving again with treatment that is right for you.

Virtual After-Hours Access

Resurgens Orthopaedics has partnered with the HURT! app to offer FREE virtual after-hours access to orthopedic specialists right when you need it.

Receive immediate guidance on your injury!