A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled sac that usually forms on top of a tendon or the covering of a joint in the wrist or hand. It is the most common type of soft-tissue growth in the wrist or hand, and can develop suddenly or over time. Although usually benign and harmless, it can put pressure on nearby nerves, potentially causing pain, weakness or numbness. The cause of a ganglion cyst is unknown, although it tends to occur in people who have osteoarthritis, and in women between the ages of 25 and 45. They often develop when the soft sheath around a tendon or joint swells and fills with mucus.
Signs of a Ganglion Cyst
A ganglion cyst presents as a small raised lump that is filled with gelatinous fluid. Specific locations that a ganglion cyst develops are the back of the wrist (most common), the front of the wrist, behind a fingernail or on the palm at the base of a finger.
Treatment for a Ganglion Cyst
Treatment for a ganglion cyst is called for only if it is causing painful symptoms, although a person may choose to treat it for cosmetic reasons. A ganglion cyst can also go away on its own. Depending on its size and the severity of the symptoms it is causing, a ganglion cyst can be treated in the following ways:
Aspiration is a minimally invasive procedure in which the fluid inside the cyst is drained using a syringe. Aspiration may be combined with a steroid injection, which reduces inflammation. The wrist may be immobilized with a splint, although this is becoming less common because recent studies indicate that splinting offers no real benefit.
Surgery may be recommended for a cyst that is very painful, interferes with joint movement, or causes tingling or numbness. Ganglion cyst surgery is performed under local anesthetic; it involves complete removal of the cyst and any attached tissue. Physical therapy may be recommended after surgery in order to rehabilitate the hand or wrist.
A ganglion cyst tends to return less frequently when it is surgically removed rather than merely aspirated.