A ganglion cyst is the most common thing that will cause a lump in the hand.  They are not cancerous or dangerous, but they can be bothersome for some people.
What is a ganglion cyst?
A ganglion cyst is a benign cyst that can develop from the tissues surrounding a joint.  They are filled with a thick fluid that is similar to the fluid found within joints.
Ganglion CystsWhere are ganglion cysts located?
They usually develop in the fingers, hand, or wrist, with the most common location being the back of the wrist.  They can also develop around the foot and ankle.
What do they look like? 
  • They are round or oval lumps that appear to be just under the skin.
  • They vary in size but are usually an inch in diameter or less.  The size can also change, sometimes getting larger when you use that joint frequently, then getting smaller when you limit joint motion.
  • They can be soft or firm.
  • You can usually move them a little bit under the skin.
  • If you could see it under the skin, it would look like a balloon with a small stalk going down toward the joint.
What causes a ganglion cyst?
We don’t really know what causes them to develop.  They grow out of a joint or the tissues surrounding the joint.  They seem to be tissue that bulges out of place.  They may be related to repeated stress applied to a joint.
Who is more likely to get a ganglion cyst?
  • Women are more likely to be affected than men.
  • Younger people between the ages of 15 and 40.
  • People who have had joint or tendon injuries, including gymnasts, who apply stress to the wrist repeatedly.
  • Ganglion cysts that develop at the end of a finger are typically associated with wear and tear arthritis in the finger joint.  These cysts are more common in women between the ages of 50-70.
What symptoms do they cause?
Most of the time they cause no symptoms other than a lump.  However, they can cause pain, tingling, or muscle weakness if they are in a location where they put pressure on a nerve.  They may limit joint motion if they are larger in size.
How are they diagnosed?
A ganglion cyst has a classic appearance and they are usually easily diagnosed with a good exam.  Light typically passes through them, so your doctor may shine a light on the cyst to help with diagnosis.  Sometimes an X-ray or other imaging study may be done to help with diagnosis.  This is particularly true if they are causing symptoms like numbness or weakness or if they are more firm or less mobile under the skin.  These imaging studies can rule out things like bone tumors and possibly see if a nerve is being compressed by the cyst.
How are ganglion cysts treated?
  • Observation – If they are not causing symptoms, your doctor will often just keep an eye on the cyst to make sure nothing changes.  They sometimes go away on their own, so if it is not bothering you, there is no need to do anything.
  • Aspiration – Your doctor may drain the fluid from the cyst with a needle.  The cyst itself does not go away, but it will be small enough that you don’t notice it.  They often return after aspiration if the cavity fills up with fluid again.
  • Immobilization – A wrist brace may make the cyst get smaller due to less motion in the joint.  You don’t want to wear a brace too long as it can cause muscle weakness, so as symptoms improve, your doctor will recommend taking the brace off and doing strengthening exercises.
  • Surgery – If your ganglion is causing symptoms that are not relieved by other measures, it can be surgically removed.
Should you try a home remedy?
If you have a ganglion cyst, you might hear that you can treat it by hitting it hard with a large book.  You should NOT do this.  Not only can you injure yourself in the process, but this also doesn’t usually make the cyst go away.
If you have any questions about ganglion cysts, please log into your account and send
us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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