What is a Ganglion Cyst?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A ganglion cyst is an abnormal growth that can arise around joints on the feet, wrists or hands. Usually only one cyst is present at a time, and size of the cyst may vary. These are fortunately benign growths, but sometimes they may be painful, and they might affect how well a joint moves, somewhat restricting motion or causing weakness. Treating them can be a little challenging too, due to high rate of recurrence.

A ganglion cyst may develop around joints on the wrists.
A ganglion cyst may develop around joints on the wrists.

The symptoms of a ganglion cyst may differ from person to person. Many people note a large soft bump that can be pushed on a little with some give, but that remains fixed in place. The bump could be located on the wrist, on one of the fingers or on the top of the foot, and usually, hands or wrists are the mostly likely locations for cyst formation. Some people experience pain, and some forms of these cysts are small and can’t be seen. The smaller cysts may actually be more uncomfortable.

Individuals suffering from arthritis are at greater risk of developing a ganglion cyst.
Individuals suffering from arthritis are at greater risk of developing a ganglion cyst.

One thing noted about the behavior of these cysts is that size of the cyst can increase or decrease rather regularly. An increase in size is often associated with extra activity of the joint, which may create greater transit of joint-like fluid into the cyst. When the joint is at rest, the ganglion cyst can quickly reduce in size.

An x-ray may be conducted to diagnose ganglion cysts.
An x-ray may be conducted to diagnose ganglion cysts.

Many people also question what causes these cysts, and here, answers are not favorable or complete. Some medical professionals believe overstraining joints may result in cyst formation, but this doesn’t account for the many people who have repetitive motion injuries of hands or feet without ever developing a cyst on the ganglion. These cysts may be more likely to occur in those with arthritic conditions of the joints, but are certainly not restricted to people with arthritis.

Should people suspect a ganglion cyst, it’s important to see a doctor for confirmation of diagnosis. Diagnosis is usually achieved by x-ray, aspiration of fluid from the joint, and possibly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The last test may be avoided because of its expense.

Patients may then be given several options for treatment. The first is to do nothing, as a ganglion cyst may disappear on its own. Splinting is sometimes recommended to keep the joint from moving and to see if the cyst will recess. Some doctors recommend aspiration, and others suggest surgical removal.

The treatment that is no longer recommended is hitting the cyst with anything large and heavy, like a book. In earlier times, these growths were called bible cysts and were treated by physical blow. The treatment didn’t work, and it could cause injury to the joint or to the parts of the body surrounding it.

No matter what remedy is suggested, a ganglion cyst can be hard to cure. Aspirating and surgery do have fairly high recurrence rates, and splinting hasn’t been shown to be very effective. It’s been observed that repeated aspiration attempts may ultimately make the cyst go away, but these can take time. Recovery from surgery also takes some effort, and many people must participate in physical therapy to regain full movement of the affected joint.

Surgery is not always an effective treatment for a Ganglion cyst.
Surgery is not always an effective treatment for a Ganglion cyst.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I'd use the book method to get rid of mine in a heartbeat if it wasn't on my index finger. I'm not going to risk breaking my finger just to get rid of this thing -- yet.


well right now I'm only 15 and i have a ganglion cyst. it's big and right on the side of it it has like a pit where my skin is just going in. I'm not sure what to do. i may just smash a book on it, but at the same time I'm not sure to get it checked before i do anything. Any recommendations?


I had a ganglion cyst on my wrist a few years ago. Talking with neighborhood women about it, one suggested I whack it with a bible. I thought she was crazy. I mentioned this to my doctor and she said "it doesn't need to be a bible." I think I used a dictionary and gave the cyst a good whack.

Believe it or not, it did the trick and has never returned. So regardless of what this article says, the treatment worked at least in my case.


I think I may have one in my wrist, but there is no mention of elbow joints, where I believe I may have another one on the same arm. Has anyone ever heard of one in the forearm side of the elbow joint?


So why did people used to treat cysts like this by hitting them with big books? I think that's such an interesting idea, and I'd love to learn more about that.

When my grandmother was young, she had what I'm pretty sure was a ganglion cyst in her finger, but she hit it with a large book, just like you said.

I asked her why she would do something like that, and she said it was just common knowledge, but she couldn't tell me why that was a good way to go about curing what she called "Bible lumps."

So why was that the treatment? And what if the cyst was in a place that would be hard to hit with a big book? Then what did they do? I am totally fascinated by this topic now; please tell me some more information about it.


Could somebody tell me a little more information about the ganglion cyst treatment options? I have just been diagnosed with a ganglion cyst in my foot, and I'd really like to know what my treatment options are.

Of course, I'm hoping eventually for a ganglion cyst removal procedure, but in the meantime, what kinds of things can I do to treat it and keep it from getting worse?

The only information that I can find is about ganglion cysts in the wrist and hand, which really doesn't do me a whole lot of good.

Has anybody reading this ever had a ganglion cyst in the foot? I would really appreciate any information that I could get on the subject -- I'm still kind of coming to terms with the whole thing, and am a little overwhelmed about it.


My sister had a really painful volar ganglion cyst when she was in her 20s, and it was so bad that she actually had to get surgery on her wrist to get it removed.

Unfortunately, she had let it go for so long that the ganglion cyst removal surgery wasn't entirely successful, and she is still dealing with some of the wrist pain today.

That's the thing about ganglion cysts -- since they tend to get bigger and smaller, so it's easy to write it off and forget about it until it becomes too big to ignore.

So if you ever start to get that kind of pain in your wrist, don't let it go -- the sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner your doctor can start treatment, which can make an absolute world of difference.

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