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.
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.
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.
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.