A ganglion cyst is the most common benign soft tissue mass seen in the hand and wrist. Less commonly, these cysts develop at the shoulder, elbow or knee.
A ganglion (or synovial) cyst is a fluid-filled mass or bump that forms under the skin. Ganglions occur when the tissue lining joints and tendons becomes inflamed. The tissue reacts by filling with the clear synovial fluid that lubricates the joint or tendon sheath. What results is a hard, movable lump. Although usually painless, these cysts can cause skin redness and tenderness.
The source of ganglions is not always clear, but they can be caused by mild or chronic sprains that produce weakness in the joint capsule, or by a flaw in the covering of a joint or tendon. They have been associated with conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, and with occupational factors such as excessive overuse of the wrist and fingers.
Some ganglion cysts disappear on their own. If the cyst grows, causes pain or numbness, inhibits function or keeps recurring, treatment is required. Rest, splinting and anti-inflammatories may be recommended first. The next step would be draining the fluid with a needle and syringe, and an injection of cortisone to decrease swelling.
Surgical removal is another treatment option. During the outpatient procedure, you will be given anesthesia so as not to feel any discomfort. The doctor makes an incision in the skin, identifies the cyst then removes it and stitches the incision closed. A soft dressing or splint is placed on the area for protection and support. The procedure lasts about 30 minutes; patients can move their fingers immediately afterward. Recurrence following surgery occurs in about five to 10 percent of cases.
By taking certain precautions, you can help prevent the recurrence of ganglion cysts. Avoid overuse of joints, especially in the wrist and fingers. And be sure to warm up before physical exercise and maintain good muscle conditioning.