Ganglion cysts are common noncancerous lumps that typically form along tendons or joints, usually in the wrists, hands, or feet. While generally harmless, ganglion cysts can cause discomfort, limit mobility, and raise concerns about their appearance.
Ganglion cysts arise from the synovial fluid-filled sacs that cushion and protect our joints and tendons. When this fluid leaks or seeps out, it can accumulate under the skin and form a cystic lump. The exact cause of ganglion cysts is not always clear, but they often develop after joint or tendon injury, repetitive stress, or irritation. Activities that strain these areas, such as repetitive movements or carrying heavy loads, can contribute to their formation.
While most ganglion cysts are painless, they can cause discomfort, particularly if they press on a nerve or interfere with joint movement.
Symptoms associated with ganglion cysts can include pain, tenderness, and a sensation of pressure in the affected area. Depending on their location, these cysts can restrict joint movement, making everyday tasks challenging. For instance, a ganglion cyst on the foot could make walking or wearing shoes uncomfortable.
The diagnosis of a ganglion cyst usually involves a physical examination by a healthcare professional. In some cases, imaging studies such as X-rays, ultrasounds, or MRI scans might be recommended to rule out other conditions or to get a better understanding of the cyst’s structure and location.
Treatment options for ganglion cysts depend on the cyst’s size and location, as well as the level of discomfort it causes. In cases where the cyst is small and does not cause pain, a “wait and watch” approach might be recommended. Sometimes ganglion cysts go away on their own.
If the cyst is causing pain or interfering with joint movement, conservative treatments may include aspiration or drainage of the cyst using a needle and syringe. However, it’s important to note that cysts treated with aspiration have a tendency to recur.
Surgical removal, known as excision, might be considered for persistent or painful cysts. During this procedure, the cyst is carefully dissected and removed along with a small portion of the joint capsule or tendon sheath to help prevent recurrence. Excision can be performed using traditional open surgery or minimally invasive techniques, depending on the specific case.
Ganglion cysts are not life-threatening, but they can interfere with your daily life. While some cysts might resolve on their own, your family doctor can provide guidance on appropriate management, offer relief from pain, and help determine whether treatment is necessary.
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