Working Healthy

Personal Trainer: Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion cysts, also called wrist cysts or dorsal tendon cysts, are fluid-filled lumps that form along the lining of the joints or tendons.

Ganglion cysts, also called wrist cysts or dorsal tendon cysts, are fluid-filled lumps that form along the lining of the joints or tendons. The presence of a ganglion cyst can be disconcerting, though medically they are non-cancerous and non contagious. Many ganglion cysts require no treatment. However, surgery is an option for those who want one removed immediately.

A ganglion cyst is identified by the seemingly sudden appearance of a raised lump. Most commonly they grow in a round or oval shape on the underside or topside of the wrist, at finger joints, at the ankle, or on the foot. Though cysts are filled with fluid similar to the lubricating fluid that surrounds joints and tendons, they often feel like a protruding bone because the fluid inside is so dense. The cysts are not typically painful, but may become painful as they grow and put pressure on a nerve. Cysts can also cause pain if they grow large enough to restrict movement. Interestingly, the cyst can expand and reduce in size as the fluid drains and fills the sac. To determine if a lump is a ganglion cyst, doctors will note the location, ask a series of questions, and may take an X-ray or an ultrasound. Often, a ganglion cyst can be confirmed by transillumination (shining a light through it), since light will pass through a fluid filled cyst but not a tumor.

The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown, though doctors speculate one reason cysts form is a restriction in the mechanics of the joint. When the joint is restricted, fluid can leak out and form a sack along the lining of the joint or tendon. Ganglion cysts are more common in women than men, particularly women who place stress on the joints, for example tennis players, typists, and waitresses, and in those who have a previous injury to the joints or bones. The job of a nail tech is not noted as one with a higher risk.

Management of a ganglion cyst depends on the patient. Some people opt to wait it out and discover the cyst disappears on its own. Others try home remedies, including rubbing the area with essential oils of frankincense and oregano. Others attack it head on by delivering hard force directly to the cyst. For example, they may slam a book against it or bang the cyst on the underside edge of a table. This breaks the cyst open, or “pops” it. The fluid is absorbed into the body and the cyst disappears. A less painful and more conservative approach is to consult a chiropractor to adjust the bones in the wrist. Re-aligning the bones improves the mechanics of the wrist, and the body can heal itself.

Two options exist for those who choose a medical approach. The first is “aspiration.” This is when a doctor inserts a needle into the cyst and pulls the fluid out. She may choose to follow the aspiration with a steroid to reduce any inflammation caused from the cyst. A second alternative is surgical removal. The doctor will remove a small section of skin in the center of the cyst, and then gently disengage the cyst from the skin, the tendon sheath or a joint lining. Often the entire cyst can be removed intact.


This article is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.

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