Ganglion Cysts: What to Know

If you’ve noticed a small, round lump growing under the skin along the tendons or joints of your wrists or hands, you may have a ganglion cyst. Although it can be alarming, these non-cancerous lumps are common and there are more than 200,000 US cases per year.

According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, “Ganglion cysts are very common lumps within the hand and wrist that occur adjacent to joints or tendons. The most common locations are the top of the wrist, the palm side of the wrist, the base of the finger on the palm side, and the top of the end joint of the finger. The ganglion cyst often resembles a water balloon on a stalk, and is filled with clear fluid or gel.”


The cause of these cysts is unknown although they may form in the presence of joint or tendon irritation or mechanical changes. They occur in patients of all ages. These cysts may change in size or even disappear completely, and they may or may not be painful. These cysts are not cancerous and will not spread to other areas.

Signs and Symptoms

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand says, “The diagnosis is usually based on the location of the lump and its appearance. They are usually oval or round and may be soft or very firm. Cysts at the base of the finger on the palm side are typically very firm, pea sized nodules that are tender to applied pressure, such as when gripping. Light will often pass through these lumps, (trans-illumination) and this can assist in the diagnosis. Your physician may request x rays in order to look for evidence of problems in adjacent joints. Cysts at the far joint of the finger frequently have an arthritic bone spur associated with them, the overlying skin may become thin, and there may be a lengthwise groove in the fingernail just beyond the cyst.”


In some cases, small ganglion cysts can be the size of a pea or so small they can’t be detected. Others grow to around an inch or more in diameter. The size can fluctuate with inflammation after repetitive motion if it is near a joint, however even tiny cysts can be very painful and require treatment.


A ganglion cyst is most likely to develop along the tendons or joints of the wrists or hands, but can also grow on the ankles and feet or other areas near joints.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for pain and discomfort. He or she might also recommend imaging to rule out other conditions. After a doctor has evaluated and diagnosed the cyst, he or she might recommend draining the cyst with a needle in the office. Surgery can also be an option to remove the cyst, especially if it comes back after draining.

The American Society for Surgery of the Hand says, “Treatment can often be non-surgical. In many cases, these cysts can simply be observed, especially if they are painless, as they frequently disappear spontaneously. If the cyst becomes painful, limits activity, or is otherwise unacceptable, several treatment options are available. The use of splints and anti-inflammatory medication can be prescribed in order to decrease pain associated with activities. An aspiration can be performed to remove the fluid from the cyst and decompress it. This requires placing a needle into the cyst, which can be performed in most office settings. Aspiration is a very simple procedure, but recurrence of the cyst is common. If non-surgical options fail to provide relief or if the cyst recurs, surgical alternatives are available. Surgery involves removing the cyst along with a portion of the joint capsule or tendon sheath. In the case of wrist ganglion cysts, both traditional open and arthroscopic techniques usually yield good results. Surgical treatment is generally successful although cysts may recur. Your surgeon will discuss the best treatment options for you.”

Concerned about a lump that has formed on your hand, wrist, foot or ankle? Call Orthopedic Associates today to schedule a consultation.