Ganglion | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Ganglion

Overview and Facts about Ganglion

A ganglion, also known as a ganglion cyst, is a lump that forms near specific joints or tendons. These frequently appear around the hand or wrist, but they can also pop up on the foot or ankle. In most cases, they will feel round or oval-shaped and slightly squishy, as they are filled with a jellylike fluid.

Luckily, ganglion cysts aren’t cancerous. However, because they can sometimes interfere with the movement of your joints, some people choose to have them treated by a doctor.

Symptoms

The most noticeable sign of a ganglion is a visible lump in your hand, wrist, foot or ankle. However, they can sometimes appear elsewhere. Usually, they’re less than an inch in diameter, but they can change sizes if you move your joints a lot.

In most cases, ganglions don’t cause any pain. However, if one is pressing on a nerve, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of mobility
  • Pain

Causes and Risk Factors of Ganglion

While doctors aren’t completely sure what causes ganglions, they believe it has something to do with an accumulation of fluid in or around the joints. In particular, ganglions occur more frequently when the tissue around a tendon or joint bulges out of place. This could happen because of an injury, overuse or trauma.

There are some risk factors for the development of ganglions, including:

  • Being a female between the ages of 20 to 40
  • Having osteoarthritis at the tips of your fingers
  • Having repetitive injuries in your wrists (which is why many gymnasts have this problem)

Diagnosis

Like many orthopaedic conditions, your doctor will perform a physical exam to get a closer look at the lump and see what it feels like. He or she may apply pressure to see if it hurts you, as well as shine a light through the cyst to see if it is solid or fluid-filled.

If the physical exam isn’t conclusive, your doctor will then order an imaging test, such as an MRI, X-ray or ultrasound.

Finally, to rule out other causes (such as a cancerous tumor), your doctor may perform an aspiration. This entails your doctor using a needle to extract a small amount of fluid from the cyst. If it’s a ganglion, the fluid will be clear and thick.

Treatment

Luckily, because most ganglions are painless, they don’t require treatment. Usually, they’ll disappear on their own after a while. However, if you have a persistent ganglion that’s causing you pain, there are a number of steps you can take:

  • Reduce repetitive movements in the affected joint
  • Find shoes that don’t pinch the cyst if it’s located on your ankle or foot
  • Use a wrist or ankle brace to help immobilize and shrink the cyst
  • Ask your doctor to perform aspiration
  • Have surgery for permanent removal of the cyst