Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist and Hand | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist and Hand

Overview and Facts about Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist and Hand

A ganglion cyst is an orthopedic condition in which a tumor or swelling develops on top of a joint or the covering of the tendon. A cyst is a sac of liquid filled with thick, clear, colorless jellylike material. They can change in size and typically range from 1 to 3 cm in diameter. Ganglion cysts are usually soft and generally not harmful. They are sometimes also known as Bible cysts.

Signs and Symptoms of Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist and Hand

Up to 35% of ganglion cysts do not cause any symptoms, but among those that do, the signs and symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain, ranging from very mild to moderately painful, that comes and goes
  • A sense of weakness in one or more of the fingers

Ganglion cysts are typically found on the back of the hand at the wrist joint, but they can also occur on the palm side of the wrist. Although it is not common, this orthopedic condition can also form on:

  • The base of the fingers on the palm side
  • The fingertip below the cuticle
  • The outside of the ankle or knee joint
  • The top of a foot

Causes and Risk Factors of Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist and Hand

The cause of ganglion cysts of the wrist and hand is not known for certain, but doctors believe trauma to the area leads to a breakdown of the tissues in the wrist joint. This leads to the formation of small cysts that eventually join to form a larger mass. Another cause can be that the joint capsule or tendon sheath is naturally flawed and leaves room for joint tissue to bulge out.

Women are more likely than men to develop ganglion cysts, and the majority of cases occur between the ages of 20 and 40.

Tests and Diagnosis of Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist and Hand

A physical exam is usually enough to diagnose this orthopedic condition. However, if your doctor suspects another condition that might be causing the mass, they may take a fluid sample from the cyst to check if it is solid. If the bump is very large or appears to involve an artery, the doctor will likely refer you to a hand surgeon for a consultation.

Treatment and Care for Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist and Hand

Ganglion cysts can go away without any treatment at all, but your doctor can remove the fluid from the cyst (aspiration) if it is causing pain or other symptoms. Surgical removal is also an option, and the likelihood for the cyst coming back after it is surgically removed is significantly lower than it is for aspiration. Both surgery and aspiration are minor procedures so the chance of a full recovery is very good.