Ganglion Cyst

A ganglion cyst is a smooth, fluid-filled swelling that typically appears as a lump on your wrist.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is a ganglion cyst?

Ganglion cysts are filled with synovial fluid, a jelly-like liquid that surrounds and protects your joints or tendons. A ganglion cyst occurs when synovial fluid leaks out and forms a liquid-filled sac under your skin.

Ganglion cysts most often affect the wrist, but you can also get them on your fingers, ankles or feet. They can range in size from a pea to a plum and may shrink or swell over time.

Ganglion cysts can occasionally cause joint pain or stiffness, but most don’t need treating. They’re non-cancerous and won’t spread or lead to long-term health problems.

Eventually, a ganglion cyst may go away by itself. However, successful treatments are available if a ganglion cyst is causing symptoms or if you’re bothered by the appearance.

How to tell if you have a ganglion cyst

The main symptom of a ganglion cyst is a smooth lump that appears under your skin. Ganglion cysts are most often found on:

  • The back of your wrist
  • The base of your thumb
  • The base of a finger
  • The end joint of a finger (near your fingernail)

The lump or swelling usually causes no trouble at all. However, you may have pain, tingling, numbness or stiffness in the nearby joint.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for ganglion cyst

See your GP if you have a fluid-filled lump under your skin or have pain, numbness or tingling in your hand or wrist. Your GP will usually be able to diagnose a ganglion cyst by asking about your symptoms and medical history and by examining the swelling. They may refer you for an X-ray, ultrasound scan or an MRI scan to rule out other conditions such as osteoarthritis or, very rarely, a bone tumour.

Causes of ganglion cyst

It isn’t always clear why synovial fluid leaks out of your joint and forms a ganglion cyst. Ganglion cysts can occur for anyone at any age, but are more common:

  • If you have an old injury on the affected joint
  • If you have osteoarthritis in your fingers
  • In women aged 20-40

Common treatments for ganglion cyst

A ganglion cyst often goes away on its own, although this can take time. If it doesn’t, treatments to ease ganglion pain and stiffness include:

  • Hand exercises
  • Over-the-counter painkillers
  • Wearing a wrist splint

If these don’t work, your doctor may recommend aspiration. This is a quick procedure to drain fluid from the ganglion cyst using a thin needle and syringe.

Another option is ganglion removal by excision. This is a short operation to cut the ganglion cyst out. You can discuss with your doctor which treatment might benefit you.

Find out more or book an appointment at your local Spire hospital.

Get in touch


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