A ganglion cyst is a tumor or swelling on top of a joint or the covering of a tendon (tissue that connects muscle to bone). It looks like a sac of liquid (cyst). Inside the cyst is a thick, sticky, clear, colorless, jellylike material. Depending on the size, cysts may feel firm or spongy.
Ganglion Cyst Causes
The cause of ganglion cysts is not known. One theory suggests that trauma causes the tissue of the joint to break down forming small cysts that then join into a larger, more obvious mass. The most likely theory involves a flaw in the joint capsule or tendon sheath that allows the joint tissue to bulge out.
How are ganglion cysts diagnosed?
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 investigate problems in adjacent joints. Cysts at the end joint of the finger frequently have an arthritic bone spur associated with them.
Ganglion Cyst Symptoms
- The ganglion cyst usually appears as a bump (mass) that changes size.
- It is usually soft, anywhere from 1-3 cm in diameter and doesn’t move.
- The swelling may appear over time or appear suddenly, may get smaller in size, and may even go away only to come back at another time.
- Most ganglion cysts cause some degree of pain, usually following acute or repetitive trauma, but up to 35% are without symptoms except for appearance.
- If pain is present, it is usually nonstop, aching, and made worse by joint motion.
When the cyst is connected to a tendon, you may feel a sense of weakness in the affected finger.
When to Seek Medical Care
Whether you have symptoms or not, your ganglion cyst can benefit from medical evaluation. Your doctor can be sure that you have a ganglion cyst, keep you from worrying, and help decide on the best treatment plan for you.
A ganglion cyst does not need to have emergency treatment unless you have significant trauma. A routine check by either your doctor or a specialist in bones and joints (an orthopedist) is often enough.
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