Key Points about Ganglion Cysts

  • A ganglion cyst is a benign lump that forms on the joints or tendons in the wrists or hands.
  • The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown.
  • Ganglion cysts are typically round or oval, measure in size from a pea to a quarter, and are tender to the touch.
  • Groups of people more likely to develop a ganglion cyst include women, athletes, people with osteoarthritis.
  • Your doctor can diagnose a ganglion cyst with a combination of physical exam and diagnostic testing such as an X-ray or ultrasound.
  • Most patients experience a full recovery.


Ganglion cysts are benign lumps that develop around the joints or tendons in your wrists or hands. Typically, ganglion cysts are round or oval-shaped and filled with fluid. They can range in size from the size of a pencil eraser to quarter size. If they press on a nerve, a ganglion cyst can be painful.

Your joint mobility may be impaired if they form on a crucial spot along the joint

In many cases, ganglion cysts will go away without treatment. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

If you suspect you have a ganglion cyst, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment are encouraged.

Ganglion cyst causes

A ganglion cyst may form when fluid builds up in the joints or around tendons in your hands or wrists.

While the cause of ganglion cysts is not known, research suggests that trauma, overuse, or injury causes joint tissue to break down, which causes small cysts to grow and join together to form a mass.

Ganglion cyst symptoms

The most common sign of a ganglion cyst is the location of the cyst. Ganglion cysts generally form along the tendons or joints in the wrists or hands.

Other signs or symptoms of Ganglion cysts include:

  • Round or oval shape.
  • Measure in size from pea size to the size of a quarter.
  • Pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness if the cyst presses on a nerve.

Ganglion cyst complications

If left untreated, complications can occur. The most common complication is infection. If the cyst fills with bacteria, it will become an abscess that could burst inside the body and lead to blood poisoning.

Ganglion cyst risk factors

Factors that can increase your chance of developing a ganglion cyst include:

  • Women are more likely to develop ganglion cysts.
  • Athletes who put repeated stress on their wrists.
  • People between the ages of 20 and 40 are most likely to develop a ganglion cyst.
  • People who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis are more likely to develop ganglion cysts near the joints affected by osteoarthritis.
  • Previous joint or tendon injury. People who have previous joint or tendon injuries are more likely to develop ganglion cysts.

Ganglion cyst diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose a ganglion cyst. During a clinic visit, your doctor will examine what the cyst looks like, where it is located, and determine if it is tender when pressure is applied. To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may shine a light through the cyst to determine if it is filled with fluid and order a diagnostic test. An X-ray can rule out more serious conditions such as arthritis or a bone tumor. An ultrasound can confirm that the mass is a ganglion cyst.

Ganglion cyst treatment

Ganglion cysts will often heal without treatment. If you have a cyst that is not causing any pain, treatment is not required. To aid in the healing process, your doctor may recommend that you avoid repetitive hand or wrist movements, or wear a wrist brace to immobilize the wrist.

If a ganglion cyst limits your mobility or causes pain, your doctor may need to remove the fluid that has built up inside it.

If all other treatments have not proven effective, your doctor may surgically remove the cyst.

Ganglion cysts can return, even after surgical removal. If the cyst is on the underside of the wrist is harder to remove.

When to Seek Care

If your cyst is painful or impacting your mobility, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Next Steps

In preparation for your clinic visit, write down any questions you have for your doctor.

If medical treatment is not required, monitor the cyst and call your doctor if it worsens or limits your mobility.

For patients with a treatment plan, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully to ensure a complete recovery.

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