Ganglion cyst

A ganglion cyst is a fluid filled swelling which develops near to a joint or a tendon. The cyst usually feels like a smooth lump just under the skin and can range in size from a pea to a golf ball.

Ganglion cysts can appear alongside any joint in the body, but are most commonly found on the wrist, hand and fingers. They are harmless but may cause pain, especially if they are located near a nerve. Ganglion cysts often disappear on their own without treatment, but this can take several years.

The exact cause of ganglion cysts is not fully understood. It is thought that they may be caused either by trauma that breaks down the tissue of the joint, forming a number of small cysts that subsequently join together into a single, larger cyst. Or, alternatively, there may be an abnormality in the joint capsule or tendon sheath that allows fluid and tissue to bulge out.

A ganglion cyst most commonly occurs on the wrist (particularly the back of the wrist), hand or fingers, located by a joint or a tendon. It feels like a soft, smooth non-moving lump beneath the skin, which may change in size over time, ranging from the size of a pea to the size of a golf ball. It may disappear altogether from time to time and reoccur at other times.

Often ganglion cysts will cause some pain, particularly after the joint has been used repetitively or suffered an injury. The ganglion may cause a sense of weakness in the affected joint, particularly when the ganglion is connected to a tendon.

Symptoms can include:

  • a non-moving, smooth lump under the skin by a joint or over a tendon
  • lump may change in size over time, and sometimes disappear
  • size ranges from a pea to a golf ball
  • pain

Your doctor should be able to diagnose the condition after an examination of the affected joint.

Ganglion removal

Ganglion cysts often cause no symptoms so they may be left untreated. However, if they cause pain or discomfort, or restrict movement, and affect your quality of life, then they can be successfully treated by aspiration or excision.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.