Ganglion or Mucous Cyst
Ganglion cysts are the most common benign tumor of the hand and wrist. While they may cause discomfort or affect hand function, they are generally harmless. These fluid-filled sacs form from connective tissues within a joint, often at the back of the wrist or at the base or end joint of the fingers. The fluid inside the growth is thick and clear and their shape is often described as similar to a mushroom or a balloon with a stalk. They can grow rapidly, appearing quite firm and swollen. Often noticed just under the skin as they emerge from the joint, they can range from the size of a small pea to as large as a golf ball. Treatments can range from almost no medical treatment to a ganglion cyst removal procedure.
Although it is not known precisely why they occur, ganglion cysts may be related to repeated stress or trauma of the affected joint. They may grow larger and more painful with activity or shrink with rest. These cysts occur more frequently in women ages 40 to 70 and, when found at the end joint of the fingers, are thought to be related to arthritis.
Your physician will diagnose a ganglion cyst by asking you about your symptoms and examining the cyst. He or she may check for tenderness, feeling that the cyst is firm, well-defined, and fixed in the joint but able to be moved under the skin. Shining a light through it is also an easy way to confirm that it is fluid-filled and not solid. An x-ray or ultrasound may be performed to visualize where the cyst originates and to rule out any other complications.
Ganglion cysts do not always require treatment, but there are several options if they are painful, interfere with hand or wrist function, or are cosmetically unacceptable. Some will safely resolve on their own either by being reabsorbed or by rupturing during physical activity. A wrist brace may help immobilize your wrist and prevent worsening pain or growth of the cyst. Your physician may try to aspirate or drain the fluid by puncturing the cyst with a needle and withdrawing its contents. Although this is a safe, easy, and relatively painless procedure, the majority of cysts regrow and may require repeated aspirations.
In cases where the cyst is very painful, significantly disrupts physical activity, or affects nearby nerves and blood vessels, surgical ganglion cyst removal may be recommended. A surgeon will remove the cyst, including the stalk, and a portion of the tissue it is growing from. Complications are not very common but can include stiffness, decreased range of motion, recurrence of the cyst, and, as with all surgery, infection.
If you’ve been living with hand pain or have any questions about a ganglion cyst, please reach out here.