What are Ganglion Cysts of the Wrist?
Ganglion cysts are noncancerous lumps that develop along the tendons or joints of your wrists or hands. The most common location of a ganglion cyst is on the back of the wrist. A ganglion cyst grows out of the tissues surrounding a joint including ligaments, tendon sheaths, and joint linings. In most cases, these fluid-filled cysts are harmless and can quickly appear, disappear, and change size. They are typically round or oval, containing a jellylike substance. Small ganglion cysts can be pea-sized, while larger ones can be around an inch in diameter. Their location can sometimes interfere with joint movement or cause pain if they press on a nearby nerve. With rest, the cysts become smaller and eventually go away on their own.
Causes and Risk Factors of Ganglion Cysts
It is unknown what exactly causes a ganglion cyst to develop. They seem to occur when the tissue surrounding a joint or tendon bulges out of place. Factors that may increase your risk of getting ganglion cysts include:
- Your age and sex: Anyone can develop ganglion cysts, but they mostly affect women between the ages of 15 and 40 years
- Joint or tendon injury: Joints and tendons that have been injured in the past are more likely to develop ganglion cysts
- Certain sports: Athletes who put an excessive amount of force on their wrists, such as gymnasts, may experience ganglion cysts
- Osteoarthritis: People who have wear-and-tear arthritis in the finger joints, typically women ages 40 to 70 years are at higher risk for ganglion cysts; also known as mucous cysts
Symptoms of Ganglion Cysts
Most ganglion cysts form a visible lump. If they’re small enough, they can remain hidden under the skin. Many ganglion cysts produce no other symptoms, however if a cyst puts pressure on the nerve that passes through the joint, you may experience:
- Mild pain
- Tingling or numbness
- Muscle weakness
How are Ganglion Cysts Diagnosed?
During your initial visit, your doctor will discuss your medical history and symptoms. Then, he or she will perform a physical exam, applying pressure to identify any tenderness or by shining a light through the cyst to determine if it’s a solid mass or filled with fluid. Your doctor might also order one or more imaging tests, including an X-ray, Ultrasound, or MRI to rule out any other conditions, such as arthritis or a tumor. Ultrasounds and MRIs are effective in locating hidden (occult) cysts.
Treatment for Ganglion Cysts
For the most part, ganglion cysts are harmless and require no treatment. Your doctor may suggest a watch-and-wait approach before considering other treatment methods. If the cyst is disrupting joint mobility, there are two nonsurgical methods available. Immobilization involves stabilizing the area with a brace or splint for a period of time. This will relieve pressure on your nerves and reduce pain or inflammation. As pain decreases, your doctor may prescribe exercises to strengthen the wrist and restore full range of motion. A second method, aspiration, involves numbing the affected area and puncturing the cyst with a needle so fluid can be withdrawn. Aspiration is frequently used in cases where the cyst sits on the top of the wrist.
If nonsurgical treatment does not relieve your symptoms, surgery may be necessary. The surgical procedure to remove a ganglion cyst is called an excision. During surgery, the cyst is removed as well as part of the involved joint capsule or tendon sheath. Excision is typically performed as an outpatient procedure and patients are able to go home after a period of observation. There will be some discomfort, swelling, and tenderness following surgery. Normal activities may be resumed after approximately 2 to 6 weeks.
Hand and Wrist Specialists at Raleigh Orthopaedic
Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic provides a wide range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for hand and wrist conditions, including ganglion cysts. Our orthopedic specialists proudly serve patients of all ages with high-quality services in order to achieve the best functional outcome. We will work directly with you to determine the cause of your symptoms and develop a personalized care plan, suited to your individual needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at one of our state-of-the-art orthopedic clinics in Wake County.