specializing in advanced surgical care of hand, wrist, and elbow injuries and conditions

What is a Ganglion Cyst?

R: Mucous Cyst, L: Ganglion Cyst on Wrist

Have you noticed a lump or bump on your wrist or hand?  This lump could be something known as a ganglion cyst. Ganglion cysts are fairly common and typically manifest as a small lump noted on the wrist but can also occur in the fingers. Generally the cyst is not painful although in some cases it may be tender. A ganglion cyst is a non-cancerous lump. 

Although the cause is unknown it is commonly seen in younger people between the ages of 15 and 40 with women being affected more frequently than men.  Ganglion cysts found at the end of the finger are referred to as mucous cysts and frequently associated with arthritis and found to affect women between the ages  40 through 70.

The size of a ganglion cyst may change in size overtime and can also disappear and reappear.  The cyst can be firm or soft. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand outlines how to differentiate a cyst from a wart or other type of lump.

  • The cyst will be filled with clear fluid or gel
  • The cyst will be oval or round in shape
  • Light is often able to pass through the lump

Symptoms associated with ganglion cysts are varied. Many times a ganglion cyst may not produce any symptoms, however if the cyst places pressure on a nerve it can cause pain, tingling or weakness. Location and size of the cyst is another variable to be considered. If the cyst is large in size it may begin to interfere with motion of a joint, such as the wrist and begin to limit function. 

Treatment options often correlate with symptoms. In some cases doing nothing and watching the cyst is acceptable. However, if the cyst is painful, limits your motion, or if the appearance is a concern there are several available options.  Consulting with a hand surgeon is the best first step. Conservative measures include:

  • Immobilization in a splint
  • Aspiration; which involves removing the fluid with a needle (the cysts may return after this procedure since the root remains).

If conservative measures fail or are not appropriate surgery may be recommended. The surgery which is called and excision is done as an outpatient and generally you can return to normal activity in 2-4 weeks.