What Does a Ganglion Cyst Look Like? cover

What Does a Ganglion Cyst Look Like?

Ganglion cysts are round, fluid-filled lumps that appear along joints and tendons. They are very common and harmless and, contrary to popular belief, aren’t cancerous. Most even go away without treatment. Many conditions affect the hands and upper limbs, and it is normal to suspect if you have ganglion cysts or something more serious. So, what does a ganglion cyst look like? Let’s find out.

What are the Different Types of Ganglion Cysts?

Ganglion cysts usually appear along specific joints. Usually, the joint or tendon near the cyst may swell and cause discomfort. In severe cases, it may affect your ability to use the affected limb. The cyst may develop on the:

  • Wrist – this can be either at the front or back
  • Finger – fluid can accumulate near the finger joint just below the fingernail or close to the palm.
  • Foot – the cyst can occur near the toes or close to the ankle
Ganglion Cyst

How Can You Tell That You Have a Ganglion Cyst?

You can have a ganglion cyst and not even realise it. If symptoms occur, the most common is a visible mass or lump on the hand, ankle, foot or finger. Most people don’t pay much attention to them if they don’t cause pain or discomfort.

If a cyst occurs on the ankle or foot, you may feel pain and discomfort when walking or wearing shoes. If a cyst occurs near a nerve, it may cause symptoms like numbness, loss of mobility, a tingling sensation and pain. Some ganglion cysts grow bigger over time, while others may shrink after some time.

What Does a Ganglion Cyst Look Like?

Ganglion cysts occur mostly as lumps, bumps or masses in the hand. They are not cancerous, as mentioned earlier, and, in most cases, aren’t a cause for alarm. The lump may look symmetrical or misshapen. Ganglion cysts sit just below the skin surface, and most people mistake them for a bubble blown from a joint. Some ganglion cysts appear translucent, whereby you can see through the lump at certain angles.

They occur in various locations, but the most common occur on the back of the wrist. These fluid-filled bumps can appear quickly and disappear as quickly or change size. Many of them don’t require treatment. However, if a cyst causes pain or interferes with your functionality, various treatment options are available.

Are Ganglion Cysts Soft or Hard?

Ganglion cysts appear differently in different people. Most cysts are usually but not always firm to the touch. Some people report the cysts to be soft. What is standard is that ganglion cysts usually move easily under the skin.

Ganglion cyst on man's hand. Hand holding computer mouse
Ganglion cyst on man’s hand. Hand holding computer mouse.

What Causes Ganglion Cysts in the First Place?

A ganglion cyst develops when fluid leaks out of a tendon tunnel or joint, forming a swelling beneath the skin surface. The exact cause of ganglion cysts is unknown. Some theories suggest that the leak may be caused by trauma or an underlying condition like arthritis. Ganglion cysts are more common in women than in men. They occur more commonly in women aged between 20 and 40 years of age.

How are Ganglion Cysts Treated?

Sometimes, ganglion cysts go away on their own without requiring treatment. However, if the cysts begin causing pain and discomfort that affects your quality of life, you should see a hand specialist. Your doctor may advise you to:

  • Avoid repetitive movements of the hand or wrist, especially if your job relies on that
  • Wear a wrist brace to see if the cyst will shrink
  • If the cyst is in the foot, the doctor will advise you to wear comfortable shoes that don’t touch the cyst

If the ganglion cyst causes pain and begins limiting your movement, aspiration is the next cause of action, where the doctor drains the fluid from the cysts. The only problem with this treatment is that most ganglion cysts return soon after. If that happens, then surgical removal is recommended. There is still a risk of the cysts returning, but it’s not as high as with aspiration.

Ultimately, you will need to have a ganglion cyst diagnosed by a doctor to determine the best course of treatment. If you suspect you may have a ganglion cyst, contact us to schedule an appointment with a hand specialist at the Harley Clinic.

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