When we rely so much on our hands – to do, well, almost everything – it’s especially worrisome when something about them isn’t right. Ganglion cysts certainly have their place on the list of the many worrisome ailments we can experience in our hands and wrists. These nodules of swollen tissue rise up from inside the joints, most commonly those on the hands and wrists. Growing out of the joint’s supporting tissues, such as ligaments, the cysts are filled with a thick fluid similar to the fluid that lubricates the joint itself.
Ganglion cysts most often develop on the back of the wrist but can occur elsewhere in the hands, even in the fingers, and can be large or so small that you don’t even see them. A cyst can range from symptomatic, causing pain, weakness, and numbness, to asymptomatic, causing no discomfort – or it may simply cause you to be uncomfortable with its appearance.
Who’s at Risk
While we don’t yet know what causes ganglion cysts with certainty, we do know that younger people and women are more likely to get them. And, similar to that for osteoarthritis, overuse of or repeated pressure on these joints also increases your risk for ganglion cysts.
What You Can Do
The great news about ganglion cysts is that they are not cancerous and can go away on their own over time. This means your doctor may recommend a watch-and-wait strategy. However, if your cyst is really causing you discomfort, there are treatments for ganglion cysts.
In addition to observation, your doctor may recommend immobilizing your wrist to relieve symptoms and help the cyst shrink on its own. This should not be done for an extended period due to the risk of muscle atrophy that can be associated with long-term immobilization. Usually, immobilization is a temporary solution.
If immobilization doesn’t give you the results you seek, your physician can perform a simple procedure called aspiration. In this procedure, your physician numbs the affected area and uses a needle to drain the cyst. This may be a good option if the swelling is putting pressure on the nerves of your wrist and causing pain or numbness.
Usually as a last option, your physician can surgically remove the cyst and the stalk that attaches it to the joint tissues. As with any surgery, this procedure comes with risks, so be sure to work with your physician in weighing those risks against the expected benefits of surgery.
Even with surgery, and more so with the other available treatment options, ganglion cysts can recur. That makes working closely with your doctor on developing a treatment and prevention plan you can rely on all the more important.
Dr. Jessica Stull is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician who sees current and new patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic. Her clinical interests include preventive medicine and chronic disease management, diabetes mellitus, obesity and heart disease.