When Does a Ganglion Cyst Require Medical Intervention?

Finding a lump on your hand can be a bit alarming, but more than likely it’s a ganglion cyst. These noncancerous growths are common, and they’re filled with the jellylike fluid that lubricates your joints and tendons. While ganglion cysts are harmless, they can cause pain or affect mobility in your hand.

If the lump in your hand is making it difficult for you to manage daily tasks or keeping you from the things you enjoy, it’s definitely time for medical intervention.

What is a ganglion cyst?

A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops along either a joint or tendon in your hand, and most frequently pops up on the back of your wrist. These cysts can also develop on your feet or ankles.

Ganglion cysts vary in size and may be as small as a pencil eraser or as big as a quarter. These cysts are harmless, but they can cause trouble, especially if they’re located along a nerve, which can cause pain, or if they develop in a joint and impede mobility.

Risk factors for a ganglion cyst

Medical experts are still trying to figure out exactly how ganglion cysts develop, but certain factors may increase your risk.

Risk factors for ganglion cysts include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • History of injury to your hand or wrist
  • Age and sex: Women between the ages of 20 and 40 are more susceptible

While younger women are at greater risk of developing ganglion cysts, anyone can get them. Interestingly, gymnasts tend to be more prone to the development of these cysts due to the stress that their hands and wrists endure for their sport.

When to get medical intervention

Even if your growth isn’t causing problems, you should have it checked out. While a balloon-like cyst on your hand is most likely a ganglion cyst, it’s always a good idea to rule out other possible causes.

And you should definitely have your cyst checked out if it’s causing pain or affecting your mobility, or you simply don’t like how it looks. After a thorough examination, which may include diagnostic testing such as an X-ray or MRI, and a review of your symptoms, our medical staff at Arizona Center for Hand and Shoulder Surgery can work with you to develop the most effective treatment plan for your ganglion cyst.

Treating your ganglion cyst

Treatment for a ganglion cyst depends on your symptoms. In many cases, you may not need medical intervention. We may suggest you simply limit mobility to see if the cyst decreases in size on its own.

If your cyst is painful or keeps you from doing the things you enjoy, we may suggest:


Aspiration is a simple procedure in which we place a needle in the cyst and drain the fluid, which should relieve your symptoms. But your cyst may grow back after an aspiration.


Surgery is also an option and may be the treatment of choice if your ganglion cyst has grown back. During the procedure, which we call an excision, we remove the cyst and a portion of the affected joint capsule or tendon sheath, which we call the root of the cyst.  After surgery, your hand or wrist may be a little sore, but you should be able to get back to doing the things you love within six weeks.

While an excision may help prevent the return of you ganglion cyst, there’s still a small chance it may recur.  

A ganglion cyst is harmless, but you should seek medical intervention when one develops so you get the right treatment. If you have a lump on your hand or wrist, contact Arizona Center for Hand and Shoulder Surgery for an evaluation.

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