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Ganglion Cyst of the Wrist: Treatment Options and More

Aug 11, 2022

A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled swelling that usually occurs near joints or tendons. A ganglion cyst of the wrist is one of the most common and most troublesome manifestations of this ailment. While these lumps may seem quite nasty, the important thing to keep in mind is that they’re non-cancerous. Most commonly, they’re oval and, at times, it’s easy to tell that they’re filled with a jelly-like fluid.

Their size varies from pea-sized, all the way to being around an inch large. They can also be quite painful. More commonly, they’ll just restrict your wrist movement, seeing as how their location is in the way of various wrist parts in the motion.

With all of this in mind and without further ado, here’s what you need to know about ganglion cysts of the wrist.

What Are the Symptoms of Ganglion Cysts in the Wrists? 

Obviously, the symptoms are quite straightforward, seeing as how you can’t exactly ignore a gelatinous lump growing on your wrist. Just keep in mind that this lump can develop along any other tendon or joint, as well. Ankles and feet are common places where you can find these lumps, as well.

Now, the size is also quite an indicator, seeing as how they usually don’t exceed an inch in diameter. Due to their texture, they can shapeshift, and even appear larger when you use your joint.

The majority of these cysts are completely painless; however, this doesn’t mean that the wrist pain caused by a ganglion cyst is unheard of. In this case, the pain can be excruciating even in a situation where the lump is barely noticeable. 

How is a ganglion cyst of the wrist diagnosed? 

It’s never too early to see an orthopedic wrist doctor. Even if you just think that you’ve felt something, it’s usually better to go get examined by a trained professional. Lumps aren’t always benign and it’s always better to be safe. Some lumps are not ganglion cysts but other benign conditions that can be aggressive. 

It’s worth mentioning that you can also use imaging to rule out hand arthritis or wrist arthritis.

What Are the Causes of Ganglion Cysts? 

A ganglion cyst happens when fluid leaks. Now, the cause of this is not always the same but two reasons are:

  • Injury (joint sprain)
  • Underlying arthritis

However most of the time we don’t know why they form.

If you’re aware of one of the two occurring in the recent past, chances are that the diagnosis will be a lot easier to establish.

Other than this, it’s also worth mentioning that the location of the cyst may have a massive impact on its origin. The classification of ganglion cysts is by their location. 80% of ganglion cysts are located at the wrist. Even then, they can be found at the:

  • Back of the wrist
  • Front of the wrist
  • Base of the finger
  • On the finger

Cysts at the front of the wrist often occur in older people who have arthritis, while those in the base of the finger often occur in young adults.

What Does The Ganglion Cyst of the Wrist Treatment Look Like? 

One of the reasons why a lot of people ignore this problem or postpone going to a doctor is due to the fact that these cysts disappear without treatment. Some guides even advocate waiting to see whether the cyst will disappear on its own. Even if it doesn’t disappear, a lot of people decide to just “let it be” unless it’s painful (and the majority of them aren’t).

Still, there are some instances in which you’ll definitely want to go for treatment. If there’s pain, you will probably want to get over-the-counter pain medication.

Anti-inflammatory medication can be extremely helpful with a ganglion cyst in the wrist.

Immobilizing the wrist or the finger that’s affected may help in those scenarios where the cyst has the tendency of disappearing on its own. In some instances, a needle is used to aspirate or decompress the cyst (drain the fluid). In this scenario, however, it’s quite likely that the cyst will reappear - hand surgery literature estimates a 80-90% recurrence with aspiration.

How is ganglion cyst removal conducted? 

If draining is not an option, or the cyst has reaccumulated, you might have to remove the cyst surgically. The two most common types of ganglion wrist surgeries are:

  • Open surgery: Where an incision is made over the affected site and the cyst is removed.
  • Arthroscopy: A surgery with a smaller cut via which a tiny camera called an arthroscope (hence the name) is inserted in order to give you a better view. Subsequently, the cyst is removed with the help of small instruments. This way, the incision is minimal.

Both surgery types are equally effective, although the latter causes less pain after the surgery. 

Wrap Up

While a ganglion cyst of the wrist is not life-threatening, it can definitely be quite painful. Because there’s a chance that it will go away on its own, a lot of people decide against seeking medical assistance. Still, if you do decide to be active in seeking the solution, it’s vital that you look for professional assistance.

If you want to learn more, you should contact our team of doctors at the Hand and Upper Extremity Center at The Orthopedic Institute of New Jersey.

This article was reviewed and approved by an orthopedic surgeon as we place a high premium on accuracy for our patients and potential patients.