A Patient’s Guide to Ganglion Cyst Removal and Aftercare

ganglion cyst removal

Did you recently hit your hand against something hard? Do you notice a painful bump on your hand or by your wrist? It could be a sign that you have a ganglion cyst.

Ganglion cysts occur in 70% of people between 20 and 40 years old, often in women. Often, it is benign, but it can also be quite a nuisance in one’s daily activities. If you have one, you’re likely considering getting your ganglion cyst removed.

In the guide below, we’ll discuss the procedures involved in ganglion cyst removal. We’ve also included some basic information about ganglion cysts and how to find a specialist. At the end of the post, we added the aftercare steps after undergoing ganglion cyst removal.

1. What Is Ganglion Cyst?

Our bodies comprise systems to stay functional, like the skeletal and muscular systems. Between our bones and muscles are tendons, which connect them. Sometimes, small balls of fluid may form over a tendon.

These small sacs of fluid are what you call ganglion cysts. Ganglion cysts don’t only form over tendons but also on joints. It is one of the most common types of hand problems a person will experience in their lives.

Sometimes, people also call them bible cysts. Often, you’ll see ganglion cysts form on the hand at the wrist joint. They may also develop on your inner wrist.

You may also get a ganglion cyst in other bodily areas, but it is rare. The other body parts where you can find a ganglion cyst include:

  • Outside of the knee
  • Outside of the ankle
  • Fingertip, below the cuticle (mucous cysts)
  • The base of the fingers, palm side
  • Top of the foot

Ganglion cysts may appear as one big lump or a group of smaller ones attached to a single stalk in the tissue. Often, ganglion cysts tend to disappear after a time. However, if it is causing you pain and nuisance, you can opt for ganglion cyst removal.

2. Most Common Areas Cysts are Found in the Hand and Wrist

There are two areas of the hand and wrist that ganglion cysts are very common.  They are in the middle of the back of the wrist, commonly referred to as Dorsal Ganglion Cyst. The second most common area we see ganglion cysts are on the palmar side of the wrist, near the radial artery.

[Please add pictures to show both of these.]

3. Ganglion Cyst Symptoms

The most common sign that you have a ganglion cyst is the noticeable swelling or lump on your hand. This lump may change size as time passes. It can even seem to go away before it reappears on your hand again.

However, this swelling doesn’t change places or move around. When you touch it, it’s also soft. A ganglion cyst is often painless. In some cases, it causes pain or an aching feeling.

Ganglion cysts at the base of the fingers are those that often cause pain. The pain often makes itself known when you move the joints it is on or nearby joints. The pain you experience may also be chronic and can get worse as you move your joints.

You may also feel a sense of muscular weakness in the affected finger or area. The swelling over your joints may appear over time or without notice. These are the most common symptoms of ganglion cysts.

If you notice the appearance of a ganglion cyst on your hand or other joint areas, observe it for a few days. Notice the swelling size, pain levels, and placement of the cyst. When you go to see a doctor, he or she will likely ask you for this information.

4. Diagnosis of a Ganglion Cyst

Even if the bump or swelling is small, it’s safer to have a doctor inspect the swelling. Even if the cyst isn’t bothering you or causing pain, call your doctor and schedule an appointment, anyway. Doing this will help you confirm whether the bump is a ganglion cyst.

Your doctor will often perform a physical exam to check the issue. However, he or she may also draw out some fluid from the cyst using a syringe. Using ultrasound is also another way to check for ganglion cysts.

Ultrasound can detect if the cyst is solid or liquid, the cyst’s location, and what’s causing it. If you take a simple light you may be able to see whether or not it is filled with fluid or a solid mass.

Some doctors may also ask that you get an x-ray of the affected area. This will give you a better view of the ganglion cyst and its location. Finally, doctors can do as little as learn your medical history to give you a diagnosis.

5. Risks of Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion cysts don’t often cause pain. However, you may experience pain, tingling, or numbness when the cyst presses on a nerve. Even a small cyst can affect you in this way. You may also feel muscle weakness in the affected joint or area.

Now, a common question among patients with ganglion cysts is if they are cancerous. No, ganglion cysts are a type of noncancerous cysts. Unlike tumors, which can be benign or cancerous, most cysts are noncancerous.

6. Risk Factors of Ganglion Cysts

Living certain lifestyles or jobs can put you at more risk of developing ganglion cysts. Age and sex are also risk factors. Below, we’ll discuss in more depth the risk factors for ganglion cyst development.

Women are more likely to have ganglion cysts. Your age is also a factor. You’re more likely to develop ganglion cysts when you are between 20 and 40 years old.

Osteoarthritis affects over 32.5 million adults in the US. It is also a major risk factor for ganglion cysts. Osteoarthritis is the condition when your joint cartilage gets damaged or worn down. Even if you don’t have osteoarthritis, you can get ganglion cysts if you get joint or tendon injuries.

Certain lifestyles and jobs can also cause ganglion cysts. People who use their hands a lot when they work are the ones most at risk. Such jobs include desk jobs, musicians, gardeners, and construction workers.

Athletes are also at risk of developing ganglion cysts. During training, some athletes can overuse or experience trauma on their joints. For example, female gymnasts are the most prone to developing ganglion cysts.

7. Ganglion Cyst Causes

No one knows the exact causes of ganglion cysts.

Often, one grows on the lining of a tend or on a joint. It will look like a small water bubble on a stalk. It seems to form when tissues around a joint or tendon bulge out of place.

Small tears in the tendon membrane or joint capsule may also allow liquid to squeeze through. Other doctors believe that a ganglion cyst is comparable to an internal “blister.” They believe that it is the body’s response to trauma, injury, or overuse.

When you experience injuries in your hands or wrists, you may develop ganglion cysts. These injuries may not cause the cysts to form right away but after recurring incidents. Single injuries may also be the cause of the sudden formation of a ganglion cyst.

The best way to avoid ganglion cysts is to prevent hand injuries at home. Try to exercise and warm up your hands and wrists before and between working hours. It may also help to rest your hands after periods of intense work with them.

8. Treatment: Surgical Ganglion Cyst Aspiration Versus Removal

If leaving it alone is not an option for you because it is causing pain, affecting the motion of your wrist, or aesthetically causing you issues, you may want to consider aspiration or excision of it. If you don’t like going under the knife, there are other alternatives available.

Aspiration is the most common non-surgical ganglion cyst treatment. It’s the procedure wherein the doctor punctures the cyst with a needle and uses it to the fluids. It can be simply done in the office.

This can cause the cyst to shrink and relieve pain on the nerves. However, aspiration only drains the cyst.

It means your cyst can grow back sometime after this procedure. The recurrence rate is less with the excision of ganglions versus aspiration.

Some doctors may suggest that the best option to remove a ganglion cyst or cysts is hand surgery. This type of treatment often occurs if the cyst becomes too large or keeps recurring. If other treatment methods don’t work, surgery is often the last option.

Below are the steps involved in a ganglion cyst removal or ganglionectomy.

Preparations for a Ganglionectomy

Before a doctor recommends surgical removal, a series of assessments will occur first. Your physician will check your condition, allergies, sensitivities, and health.

Your doctor will refer you to a hand, wrist, and elbow surgery specialist. This person will be the one to perform your surgery. This type of surgery is an outpatient procedure and may involve general or local anesthesia.

The next step is to make arrangements for transportation after the procedure. You also need to have a care and treatment plan in place. We will discuss more on this later on.

During a Ganglionectomy

First, the surgeon will draw on your skin above the cyst to indicate the incision point. The next step in the ganglion cyst removal procedure is to give the patient an anesthetic. It will put you in a painless sleep or make you numb to the pain.

Next, the surgeons will create an incision or incisions near the cyst. They will then remove the cyst with special tools. They’ll trace the cyst from its balloon-like bulb down to its stalk and remove these parts.

Once the surgeons remove the cyst or cysts, they’ll sew close the incision and cover it with a bandage. Since it’s a simple procedure, ganglion cyst removal surgeries often take 30 minutes.

9. Risks of Surgical Ganglion Cyst Removal

Surgery always opens you up to the risk of infection. Even a simple ganglion cyst removal procedure can cause infection if the doctor and/or patient aren’t careful. However, in most clinics, ganglionectomies are a safe and common procedure.

You may also experience an allergic reaction to the anesthesia or the stitches used. You may also feel some sensitivity around the scar tissue or a ganglion cyst rupture during the surgery. Certain procedures may also cause injuries to the surrounding tendons, ligaments, or nerves.

In worst-case scenarios, you may lose the ability to move your wrist as you did before the surgery. Some ganglion cysts can return, or new ones can grow. While surgery can remove a ganglion cyst, it doesn’t ensure that you won’t grow more cysts.

10. Alternative treatments for Ganglion Cysts

If a cyst isn’t causing you enough pain to warrant immediate removal, then you can remedy it at home. One way to avoid discomfort or pain is to keep the affected area still.

You can wear a splint or brace to limit the movement of your wrist, elbow, or other affected body parts. It can cause the ganglion cyst to shrink and go away faster. Try this if you notice that the cyst grows when you move the affected area more.

Taking over-the-counter medicines can help relieve the pain caused by the ganglion cyst. If you’re taking other medications or have other conditions, be more careful. Consult your doctor first if it’s okay for you to take anti-inflammatory painkillers.

Your final choice is to wait until the cyst disappears. As we mentioned, a ganglion cyst tends to go away on its own. When it does, try to observe if it will grow back again after some time.

11. Ganglion Cyst Aftercare

Your doctor will ask you to rest as much as you can a few days after a ganglionectomy. Around 25% of all sports-related injuries are hand or wrist injuries. If you are an athlete, take a week or a few days off of training.

If you work with your hands, inform your boss and take a leave. This way, the incision and the site of the cyst removal can heal well. Make sure you limit the movement of the hand and/or wrist to avoid irritation and pain.

Localized pain after the surgery is normal, especially after the anesthetic wears off. You can take prescription or over-the-counter pain medications to manage pain. If the site swells up, treat it with ice.

Learn More About Ganglion Cysts

Here’s everything you need to know about ganglion cyst removal. Remember, if you’re unsure about swelling that’s forming on your hand, elbow, or knee, see a doctor. It’s always safer and smarter to refer to medical specialists first.

Do you want to learn more about other hand injuries? Do you need to find a hand and fingers surgical clinic or specialists to help you out with your hand problems? Visit our contact page now to book an appointment or to find our clinic locations.

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The Hand Surgery Specialists of Texas offers diagnosis and treatment for hand, wrist, and elbow problems in Houston, using the most advanced and minimally invasive medical techniques. Our orthopedic hand specialists and hand and finger surgeons are waiting to provide you with excellent care at one of our hand care centers in River Oaks, Webster, North Houston, Katy/Sugarland, or Baytown

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