Ganglion cyst foot: A ganglion cyst is a noncancerous lump filled with a jelly-like fluid. These cysts are generally harmless, although they can be uncomfortable, especially when they form on the foot.
Ganglion cysts develop near joints or tendons, often around the wrist, but sometimes in the ankle, foot, or elsewhere in the body.
These cysts tend to go away on their own, but if a cyst is uncomfortable or painful, a doctor can provide treatment.
Below, learn about the causes of ganglion cyst foot, what treatment involves, and much more.
What are ganglion cyst foot?
A ganglion cyst is a smooth lump that forms near a joint or tendon.
In 2017, researchers found that around 11% of ganglion cysts were located in the foot or ankle. Although they can form anywhere on the foot, they most commonly occur on the top.
The size can vary from that of a pea to that of a golf ball. The ganglion cyst foot may appear round and be soft or very hard.
Under the skin, a ganglion cyst looks like a balloon on a stem, and can move freely under the skin if a person pushes on it.
Ganglion cysts most often affect people between the ages of 15 and 40, and are three times more likely to develop in women.
Affected people usually notice a bump on the wrist or back of the hand, more rarely on other parts of the body. It is possible that several ganglions develop.
The “bump” on the wrist or other parts of the body is typically elastic. On average, it has a diameter of a few millimeters to two centimeters. But there are also ganglia that grow up to eight centimeters in size. Some remain so small that the affected person does not even notice the protuberance and it is only discovered by chance.
Typically, a ganglion causes no pain and is otherwise hardly noticeable. Depending on its size and location, however, it restricts the mobility of joints and muscles or is painful when the affected person leans on it. The (pressure) pain may radiate. The ganglion may also hurt when moved or touched.
If a ganglion presses on tendons, it is possible that it will squeeze them and cause inflammation (tendonitis) as a result of the permanent strain.
Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hand is a possible indication that the ganglion is “pinching” a nerve. The nerves in the so-called annular ligament ganglia are often affected. These are small protuberances on the ring bands of the fingers, which may make it difficult to bend and stretch.
But the wrist or foot are also susceptible to pinched nerves and vessels. Pressure on vessels can cause bleeding. In addition, it is possible for infections to spread in the fluid-filled space of the ganglion.
A person with a ganglion cyst foot may have:
- A noticeable lump
- A tingling or burning sensation if the cyst is touching a nerve
- Pain, possibly dull, if the cyst presses on a joint or tendon.
- Irritation when wearing shoes, depending on the location of the cyst.
The average width of a ganglion cyst foot is 2.7 centimeters, or 1.06 inches. When they form in the feet, these cysts cause pain in 67.9% of cases.
The exact causes of a ganglion are not yet known. It is likely that several factors play a role in the development of a ganglion. For example, a connective tissue weakness:
Around the joints there is (solid) connective tissue, the so-called joint capsule. This holds the joint in position and ensures that it only moves in the desired direction. In the joint, a soft layer of connective tissue (synovial membrane) lines the joint cavity like wallpaper. The joint cavity contains bile-like fluid (“joint grease”), without which the bony parts of the joints would rub against each other.
In the case of connective tissue weakness, in some cases in connection with overloading of the joint, synovial fluid leaks out of the joint cavity and collects in the surrounding soft tissue. This is how a ganglion develops, experts suspect.
Risk factors for a ganglion cyst include:
- Increased stress on joints such as repeated minor injuries to the capsule and ligaments
- Disorders in the biomechanics of the joint or tendon
- Joint diseases and rheumatic diseases (such as arthrosis, lupus erythematosus, gout).
About ten percent of patients have previously injured themselves in the area of the ganglion. In addition, in the case of a ganglion, the connective tissue cells (fibroblasts) probably stimulate the production of synovial fluid. Its components, hyaluronic acid and so-called mucopolysaccharides, form a viscous liquid that then collects in the ganglion.
In addition, damage to the tissue caused by wear and tear probably plays a role in the development of a ganglion.
Investigations and diagnosis
See an orthopedist or surgeon if you suspect a ganglion cyst. He excludes any underlying diseases such as arthrosis as a trigger for the lump. It is best to contact a doctor who specializes in the affected body region, for example a hand surgeon for a ganglion on the hand.
To clarify the suspected ganglion, the doctor usually proceeds as follows:
Collection of the medical history: In a conversation with the patient, the doctor asks about the exact symptoms and any injuries and underlying or previous illnesses. Possible questions from the doctor in this anamnesis interview are, for example:
- When did you first notice the swelling?
- Does the swelling affect the mobility of the affected part of the body or does it cause pain?
- Have you ever injured yourself in the affected area?
- Have you ever had similar “lumps” before?
- Are there similar swellings elsewhere?
Physical exam: The doctor will then examine the swelling to get a more accurate assessment. A ganglion feels elastic to the touch, similar to a solid rubber ball. Due to its anchorage to the joint or the tendon sheath, it can only be moved slightly. In contrast to highly inflammatory processes, the affected region is neither overheated nor reddened. The doctor may take photos for documentation.
He will also check blood circulation, motor skills and sensitivity in the affected body region. For example, it recognizes movement restrictions caused by the ganglion, circulatory disorders and nerve damage. The swelling can also be “transilluminated”: By shining a light source through the side of the ganglion, the doctor can determine whether the inside is liquid (indication of a ganglion, cyst) or solid.
Imaging: Imaging procedures are uncommon in ganglia. They are only used when the case is unclear and, for example, a malignant process or arthritis is suspected. Even if the doctor suspects a “hidden” ganglion, it is possible to confirm or refute this suspicion using ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Fine- needle aspiration: For diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, the doctor pricks the ganglion with a very thin, hollow needle under ultrasound control in order to draw fluid from the inside. A pathologist then examines this mostly viscous, clear liquid in the laboratory. In this way, inflammation or malignant processes can be ruled out. Draining fluid from the ganglion causes it to visibly shrink. In most cases, however, this is not a permanent solution.
Course of the disease and prognosis
A ganglion is a benign protuberance with a favorable course. It often regresses spontaneously, but also enlarges in some cases. Most of the time it doesn’t cause any symptoms. Depending on the location, however, it causes (pressure) pain or numbness or restricts the mobility of the affected joint.
If a ganglion has been successfully treated, there is a risk of a recurrence (recurrence): it is possible for a new ganglion to form in the same or a different place. Surgery on a ganglion seems to be the most lasting: only about every fifth patient develops another cystic protuberance in the same place after open surgery. With minimally invasive surgery, the risk of recurrence is even lower.
After an aspiration treatment, on the other hand, a ganglion bone develops again in half of the patients.
Research from 2013 indicates that 58% of ganglion cysts go away without treatment. However, this can take years, and the cysts may recur: the recurrence rate is approximately 15-20%.
If a ganglion cyst does not cause pain or discomfort, the doctor may simply monitor it for changes.
A doctor typically only offers treatment if a cyst is causing pain or mobility problems. In this case, you can recommend:
Aspiration and injection
Aspiration involves draining the fluid from the cyst. The doctor may then inject the cyst with a steroid medication.
More than one session may be necessary, and the cyst may reappear.
If aspiration and injection are ineffective or inadequate, your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove the cyst and part of the attached joint capsule or tendon sheath.
However, even after surgery, the ganglion cyst can come back.
home care strategies
To relieve any pain caused by a ganglion cyst, a person might try:
- Putting ice inside a clean cloth and placing it on the cyst, which also helps relieve swelling.
- Limit movements or activities while waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
- Taking over-the-counter medications for pain relief.
If possible, wear shoes that do not irritate the area. Padding can also help relieve chafing and pressure.
In order to prevent relapses, risk factors for ganglia should be reduced and the muscles should be relaxed and relaxed again and again. This prevents overloading, which may promote a ganglion.
In general, however, it is difficult to prevent a ganglion.
What not to do
A traditional home remedy is to hit the ganglion cyst with a heavy object, usually a book. This is not only ineffective, but can also damage surrounding tissues.
Never try to pop or drain a ganglion cyst at home. Any attempt could lead to infections or other complications.
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When to contact a doctor
See a doctor if a ganglion cyst causes you pain or discomfort, especially if it limits your mobility. A person may also inquire about treatment for cosmetic reasons.
Ganglion cysts are benign lumps filled with a jelly-like fluid. They may go away without treatment.
These cysts form near joints or tendons and can cause discomfort, especially when they develop in the foot or ankle.
If a ganglion cyst causes any pain, discomfort, or limitation of movement, your doctor may recommend a procedure to drain or remove the cyst. However, these cysts can come back, even with treatment.
Never try to pop, drain, or remove a ganglion cyst at home.