What are ganglions?
Ganglions are small sacs
(cysts) filled with fluid that often
appear as bumps on the hands and wrists. They can also develop on feet, ankles,
knees, or shoulders. A ganglion can grow out of a
joint capsule, which surrounds the joint,
or a tendon sheath, which covers the
tendon (the fibers connecting muscle to
bone). Ganglions aren't cancerous.
Most people with ganglions notice that the bumps appear suddenly. Bumps may be very small or bigger than a cherry. Ganglions may
get bigger as activity increases and more fluid collects in the sac. They may
also shrink and may break and go away on their own.
Anyone can get a ganglion: adults between 15
and 40 years old are most likely to be affected.1
Children don't usually have ganglions, but if they do, the ganglion will very
likely go away without any treatment.
What causes ganglions?
Experts don't know the
exact cause of ganglions. They may be linked to:
- Inflammation or irritation of the tendon
sheath or joint capsule.
- An injury.
- Overuse or
repetitive motions, such as those you do at work.
Arthritis. A common type of ganglion called a mucous cyst ganglion occurs with arthritis of the hands. It usually affects the joint nearest the fingernail.
What are the symptoms?
Ganglions are usually
small, painless bumps and do not cause other symptoms.
Sometimes the bump can be tender to the touch, or there can be pain that gets worse with activity or pressure.
If the ganglion puts pressure on nearby nerves, you may have tingling in your fingers,
hand, or forearm. Some ganglions can weaken your grip or affect joint
How are ganglions diagnosed?
A ganglion can
usually be diagnosed based on how it looks and where it is. Your doctor will also feel
the bump and shine a light alongside it. If the bump is a ganglion, the light
usually shines through it.
You may need an
X-ray if your doctor suspects
arthritis or injury.
Some of the fluid found in the ganglion may be removed and examined. In rare
cases, an MRI or
ultrasound may be done.
How are they treated?
Ganglions usually don't
need treatment, and they often go away on their own. But treatment may be needed if the ganglion causes pain or other symptoms, limits what you can do, affects your bones or ligaments, or gets infected. You may also want treatment if you're bothered by how the bump looks.
Your doctor may treat a ganglion by:
- Giving you a wrist or finger splint to wear.
- Draining fluid from the bump with a needle (aspiration).
- Injecting hydrocortisone into the joint.
- Doing surgery to remove it.
With or without treatment, ganglions may come and go and may get bigger or smaller.
What can you do at home for a ganglion?
- Use a wrist or finger splint for
several weeks. This may be all that is needed
for the ganglion to shrink and disappear on its own. Make sure that the splint isn't too tight. Numbness, tingling, pain, or coolness in your hand are signs that you need to loosen the splint.
- Rub the bump gently and often. This may help move the fluid out of
the sac. Don't try to smash the ganglion.
- Don't try to break open the ganglion. If it breaks open on its own:
- Apply an antibiotic ointment and a bandage. Stop using the ointment if a rash or irritation develops under the
- Wash the area 2 or 3 times each day to prevent infection.
- Call your doctor if you have signs of infection (increased pain or redness, red streaks, pus coming from the bump, fever).