Despite the neurological sounding name, a ganglion cyst is not made up of neural tissue. Even more confusing, it is also often referred to as a ‘tumor’, even though it is not a cancer.
A ganglion cyst is a swelling on top of a joint or the covering of a tendon. It looks like a sac of liquid (cyst). Inside the cyst is a thick, sticky, clear, colorless, jelly-like material.
Depending on the size, cysts may feel firm or spongy. It is common for people to present at their chiropractor for this complaint thinking a wrist bone had popped out of place!
One large cyst or many smaller ones may develop. Multiple small cysts can give the appearance of more than one cyst, but a common stalk within the deeper tissue usually connects them. This type of cyst is not harmful and accounts for about half of all soft tissue tumors of the hand.
Ganglion cysts most commonly occur on the back of the hand at the wrist joint and can also develop on the palm side of the wrist.
Ganglion cysts are also known as Bible cysts. An early home remedy for a ganglion cyst was to smack it as hard as possible with the biggest book in the house – usually the family bible. Obviously this treatment is not recommended as it can lead to further injury and the cyst is likely to come back.
Ganglion cysts are more common in women, and 70 per cent occur in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
The cause of ganglion cysts is not known. The most likely theory involves a flaw in the sheath around the tendon developing a rupture that allows the lubricating jelly to bulge out.
When a ganglion cyst does occur it can appear suddenly, or gradually develop over time. It is common for it to change in size over time, becoming either smaller or bigger. It may even appear to completely go away, only to reappear at another time. It does not move in location.
Most ganglion cysts cause some degree of pain, usually following acute or repetitive trauma, but up to 35 per cent are without symptoms, except for appearance.
When the cyst is connected to a tendon, you may feel a sense of weakness in the affected finger.
Various treatments have been used over the years. Luckily, most people with cysts without symptoms do not need treatment. For troublesome cysts, the main treatments are using a needle to remove the cyst’s contents (aspiration), or surgery.
Surgical removal of the cyst is needed when the mass is painful, interferes with function (especially when your dominant hand is involved), or causes numbness or tingling of the hand or fingers
While we know makes up a ganglion cyst, the exact cause of a ganglion cyst is not understood. Therefore it is difficult to tell how to prevent them.