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What are Ganglion Cysts? | Find Your Stride | Edinburgh Podiatrist

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


Ganglion cysts are a common condition that manifests as typically small (but sometimes big), fluid-filled sacs that develop besides joints or tendon sheaths, they are often seen in the hand, wrist or foot. These cysts are benign, meaning they are not cancerous, and they usually do not cause any significant harm. However, they can cause discomfort or restrict movement in severe cases. Understanding what ganglion cysts are, their causes, symptoms, and available treatment options is crucial for individuals seeking relief from these sometimes bothersome growths.

What are they?

To begin, let us delve into what exactly ganglion cysts are. Ganglion cysts, also referred to as Bible cysts by some, are non-cancerous fluid-filled sacs that usually emerge adjacent to either a joint or a tendon sheath. They usually appear as small, round lumps or bumps and can vary in size, ranging from a pea-sized growth to a larger mass. Podiatrists will encounter plenty of ganglion cysts when assessing the ankle or foot.

Why do we get them?

In terms of their cause, the exact etiology of ganglion cysts isn't always certain. However, they are believed to develop from problems with joint or tendon sheath structures, potentially due to repetitive stress or trauma. The cysts themselves are often filled with a clear, sticky fluid known as synovial fluid, which is found in joints.

What are the symptoms?

It is important to note that many cysts are painless and do not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, if symptoms are present, they typically include localized pain, tenderness, or discomfort. These symptoms may arise due to pressure exerted by the cyst on surrounding structures or irritation of nerves. In severe cases the cysts can puts strain/pressure on nearby nerves and tendons, causing weakness or restricted movement.

How are they diagnosed?

Diagnosing ganglion cysts typically involves a comprehensive medical history and physical examination by a healthcare professional such as a podiatrist. The podiatrist will evaluate the location, size, and characteristics of the cyst. Additionally, they may perform maneuvers called transillumination, where a bright light is used to examine the cyst's contents. Occasionally, imaging studies such as x-rays, ultrasounds, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be necessary to rule out other conditions or assess the cyst's relation to adjacent structures.

Treatment options

Once a ganglion cyst has been diagnosed, individuals have several options for treatment. It is important to note that not all cysts require intervention, as many may disappear on their own given time. However, if symptoms persist, or if the cyst causes pain, reduces mobility, or significantly impacts daily activities, medical intervention may be necessary. Treatment options can include observation and monitoring, aspiration, or surgical removal of the cyst.

Observation and monitoring

This involves a "wait-and-see" approach, allowing time for the cyst to resolve spontaneously. Podiatrists may recommend this option if the cyst is small, painless, and not impacting normal activities. However, regular follow-ups will be necessary to ensure the cyst does not grow or become more symptomatic.


Involves using a needle and syringe to drain the fluid from the cyst. This procedure is typically performed in a podiatry clinic and may be combined with the injection of steroid to reduce inflammation. Although aspiration can provide temporary relief, recurrence is not uncommon.

Surgical removal

Is often considered if non-surgical interventions fail, or the cyst causes persistent symptoms. This procedure, known as excision, involves complete removal of the cyst, including its connecting stalk from the joint or tendon sheath. Surgery can be performed under local or general anesthesia, and recovery time is typically quite short.


Ganglion cysts are common benign growths that develop near joints or tendon sheaths. Although they often do not cause any symptoms or harm, they can lead to discomfort and restricted movement in some cases. Understanding the characteristics, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for ganglion cysts is crucial for individuals seeking relief from these bothersome growths. While observation and non-surgical interventions are often preferred, surgical removal may be necessary for persistent or symptomatic cysts. If concerned about a lump on your foot a consultation with a podiatrist is advised to determine the best course of action.

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