A ganglion, also known as a mucous cyst, is a lump on a joint. Ganglions are most common on the wrist or knuckles. A ganglion can also occur on the foot, which is less common. A ganglion is a benign swelling. The cavity on top of the joint is then filled with a yellow, jelly-like fluid. The lump can spontaneously enlarge as more fluid enters. A ganglion can burst open if too much fluid gets in and it gets too big. A ganglion can also disappear spontaneously because it loses all its fluids. It’s not clear how a ganglion is formed. In older people it more commonly occurs due to wear and tear of the joint, also called osteoarthritis. A ganglion can also occur with other wrist complaints, for example after a wrist fracture.
You generally won’t experience any symptoms with a ganglion. You can clearly see and feel a smooth bump on the wrist, fingers or foot, depending on the location of the ganglion. You may sometimes suffer some symptoms as a result of a ganglion, which is often because it’s in the way. These symptoms may include:
- Tangible and visible smooth bump on the wrist, fingers or foot.
- Pain or tingling at the site of the bump. This can be constant, or only with certain movements.
- Loss of strength at the joint where the bump is located.
- Restriction in movement at the joint where the bump is located.
The bump can also become infected, but this is rare. An infected bump will become red and warm and can hurt a great deal. A ruptured ganglion can also become infected.
A ganglion goes away on its own in half of all people. A ganglion won’t do any harm and it’s best to wait until it passes and disappears on its own. There is nothing you can do yourself to make the bump disappear or to speed up this process.
You won’t usually need to go to the doctor with a ganglion. The ganglion will disappear on its own in 50% of people. You may also start experiencing symptoms from the ganglion like pain, or a reduced ability to move the body part on which the lump is located. In these cases you can contact your GP to discuss the next steps. Your GP can then determine whether the ganglion should be removed with surgery. Your GP may also recommend for you to wait for the ganglion to go away on its own. You can contact your GP again if the symptoms persist or get worse. The ganglion will stay away in most cases if you have surgery to have it removed. However, in some cases the ganglion may also come back. It’s also possible to empty the ganglion with a needle. This is no more effective than waiting for the ganglion to go away on its own. The ganglion will come back in half of all people. Emptying the ganglion can temporarily ease the pain. This is opted for if surgery isn’t possible.