Wrist Ganglion Cysts Symptoms & Treatment

The Hand & Wrist Center
at Modern Orthopedics of New Jersey

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Paramus, NJ 07652


2025 Hamburg Turnpike
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3799 US-46
#207, Parsippany, NJ 07054

Ganglion cysts, also known as mucous cysts, are fluid-filled sacs that most commonly form near the tendons and joints of the wrists and hands.  Accounting for 60%-70% of soft-tissue masses found in the hand and wrist, they are often painless and rarely cause serious issues.  That being said, ganglion cysts may cause pain and limit the range of motion in cases where they interfere with nerves and other structures.  In addition, many patients find them unsightly.  

If you have an unexplained lump on your hand or wrist that is causing you pain or discomfort, there is a high likelihood it may be a ganglion cyst.  Below, we have provided an overview of how these cysts usually present themselves and how they are diagnosed and treated.  To learn more, contact our office directly to book a consultation with one of our world-class orthopedic surgeons.  

What Wrist Ganglion Cysts Look Like

Ganglion cysts look like fluid-filled balloons on long stalks.  These stalks most often emerge from a joint or tendon (or tendon sheath), and the round or oval cysts that appear under the skin vary greatly in size.  Some are so small that they may not be readily visible (known as occult ganglion cysts), while others may be an inch or more in diameter.  They most commonly develop on the back of the wrist (though they can also develop in many other locations) and may increase or decrease quickly in size.  Sometimes, a ganglion cyst will disappear altogether without any treatment, but it may also return over and over again, depending on the circumstances.  

Symptoms of a Wrist Ganglion Cyst

The exact causes of ganglion cysts are unknown, but they are most common in women between the ages of 20 and 40.  In some cases, they are associated with excessive pressure on the wrist joint (e.g., in gymnasts) and may also occur near the fingernails in patients who suffer from osteoarthritis.  

The symptoms associated with ganglion cysts may include a visible, fluid-filled lump on the top of the wrist (or elsewhere on the hand or wrist) that:

  • Is round or oval in shape
  • Grows larger with activity and decreases with rest (in some cases)
  • Is associated with pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness (in some cases)
  • May disappear and reappear intermittently (in some cases)

You should see a doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or are concerned about unexplained discomfort in your wrist or hand.  

Diagnostic Methods for Wrist Ganglion Cysts

Most ganglion cysts are relatively straightforward to diagnose.  Your doctor will take a medical history, ask about your symptoms, and perform a physical exam that may include shining a light through the lump on your wrist or hand to confirm that it is filled with liquid.  If further evaluation of the cyst and surrounding structures is necessary, your doctor may order imaging tests such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI.  Such tests will allow for a clearer view of the affected area and help to rule out any other possible causes of your symptoms.  

How Are Ganglion Cysts Treated?

A ganglion cyst may disappear and even fully resolve on its own.  However, these cysts are also known to reappear time and again.  In such cases, non-surgical treatments such as immobilization (splinting) or aspiration (draining) may be effective.  

In cases where non-surgical treatments have not been successful, surgical excision of the cyst, which fully removes it from its root, may be indicated.  Often performed as a small open procedure, this type of surgery may also be done arthroscopically, depending on the circumstances.  

Rehabilitation and Recovery

Ganglion cyst excisions are typically safe and highly effective procedures.  Patients usually wear a splint for about a week after surgery and then begin to regain their normal strength and range of motion.  Total recovery time may take up to six weeks.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there activities that increase the risk of developing ganglion cysts?

Activities that place excess stress on the wrists may increase the risk of developing ganglion cysts.  Ganglion cysts may also be more likely to form in patients with prior joint or tendon injuries and/or osteoarthritis.

How long is the recovery period after cyst removal?

Following a cyst excision procedure, patients usually wear a splint for about a week and may need approximately six weeks to fully recover.

Are there risks associated with cyst aspiration or surgery?

The main risk associated with cyst aspiration is the recurrence of the cyst.  Cyst excision surgery is usually considered low risk but, like any surgery, can be associated with inherent risks such as bleeding, infection, and nerve damage.  Speak with your surgeon for more information.

 Our Awarded

Peter DeNoble, MD

Peter DeNoble, MD, FAAOS

Hand, Wrist, Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon

David Ratliff, MD, FAAOS

David Ratliff, MD, FAAOS

Hand, Wrist, Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon

David Ratliff, MD, FAAOS

Alejandro Morales-Restrepo, MD

Hand, Wrist, Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon

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