What is a Ganglion?

A ganglion is a round swelling or cyst that develops just under the skin near a joint or tendon. The back of the wrist is by far the most common site; however, ganglia may appear elsewhere, including the fingers, ankles and feet.

Ganglion cysts vary from the size of a pea to, rarely, the size of a golf ball. They are usually painless or only somewhat bothersome. The thick, clear, jellylike fluid inside of a ganglion is believed to be composed of the same elements as the fluid that lubricates the joints and tendons.

A buildup of this fluid within a tendon sheath or joint capsule causes these membranes to balloon outward. Because ganglia pose no health risk and are typically painless, they rarely require treatment. They also may disappear spontaneously without any medical intervention. Many patients seek treatment for cosmetic reasons.

What Causes a Ganglion?

  • The cause of ganglia is unknown, but may be related to trauma, repetitive use or overuse.
  • Wearing shoes that do not fit properly

Symptoms of Ganglion Cysts

  • An unusual lump under the skin (usually on the back of the wrist), which may feel soft and rubbery, or hard and solid.
  • Pain or tenderness in the lump (although this is uncommon) and tingling or burning if the cyst is touching a nerve

Ganglion Cyst Prevention

  • There is no known way to prevent ganglia.

Ganglion Diagnosis

  • Diagnosis is typically made upon visual inspection of clinical manifestations.
  • In rare cases, x-rays or ultrasound may be used to confirm the diagnosis, and other tests may be performed to rule out a more serious disorder (such as a malignant growth) that might cause such a lump.
  • MRI scan can be used to take pictures of structures inside the affected area.

How to Treat a Ganglion Cyst

  • Treatment is generally not necessary for a small, painless ganglion unless the patient desires it for cosmetic reasons.
  • Your doctor may use a large needle to puncture and drain the ganglion—a procedure known as needle aspiration. An anti-inflammatory corticosteroid medication may then be injected into the affected area. Needle aspiration may eventually need to be repeated, as ganglia treated in this manner have a tendency to recur.
  • Surgery may be used to remove a ganglion that recurs or causes discomfort. After such surgery, recurrence is extremely unlikely.
  • Wear shoes fit well and do not harm, touch or rub the cyst.

When to Call a Doctor

  • Make an appointment with a doctor if you notice the development of a lump anywhere on your body. A ganglion is nothing to worry about; however, more serious disorders should be ruled out.
  • Consult your doctor if a ganglion begins to cause discomfort, interferes with normal activities, or is cosmetically unacceptable to you.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 27 Oct 2011

Last Modified: 05 Mar 2015