A ganglion cyst is a swelling or tumor which appears on the hand or feet, especially the area around the joints and tendons. Depending on the size, this cyst can be firm or spongy. It contains a thick, sticky, colorless, jelly-like substance. Sometimes it's a single large cyst, while at other times, it can be in the form of multiple small cysts with a common stalk connecting them. In some cases, individual cyst can be 4-inches long. The condition is common in women and individuals in the age group of 20 to 40 years. It is rarely seen in children below 10 years. Although it can appear on the palm of the hand, in 70 percent cases it appears at the back of the hand.
Ganglion cysts may appear due to an injury or frequent use of a repetitive motion of the body part. Osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease, can also lead to their formation. Mucous cyst is an example of a cyst caused due to osteoarthritis. Some theories suggest that trauma is the reason for formation of these cysts on the body. At times, flaw in joint capsule or tendon sheath forces the joint tissue to move out, which, in turn, leads to the formation of such bumps.
Though they are usually small, painless bumps, sometimes ganglion cysts can be quite painful, especially when they exert pressure on the nerves near the joint. Over the period, they can lead to weakening of the joint mobility as well as the grip. The size of these cysts varies with time. They grow bigger as activity increases and more fluid gets collected in the bump. In some cases, these cysts break and gradually disappear on their own.
Quite often, ganglion cysts are diagnosed by their location and appearance. One can feel the bump when a finger is traced around it. A doctor will use the technical method of focusing light alongside, wherein the light will pass through the bump if it's a ganglion cyst. An X-ray may be recommended if the doctor suspects osteoarthritis or any other injury, but not specifically for the cyst. At times, the fluid within the sac will be removed and examined for diagnosis. In very rare cases, even MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or Ultrasound techniques are used, but such instances are almost negligible.
Ganglion cysts, usually don't need any treatment as they go away on their own. Some non-surgical method of treatment maybe recommended if the person is experiencing severe pain due to pressure exerted on nerves, or if it is limiting a particular activity. This may include wearing a splint (a hard wrap which keeps the affected part stable), massaging the bump to reduce the fluid, or aspiration (i.e., draining the sac with a syringe and needle). Depending on the seriousness of the issue, even a surgery may be recommended, but such instances are very rare.
After the surgery, the person will be asked to keep the affected portion elevated for a certain period to reduce swelling. The person will experience its aftereffects, such as swelling or tenderness, for 2 to 4 weeks that follow. The surgery can be risky at times, as there are chances of some blood vessel or nerve getting damaged. So it is advisable to consult a medical practitioner to choose the correct treatment option.