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Ganglion Cyst Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

Ganglion cysts are common, typically harmless lumps or masses that most often develop on the back of the wrist, but can occur on the front as well.

Ganglion Cyst Hero Image 2


Ganglion cysts are common, typically harmless lumps or masses that most often develop on the back of the wrist, but can occur on the front as well. Ganglion cysts may also occur near tendons and joints of the fingers, ankles, or feet.

These fluid-filled lumps are always benign (noncancerous) and develop just below the skin. They can appear and disappear quickly and may change size; a ganglion cyst can be as small as a pea or as large as a ping-pong ball.

Ganglion cysts often go away on their own. However, if your cyst is painful, interfering with your ability to move the affected joint, or has an unsightly appearance, both non-operative and operative treatments are available.

What causes Ganglion Cyst?



Exactly why a ganglion cyst begins to grow remains unknown. These cysts may develop when the tissue surrounding a tendon or joint bulges out of place due to an injury, trauma, or overuse, but sometimes the exact cause is never known

Ganglion cysts are most common in women ages 20-40 and people who repetitively stress their wrists and hands, resulting in overuse. Sports that put extra stress on the hands and wrists include:

  • Gymnastics
  • Baseball
  • Softball
  • Tennis
  • Golf



Most ganglion cysts appear as a visible bump on the wrist, but smaller cysts can remain hidden beneath the skin. The bump may come and go, and is typically painless.

However, if a cyst presses on a nerve, you may experience pain or numbness and tingling



When to see a doctor


Ganglion cysts that don’t cause symptoms usually resolve without treatment. If you experience pain or difficulty moving the joint, make an appointment with your doctor.

During your appointment, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms, and will then perform a physical exam.

In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe the following imaging tests:

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): While not usually necessary, may be performed if the diagnosis is in doubt

Your doctor may also take a small fluid sample from inside the cyst for lab testing.

Non-operative treatment


If you aren’t experiencing pain or symptoms, your doctor may recommend watchful waiting to ensure the cyst doesn’t undergo any unusual changes.

Activity can cause a ganglion cyst to increase in size, putting pressure on surrounding nerves and causing pain. Wearing a wrist brace or splint may cause the cyst to shrink and pain to decrease.

Ganglion cysts that are extremely painful or disabling may benefit from aspiration, which involves draining the fluid from the cyst.

Try these exercises to help address your condition:

Below is a PDF of the Exercise Program.

Ganglion Cyst

Surgical Treatment


If non-operative treatment fails to relieve your symptoms, or your cyst reappears after aspiration, surgery may be necessary.

Your surgeon uses a procedure called excision to remove the ganglion cyst through a small incision. Excision is usually an outpatient procedure, which means you can go home the same day.



Recovery from a ganglion cyst can take between 2 to 3 weeks. Rarely, a cyst may regrow after surgical excision. If this happens, a revision procedure can remove the cyst again.

You can safely return to your sport when you’ve regained strength and range of motion of the wrist without pain, and when your doctor gives you clearance.