A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled cyst. While they can occur along any joint or tendon in the body, they most commonly are found along the tendons or in the joint of the wrist, along the fingers, or on the soles of the feet. These fluid cysts are classified as a benign tumor. In cases where the cysts cause discomfort or restrict movement, various types of surgery can used to remove them. The type of surgery used depends on the type of cyst that is present and where it is located.
What causes ganglion cysts is not known, but the occurrence of similar wrist cysts was recorded as far back as the writings of Hippocrates. One theory is that, in some cases, the cysts occur due to damage caused by repetitive stress injury or other issues that lead to the breakdown of collagen. This may allow fluid to collect, forming the cyst. Ganglion cysts are sometimes referred to as a Bible bump, because an old cure was to strike the protruding cyst with a Bible or other large book. The impact would burst the cyst — albeit usually painfully — and often the fluid would be reabsorbed. Modern medicine has developed less dramatic, but more effective, treatments.
Different types of ganglion cyst surgery include excision and aspiration. Excision involves the complete removal of the cyst, and it is generally performed under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. The recurrence of cysts after excision occurs in about 5% to 15% of cases.
Another type of ganglion cyst surgery is aspiration, which basically drains the cyst: a needle is inserted into the cyst and the fluid is pulled out. This procedure is typically performed under local anesthesia and is relatively simple. It is not generally very successful, however, since the aspirated cyst quite frequently comes back. Cysts that occur directly on a joint are the least likely to recur after aspiration; those that form from the tendon sheath are the most likely to develop again. In fact, aspiration of a cyst linked to tendon swelling is not a great deal more effective than the old treatment of striking it with a book.
In many cases, ganglion cysts do not have to be treated with any of the different types of ganglion cyst surgery. If the cyst does not cause discomfort or interfere with normal movement, the recommended treatment is often just giving it time. Eventually, many ganglion cysts will simply disappear as the excess fluid is reabsorbed into the body.