Ganglion Cysts

What is a ganglion cyst?

A ganglion cyst is a benign soft tissue tumor that develops along a tendon sheath or joint. Inside the cyst is a thick, gelatinous liquid. Depending on the size, it may feel firm or spongy. The cyst can increase or decrease in size with movement. They most commonly occur on the hands, but can also occur on the ankle or top of the foot. When the cyst is larger, it can cause pain or irritation by rubbing on the shoe or may irritate the nerve underneath.

The cause of ganglion cysts is not known. One theory suggests that trauma causes the tissue of the joint to break down, forming small cysts that then join into a larger, more obvious mass. The most likely theory involves a flaw in the joint capsule or tendon sheath that allows the joint tissue to bulge out.


  • A ganglion cyst usually appears as a bump or mass that changes size.
  • It is usually soft, anywhere from 1-3 cm in diameter, and doesn’t usually move beneath the skin
  • The swelling may appear over time or appear suddenly, may get smaller in size, and may even go away, only to come back at another time.
  • Most ganglion cysts cause some degree of pain, usually following acute or repetitive trauma, but up to 35% are without symptoms except the appearance.
  • If pain is present, it is usually chronic and made worse with joint motion.

What are the treatment options?

If the cyst causes no pain and does not interfere with shoe gear, you may choose to do nothing. This is certainly an acceptable course of action, but if the cyst continues to enlarge or become painful, some sort of intervention is advised.

  • Diagnostic Ultrasound may be used to help the physician visualize the cyst and determine what structure it is connected to.
  • Aspiration and drainage—A needle is used to draw the jelly-like material out of the cyst and a steroid is injected to reduce inflammation to help keep it from filling back up. There is a high recurrence rate with this treatment.
  • Surgical excision—in most cases, surgical excision of the cyst is the best treatment, with the lowest rate of recurrence.
Call Central Carolina Foot and Ankle Associates at 919-477-9333 for an appointment or click the link below.

Central Carolina Foot & Ankle Associates

2609 N. Duke Street, Ste. 301
Durham, NC 27704
(near the corner of N. Duke St. and Stadium Dr.)

5107 Southpark Drive
Suite 202
Durham, NC 27713
(close to RTP and Chapel Hill)