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Ganglions are small sacs (cysts) filled with fluid that often appear as bumps on the hands and wrists. They can also develop on feet, ankles, knees, or shoulders. A ganglion can grow out of a joint capsule, which surrounds the joint, or a tendon sheath, which covers the tendon (the fibers connecting muscle to bone). Ganglions aren't cancerous.
Most people with ganglions notice that the bumps appear suddenly. Bumps may be very small or bigger than a cherry. Ganglions may get bigger as activity increases and more fluid collects in the sac. They may also shrink and may break and go away on their own.
Anyone can get a ganglion: adults between 15 and 40 years old are most likely to be affected.footnote 1 Children don't usually have ganglions, but if they do, the ganglion will very likely go away without any treatment.
Experts don't know the exact cause of ganglions. They may be linked to:
Ganglions are usually small, painless bumps and do not cause other symptoms.
Sometimes the bump can be tender to the touch, or there can be pain that gets worse with activity or pressure. If the ganglion puts pressure on nearby nerves, you may have tingling in your fingers, hand, or forearm. Some ganglions can weaken your grip or affect joint motion.
A ganglion can usually be diagnosed based on how it looks and where it is. Your doctor will also feel the bump and shine a light alongside it. If the bump is a ganglion, the light usually shines through it.
You may need an X-ray if your doctor suspects arthritis or injury. Some of the fluid found in the ganglion may be removed and examined. In rare cases, an MRI or ultrasound may be done.
Ganglions usually don't need treatment, and they often go away on their own. But treatment may be needed if the ganglion causes pain or other symptoms, limits what you can do, affects your bones or ligaments, or gets infected. You may also want treatment if you're bothered by how the bump looks.
Your doctor may treat a ganglion by:
With or without treatment, ganglions may come and go and may get bigger or smaller.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Ganglion of the wrist and hand. In JF Sarwark, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., pp. 488-492. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Other Works Consulted
Bednar MS, et al. (2014). Hand surgery. In HR Skinner, PJ McMahon, eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 5th ed., pp. 456-516. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hasham S, Burke FD (2007). Diagnosis and treatment of swellings in the hand. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 83(979): 296-300.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerHerbert von Schroeder, MD, MSc, FRCS(C) - Orthopedics, Hand and Microvascular Surgery
Current as ofNovember 29, 2017
Current as of:
November 29, 2017
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Herbert von Schroeder, MD, MSc, FRCS(C) - Orthopedics, Hand and Microvascular Surgery
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