Ganglion Cysts

Ganglion cysts are the most common type of lumps found on the hand and wrist. They usually appear on the back of the wrist, the palm side of the wrist, or at the top of the end joint of the finger. The cyst is filled with a clear gelatin-like fluid. It may change in size, and it is noncancerous. 

Most ganglion cysts appear and disappear on their own without treatment. Some cysts may become painful or tender, interfere with normal hand function, or have an objectionable appearance. The University of Michigan hand surgery team is fellowship-trained and specializes in the treatment of these ganglion cysts. Our goal is to restore mobility and function of the hand as soon as possible with minimal impact on the patient’s quality of life.

Risk Factors for Ganglion Cysts

Although the majority of patients with ganglion cysts are adults between 15 and 40 years old, anyone can get one. There is no known cause for ganglion cysts, but there are several factors that have been linked to their occurrence:

  • Injury to the wrist or finger joint
  • Inflammation or irritation in the tendons or joints
  • Repetitive activities that use the wrists and fingers
  • Chronic illness, such as arthritis

Symptoms of Ganglion Cysts

Common signs and symptoms of ganglion cysts include:

  • Round mass on wrist or finger joint, which may be firm or soft to the touch
  • Thinned skin or a grove along the fingernail may occur with cysts at the end joint of the finger

Diagnosis of Ganglion Cysts

A thorough physical examination and discussion of the patient’s medical history and symptoms is usually sufficient to diagnose ganglion cysts. 

Additional imaging may be ordered to assess nearby joints:

Treatment of Ganglion Cysts

Initial treatment of ganglion cysts is often non-surgical. The cysts can be monitored, and may disappear on their own. 

If the cyst becomes painful or limits activity, there are various treatment options:

  • Splint to immobilize the wrist or finger
  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen
  • Aspiration or decompression of the cyst with a needle to drain fluid
  • Surgical removal of the cyst

Hand Therapy and Rehabilitation for Ganglion Cysts

Therapy for post-surgical removal of ganglion cysts is provided on site at the University of Michigan’s Hand Program by our team of occupational and physical therapists under the direction of a trained hand therapist. Referrals to local providers can be arranged closer to home as a more convenient option for patients.

The ultimate goal of therapy and rehabilitation is the restoration and optimization of hand function, renewed independence and improved overall quality of life. We offer treatment plans that are tailored to fit each patient’s condition, living and work requirements.

Contact Us

If you are considering treatment for ganglion cysts, the University of Michigan hand surgeons will guide you, from consultation to recovery, to the best procedures for your individual needs. Our hand surgeons have dual appointments in Orthopaedic and Plastic Surgery with a specialization in Hand. Patients may be seen in the Orthopaedic Clinic or the Plastic Surgery Clinic for treatment of hand conditions, or referred to Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for non-surgical treatment.

Visit the Make an Appointment at the Comprehensive Hand Center page for contact information for both surgical and non-surgical treatment teams.