It isn’t exactly known what causes ganglion cysts to grow, but theories support their development after joint injuries that allow tissue fluid to leak out. While some ganglion cysts are benign and only cause a little discomfort, others can be painful and involve increased joint stress and restricted movement. Traditional medical treatments exist, but they may not eliminate the cyst long term. Fortunately, there is growing support for chiropractic interventions that can provide an amazing remedy for this common joint ailment.
A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled noncancerous lump that seemingly appears out of nowhere and can disappear and change size and shape. It typically grows out of the tendons or joints in the wrist or hand and often is associated with wrist- or hand-joint stress. Most commonly developing on the back of the hand at the wrist, they also can form on the palm side of the wrist, the base of the fingers, fingertips below the cuticle, near the knee or ankle, or on the top of the foot.
It’s uncertain what really triggers the formation of ganglion cysts, but they commonly appear with repetitive or strenuous hand use as the tiny bones and joints lose healthy alignment. This misalignment can lead to abnormal stress patterns, altered muscle and tendon function, and eventually wrist and hand disorders.
The main sign is a bump beneath the skin that can look like a tiny balloon. Soft, firm, or spongy, the cyst is filled with a thick, sticky, clear gelatinous material. The size and shape depend largely on the activity and repetitive hand use. A cyst near the wrist can enlarge with continual use of the wrist and hand, but rest or a cold compress can shrink it.
Cysts may not be bothersome beyond an abnormal appearance, but they can be uncomfortable, tender, and painful. The pain also can become chronic and get worse with continued joint movement.
When a cyst is connected to a tendon, the affected finger can become weak. Occasionally, it will exert pressure on nearby nerves, which can cause tremendous pain, tingling sensations, numbness, or eventually muscle weakness. Depending on the location, ganglion cysts also may restrict range of motion.
The good news is that other than these discomfort, they aren’t dangerous.
Anyone can get them, but women are three times more likely to develop ganglia than men. They generally appear in early to mid-adulthood, between age 20 and 50, and typically are more common in people who constantly apply abnormal pressure to their wrists or have a history of joint or tendon injuries. Having osteoarthritis in the hands also makes them more likely.
Often painless, ganglion cysts may require no treatment, so doctors will suggest a watch-and-wait approach. However, if a cyst is causing pain or interfering with movement, doctors may suggest various treatments.
Medications and Modifications. The least invasive method is taking anti-inflammatory medications to minimize swelling and ease discomfort. If a cyst is on the foot or toe, doctors may recommend modified (spacious, flexible, or open-toe) shoes that do not squeeze or constrict the cyst so it can heal on its own.
Immobilization. Doctors may recommend immobilization because cysts often get larger with continued joint movement. Interventions like splints or braces offer support and hinder movement to reduce pain and swelling. As the cyst shrinks, it releases pressure on the nerves and relieves pain. However, long-term immobilization can cause nearby muscles to weaken.
Aspiration. Doctors can use a needle to remove fluid from the cyst. This outpatient procedure may provide immediate relief, but since it only removes the fluid and not the cyst, symptoms can return. Plus, it is important not to try this (or thumping the cyst) yourself. That can worsen the cyst or lead to infection.
Surgery. Generally as a last resort, doctors can remove the cyst and the stalk attaching it to the joint or tendon. Options include open surgery (making an incision over the cyst to remove it) and arthroscopic (or keyhole) surgery done with a small incision and a camera that guides the surgeon. Both can be done under local or general anesthesia; however, surgery can injure surrounding nerves, blood vessels, or tendons. Plus, the cyst can return even after the procedure.
Chiropractic wrist and hand adjustments have a compelling record of success as far as improving joint function and motion. Specific, gentle chiropractic adjustments to the wrist and hand can change the biomechanics and, in many cases, allow ganglion cysts to resolve.
Dr. Rick Gross of Quality Care Chiropractic notes that through training with the Chiropractic Hand & Foot Clinics of America, “We have learned that the wrist bones and joints are not moving correctly due to injury, stress on the wrists, or even daily use like gripping and pulling. This puts you at risk of developing fluid build-up in the tendons and joints that are restricted or moving improperly.”
Applying gentle and safe adjusting procedures to a patient’s hand improves motion and lessens pain. Improved wrist function reduces stress on nearby joints, ligaments, and tendons and corrects underlying dysfunction, allowing the body to naturally remediate ganglion cysts.
“Advanced chiropractic adjustments restore normal function to the wrist and hand joints, and the cyst slowly disappears on its own and typically does not come back. If the hand and wrist dysfunction is never addressed, the cyst is more likely to keep coming back, even after aspirating it or doing surgery on the hand,” adds Dr. Gross.Schedule an Appointment