Ankle Ganglion Cysts

Ankle ganglion cysts at a glance

  • Ganglion cysts are fluid-filled, benign tumors (cysts) that develop on the outside of a foot joint or tendon, as well as other parts of the body like the hands or knees. These cysts develop under the skin as small sacs filled with a clear, jelly-like substance that may feel spongy or firm to the touch, depending on size.
  • The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown. Current theories suggest that the cysts may be caused by trauma that makes the joint tissue break down, or by a flaw in the joint capsule or tendon sheath.
  • Ganglion cysts tend to appear suddenly, but can also develop over time. In addition to visibly raised lumps, symptoms often include increased pain when using the affected joint and an increase in the size of the cyst during activity and decrease in size when at rest. Some ganglion cysts, however, are completely painless.
  • Treatment for ganglion cysts often starts with a conservative approach of observation and waiting. If the cyst causes pain or interferes with joint movement, there are three treatment options available: immobilization, aspiration, or surgery.

Causes of ankle ganglion cysts

The exact cause of ganglion cysts is unknown. Ganglion cysts bulge out of the joint (like a bubble emerging from a stalk) when the tissue around a joint or tendon swells out of place. It is possible that trauma to the joint or tendon may cause the joint tissue to break down, causing the cysts to occur. The cysts may also occur because of a flaw in the joint capsule or tendon sheath.

Symptoms of ankle ganglion cysts

Ganglion cysts are characterized by small (1-3 cm) raised bumps that appear on the joints or tendons of the ankle, as well as toes, wrists, fingers, knees and other joints. These small, noncancerous tumors are filled with a thick, clear, sticky material, which can be seen by shining light through the growth.

Although up to 35 percent of ganglion cysts are completely painless, pain is a common symptom, particularly when the affected joint is in use. Ganglion cysts may change in size, increasing during activity and decreasing when the joint is at rest. In many patients, ganglion cysts appear suddenly, although it is possible for them to develop over time. The cyst may also go away on its own, and later return.

Treatment of ankle ganglion cysts

If the ganglion cyst does not cause pain or interfere with movement, no treatment is necessary. However, if treatment is desired, options include immobilization, aspiration, or surgery.

Immobilization, such as the use of a brace or splint, can help keep the affected joint from moving, allowing it to rest and the cyst to subside.

During aspiration, the doctor will use a needle to remove the fluid from the ganglion cyst, and inject the area with an anti-inflammatory steroid. The affected joint will then be splinted to keep it from moving as it heals. In many cases, the ganglion cyst returns after aspiration, and the process may need to be repeated.

Surgery may be necessary if a ganglion cyst causes severe pain or interferes with joint function. This procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis.

If you have a painful ganglion cyst or one that effects normal movement, contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our board certified physicians.