What Is a Ganglion Cyst? Signs + 5 Natural Remedies
By Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DMN, CNS
Ganglion cysts are quite a common issue amongst many people, and sometimes they don’t even realize there’s help out there for them.
What is a ganglion cyst? What are ganglion cyst symptoms? Is ganglion cyst removal possible? This guide has everything you need to know, from diagnosis all the way through to treatment. Read on to find out more.
What Is A Ganglion Cyst?
A ganglion cyst is a lump that can form most commonly in your joints, such as your wrist, ankles or feet. They can be quite small, around pea-sized, or they can be as large as 2.5 centimeters in diameter. (1) They’re noncancerous and are filled with a jelly like liquid. They’re sometimes called a Bible cyst or bible thump, rather than the official term of ganglion.
Often a ganglion cyst won’t hurt, and so you can go about your daily activities without worrying about the cyst. However, in some cases they can press on tendons or nerves. When this happens, they can cause pain. At this point, a doctor will step in and help you get treatment for the cyst.
Ganglion Cyst Signs & Symptoms
A ganglion cyst will become quite obvious when it occurs. Here are the signs you need to look out for:
- Location: Most commonly, ganglion cysts are found on the top of the wrist. They can also be found in the ankles and feet. They’re usually found in the joints, and are noncancerous. They’re not a danger to you, but if you develop a lump in your joints you should get it checked out, to be on the safe side. (2)
- Shape and size: As mentioned earlier, a ganglion cyst can be so small that you may not actually be able to feel it. It can become as big as 2.5 centimeters, depending on the severity of the cyst. Some patients wonder do ganglion cyst feel like bone? Could that cyst be something else instead? Some cysts can be hard or soft, so it’s best to go to a doctor and have them ascertain exactly what it is.
- Pain: In most cases, your ganglion cyst wrist won’t cause you any pain, and you can leave it alone. Some patients still wonder though, are ganglion cysts painful? Depending on the location and size of your ganglion cyst foot, you may find that it’s causing pain, tingling (also known as paresthesia) or numbness in the joint. If this is happening, then you’ll need to visit a doctor and ask for help on relieving these symptoms. You can also try out natural remedies, as detailed later on in this guide.
Many patients, when they see these symptoms, worry that they’re a sign of something more serious. There’s no doubt that you should see a doctor in order to ensure you’re not dealing with something else, such as degenerative joint disease. Let the doctor rule these issues out, and then you can focus on treating the symptoms. A ganglion cyst is certainly nothing to worry about.
Ganglion Cyst Causes & Risk Factors
There is no real understanding of why ganglion cysts start to form. They usually form when liquid leaks out of a joint or a tendon, creating what looks like a small water balloon. There are several theories as to why you could be likely to develop a ganglion cyst knee. These include:
- Your sex and age: Ganglion cyst causes are possibly linked to the age and gender of the patient. If you’re a woman, aged between the ages of 20 and 40.
- Osteoarthritis: People with wear-and-tear arthritis in their fingers may find they develop ganglion cysts. Their ganglion cyst finger will usually develop in the joint nearest the fingernail.
- Joint or tendon injury: If you’ve suffered an injury in your joint or tendon in the past, you’re more likely to develop a ganglion cyst or ‘biblethumper’ there.
Are ganglion cysts genetic? There’s no real evidence to suggest that this is the case. (3) You may have heard this while you were looking for a diagnosis on your ganglia, but as far as we know, it isn’t true. Clinical trials showed that there really isn’t a reason that the researchers could find for cysts appearing on patients. (4)
Can a ganglion cyst appear suddenly?
You may find you develop a lump in your joint seemingly overnight, and you won’t be sure where it came from. It is possible for cysts to do this, although they can also develop over time too. Researchers aren’t sure yet why this may be the case.
These are all still theories, and no one is quite sure why they develop or how to stop them from appearing.
Ganglion Cyst Diagnosis
The best way to get your ganglion cyst, such as on your forearm, treated is to go to a doctor first. They will examine your joint, to ensure that the lump is a ganglion cyst. They’ll ask you questions about the cyst to ensure it isn’t anything more serious that they need to treat right away. (5)
To diagnose you with a ‘Bible cyst’ or ganglion cyst, they’ll carry out several tests. For example, they may press on the lump to determine whether it causes pain, or whether it’s hard or soft. They may attempt to shine a light through it, to see if it’s filled with liquid.
In some cases, they may decide that you need to go for an X-ray or an MRI scan, so they can get a better look at the cyst. Once they’ve been able to observe it to their satisfaction, they’ll be able to diagnose you with a ganglion cyst.
Ganglion Cyst Conventional Treatment
In the vast majority of cases, a ganglia will not need any special treatment. If it’s not causing pain or not otherwise in the way, your doctor will recommend that you simply leave it be.
How does a ganglion cyst go away? Again, doctors aren’t quite sure how it happens, but up to 58 percent of ganglion issues simply resolve on their own. (6) Researchers in clinical trials saw that they healed up, but there’s no definitive evidence as to how. You may find that yours will simply go down over time, if you leave it be.
In some cases, you will need to have treatment on your cyst in order to remove it.
Can you drain a ganglion cyst?
In the first case, your doctor may attempt to do just this. This is usually called aspiration. (7) Local anesthetic is used to numb the area, and then a needle is used to drain fluid from the ganglion. In some cases, this may not remove all of the fluid, so the process may need to be done a second time to remove it all.
Can you pop a ganglion cyst?
There are lots of folk remedies out there that recommend ‘popping’ or bursting the cyst. In fact, that’s where the term ‘biblethumper’ comes from, as people would hit it with the family Bible. While it’s not recommended that you do this yourself, there is evidence from clinical trials that shows that blunt force trauma could get rid of cysts. (8)
Some people find their ganglion cyst hand gets worse when they move it, so another treatment that doctors use is immobilizing it. A brace or cast can be used to hold the joint in place, preventing more damage. As the cyst shrinks, the pressure on the nerves lessens, giving you back the use of the joint.
If none of these options works, then a ganglion cyst ganglionectomy may be suggested by your doctor.
How do they remove a ganglion cyst?
The surgeon will usually go into the joint and remove the cyst, along with the ‘stalk’ that holds it in place. This should give relief to those suffering with pain. Be aware though, that cyst can come back after surgery.
How long does it take to recover from ganglion cyst surgery?
In most cases, it should take from 2–6 weeks. (9) This can be problematic depending on where your cyst is, so some patients decide not to do surgery as a treatment.
5 Natural Remedies for Ganglion Cyst Symptoms
You do have other options, if you’re looking for a ganglion cyst home treatment. Here are some natural remedies that can help you relieve the symptoms of a ganglia.
1. Modify your shoes
If you have a ganglion cyst ankle, or a cyst on your foot, then you’ll find that sometimes your shoes make the pain or pressure worse. As you look into other remedies, you can take the pressure off the cyst by modifying your footwear. What you do will depend on where the cyst is. For example, you can lace shoes in a different way, or wear open toed shoes to help relieve the pressure.
2. Try arnica oil
Arnica oil has been used since the 1500s to help relieve pain and inflammation in the joints. If you’re suffering with pain thanks to your ganglion cyst ankle, then you can try arnica oil. It’s been used to treat many different conditions, especially osteoarthritis, where it helps reduce pain just as well as over the counter pain relievers. (10)
3. Use an Epsom salt soak
Epsom salts have been found to have a real effect on pain, no matter why you’re experiencing it. Clinical studies showed that it helped to counteract the pain signals sent to the brain, resulting in you feeling less pain. (11) Try soaking the affected joint in an Epsom salt bath.
4. Eat spicy foods
Believe it or not, spicy foods actually contain pain-killing properties. This is especially true of cayenne peppers, that are good at killing Candida, something that can make joint pain worse. Try eating a pepper or spicy food to ward off the pain.
5. Use frankincense oil
Frankincense is another oil you wouldn’t have thought of as a ganglion cyst treatment, but it’s another oil that’s perfect for reducing inflammation. Using it with a carrier oil (like jojoba oil) as a rub can help reduce pain and aid healing.
If you have a ganglion cyst, then you’ll know that most of the time, it’s not going to be a problem. If you let it be, a lot of the time it’ll simply resolve on its own, over time. If it’s beginning to cause pain, then you’ll need to talk to your doctor about finding solutions. As well as this, you can try any of the natural remedies listed here.
What you shouldn’t do though, is try and correct the cyst on your own. Searches for ‘How does a ganglion cyst go away?’ may turn up results that advocate ‘popping’ or bashing them yourself, but it’s never a good idea to do that on your own. If you think it may need aspirating, always ask your doctor to do it for you.
Key Points About Ganglion Cysts
Now you have everything you need to know about ganglion cysts. Remember the following:
- A ganglion cyst is a lump on a joint, most commonly the wrist, that is noncancerous and most often won’t cause you problems.
- These cysts can sometimes cause pain if they start to press on a nerve.
- Your doctor can treat the cyst, by immobilizing the joint, or aspirating the cyst to remove the fluid.
- In some cases, surgery can be carried out to remove the cyst, but this won’t stop the cyst coming back in the future.
- In the past, folk remedies recommended use blunt force to ‘pop’ the cyst, but this is inadvisable.
If you want to treat the cyst at home, you can do any of the following:
- Modify your shoes.
- Try arnica oil.
- Have an Epsom salt bath.
- Eat spicy foods.
- Use frankincense oil.
With these tips, you’ll be able to manage your ganglion cyst with ease.