What is a ganglion cyst?
A ganglion cyst can affect your child’s ability to fully move their joints. If left untreated, it can become painful, leading to a higher risk of infection. Removing the cyst can help restore mobility, alleviate discomfort, and improve overall quality of life.
A ganglion cyst is a benign, fluid-filled sac that most commonly develops along the tendons or joints in a child’s wrist or hand. It grows from the tissues surrounding a joint.
Ganglion cysts may also develop in some of the following place:
- On the top and underside of the wrist
- At the base of a finger
- On the end joint of a finger
In some rarer instances, a ganglion cyst can occur on the foot or ankle.
Who gets a ganglion cyst?
Their appearance is spontaneous and is not linked to any specific risk factors or demographics.
Often, ganglion cysts will increase in size with physical activity. As your child rests, they may become visibly smaller.
These cysts are most common in younger people, and females are more likely to develop them compared to men. They are especially common in gymnasts or other athletes who continuously apply stress and weight to their wrists.
How is a ganglion cyst diagnosed?
Your child’s physician can perform a physical exam to determine the presence of a ganglion cyst. Typically, there will be a visible lump or mass present at the site of the cyst. The physician may apply gentle pressure to the cyst to test for any tenderness or discomfort.
As ganglion cysts are filled with fluid, they are usually translucent. Your child’s doctor may shine a small penlight up to the cyst to see if light can shine through it. This helps them confirm that it is a cyst and not a solid tumor.
While most ganglion cysts are easy to spot, some smaller ones can remain hidden under the skin. These are called occult ganglions and require a more thorough examination.
The location of some cysts may put pressure on the nerves that pass across a joint in your child’s wrist, hand, or foot. When this happens, it can cause pain and tingling in the area. It can also lead to muscle weakness.
Ganglion Cyst Treatment
Most of the time, these cysts are not painful and will disappear on their own time. However, your child may need ganglion cyst treatment if their condition is causing them pain or limiting their activities. Prompt treatment can help alleviate any discomfort associated with your child’s cyst and lower the risk of infection.
How do we decide if surgery is needed?
Your child’s physician will recommend ganglion cyst removal surgery if the cyst is causing your child pain or affecting their ability to move their joint fully. They may also surgically remove the cyst if they notice any early signs of infection, such as redness or inflammation.
What can I expect from surgery?
The physician will make a small incision at the site of the cyst to safely remove it. This is a simple procedure that is usually performed on an outpatient basis.
Once the surgery is complete, the physician will place a small dressing under a splint to immobilize the affected joint. This helps the area heal and alleviates discomfort. Your child’s surgical team will explain how to remove and change the dressing as necessary. If there are sutures in place, they will remove those at a follow-up appointment.
If your child experiences tenderness or swelling at the site, their physician may prescribe pain medicine to help control their discomfort.
Your child should be able to resume normal activity once the joint is fully healed. In the meantime, they should not use the joint, and may even require crutches to keep their weight off it. They should not ride a bike, run, or play sports until their doctor gives them clearance.
There are no post-surgery dietary restrictions to follow.Your child can take a shallow bath or shower five days after the procedure. If they need to bathe before then, a sponge bath is permissible but it’s important to keep the splint and dressing dry.
Children can usually return to school in one week but should refrain from sports or physical education for at least one month, or until their surgeon permits it. To make sure their incision has time to heal, your child should not lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for three weeks.
Most patients recover fully without any symptoms or side effects. However, be sure to call your child’s surgical team immediately if you notice any of the following issues:
- Fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Increased abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Redness, swelling, or drainage at the site of the incision
- Excessive pain, tingling, or numbness in the affected fingers or toes
What are the long-term consequences?
There are no long-term consequences to removing a ganglion cyst. However, even after excision, there is a small chance that the cyst could return. In most cases, cysts that are symptomatic and do not resolve on their own will respond successfully to surgery.