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What is a Ganglion Foot Cyst?

Allison Boelcke
By Allison Boelcke
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A ganglion foot cyst is a swollen pocket of tissue comprised of thick gel-like liquid that typically develops on the top of the foot. It may appear similar to a small tumor, but it is not cancerous and is often the result of foot strain or injury. Although some cysts grow slowly over time, others may develop suddenly.

One of the most common causes of a ganglion foot cyst is an injury to the foot, such as falling and landing on it from an extended height or even just stumbling and landing awkwardly. The condition can also be due to repeated movement over a long period of time, like constant standing or walking. Arthritis may also cause excess fluid to build up between joints and may ultimately cause the fluid to form a cyst on the foot.

The symptoms of a ganglion foot cyst can vary depending on the individual. The cyst is typically circular with a firm texture that is slightly pliable when pressed. Ganglion cysts do not usually cause pain unless they press down on nerves in the foot, which can make the area feel tender or numb.

A doctor will usually diagnose a ganglion foot cyst by physically examining its appearance and pushing it lightly with his or her fingers to ensure it contains fluid and is not a hardened mass indicative of another condition. He or she may use a needle to draw out a sample of the cyst’s fluid and examine it to ensure it is a thick gel and not blood or pus. In rare cases, the cyst may be contained underneath the skin and not actually poke through, so a doctor may have to perform X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose it.

Ganglion cysts often subside on their own without any additional treatment, but if the cyst is painful, a doctor can insert a syringe directly into it and remove all the excess fluid to relieve the pressure. If a person continues to have recurring cysts, he or she can have them surgically removed using a procedure known as a ganglionectomy. During a ganglionectomy, a surgeon makes an incision near the cyst and cuts around it to remove it from the skin. Even with surgery, a ganglion cyst can return in the future and require additional treatment.

If the cysts occur due to accidents or arthritis, they cannot be prevented and will typically continue to recur. A person who is prone to ganglion cysts due to repeated foot movements can help reduce the likelihood of them returning by wearing supportive, properly fitting shoes. If shoes don’t fit correctly, the feet may move too often inside of them and cause friction that may contribute to cyst formation.

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Discussion Comments

By anon257851 — On Mar 29, 2012

I have developed a ganglion cyst on my toe since December 2011. When I consulted a orthopedist, he immediately advised me to go for ganglion excision after examining the X-ray of my toe.

After reading information on the net about the cyst resurfacing after surgery, I have to wonder if surgery creates a condition for quicker resurfacing of the cyst, and whether it is better to let the ganglion cyst remain as it is if it is painless, and wait for it to disappear by itself?

I have an appointment for surgery tomorrow. Kindly advise me.

By anon137123 — On Dec 26, 2010

my wife has such symptoms for more than ten years. she got surgery for the third time recently, but after one month it happened again. It looks like they cannot find a real treatment for this kind of foot problem. --m.h.

By pharmchick78 — On Nov 12, 2010

@closerfan12 -- You and your friend certainly have some legitimate concerns. However, there are options other than surgery for a ganglion cyst removal.

Your main two options with a ganglion removal procedure are aspiration or excision. Aspiration is the less invasive procedure, and consists of the doctor draining the sac via a needle with a syringe. The procedure is relatively painless, since you (or your friend) would be given a local anesthetic. The doctor may inject a steroid medication to help the area heal and feel less painful, and will put a compression dressing on the site. This is an outpatient procedure, and the patient can leave about 30 minutes after it's done.

However, if the cyst is too big, then your doctor will most likely recommend that you undergo an excision. Again, the patient is given a local anesthetic, and the procedure is outpatient.

When the patient goes in, the doctor will feel the edges of the sac and mark the borders, also known as the periphery. Then the doctor will remove the sac with a scalpel, which usually takes less than half an hour, barring complications. The doctor will then close the incision with sutures, and apply a dressing to keep the area sterile. After about half an hour, the patient can leave and go home.

I hope that answers some of your questions -- and just so you know, if your friend's doctor recommends it, then you should probably go with his advice. I'm sure he knows your friend's condition better than someone on the internet.

Best of luck.

By closerfan12 — On Nov 12, 2010

My friend was recently diagnosed with a ganglion cyst on the top of her foot, and they said that she's going to have to undergo a ganglion removal surgery.

Could you tell me some more information about this procedure? She's really scared about getting the procedure done, and we can't seem to find any information that sounds positive.

I mean, from what I see, even a totally successful ganglion removal surgery doesn't mean that the cyst will be gone for good -- and what with all the risks associated with the surgery, my friend is having second thoughts about whether she should have it done at all.

Could you give me some more information about ganglion cyst removal surgeries, and whether it is a procedure that is even worth it to undergo?

Thanks.

By TunaLine — On Nov 12, 2010

Let me tell you, these things can be a total pain. My father had a ganglion cyst on his foot, and even after three ganglion cyst foot surgeries, it just kept coming back.

Unfortunately there was just nothing we could do about it, so he had to live with it until he passed a few years ago.

Luckily though, it wasn't too painful most of the time, but sometimes if he walked a long way, or strained the joint in some way it would swell up and he would have to deal with it again.

So if any of you all are reading this and have been diagnosed with a ganglion cyst of the foot, then you have my sympathies -- this can really be a very inconvenient and painful condition, and it's hard to understand for someone who hasn't gone through it themselves.

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