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Ganglion Cyst: Foot

A ganglion is a fluid-filled swelling of the lining of a joint or tendon. Ganglions can form on any part of the foot. But they most often appear on the ankle or top of the foot. Ganglions tend to change in size and often grow slowly.

Woman trying on shoes.

Causes

Repeated irritation can weaken the lining of a joint or tendon. This can lead to ganglions. People who wear boots are more likely to get ganglions. This type of footwear puts stress on the foot and ankle. Bone spurs (bony outgrowths) may also cause ganglions by irritating the joints and tendons.

Symptoms

Ganglions often form with no symptoms. But the ganglion may put pressure on the nerves in the overlying skin. This can cause tingling, numbness, or pain. Ganglions sometimes swell. Their size can change with different activities or a change in weather.

How Are They Diagnosed?

Ganglions are sometimes mistaken for tumors. So it’s important to have a complete exam done. Tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Medical History

Your health care provider will ask you questions. These include how long you’ve had the ganglion and what kind of symptoms you’re feeling. He or she may ask if it’s changed in size or if its size varies based on your activities.

Physical Exam

Your health care provider may do a translumination exam. This involves shining a light through the swelling. (Usually, you can see through a ganglion, but not through a tumor.) When your foot is palpated (pressed), a ganglion feels spongy and the fluid moves from side to side.

Tests

If a bone spur is suspected, X-rays may be needed. Fluid removal (needle aspiration) may be done. It also helps to decrease pain. To confirm a ganglion, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done. This reveals images of soft tissue and bone. Sometimes, special dyes may be injected into the area to show the outline.

How Are Ganglions Treated?

Ganglions may be hard to treat without surgery. But nonsurgical methods may be helpful in relieving some of your symptoms.

Nonsurgical Care:

  • Pads placed around the ganglion can ease pressure and friction.

  • Fluid removal may also relieve symptoms. This is done with a needle. A steroid may be injected at the same time. But ganglions may recur.

  • Limiting movements or activities that increase pain may bring relief.

  • Icing the ganglion for 15 to 20 minutes may relieve inflammation and pain for a short time.

  • If inflammation is severe, your health care provider may treat your symptoms with medication.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be needed if a ganglion is causing ongoing or severe pain. The entire ganglion wall is removed during the procedure. Some nearby tissue may also be removed.

After Surgery

You may feel pain, swelling, numbness, or tingling for several weeks following surgery. You should be able to walk soon afterward. But your foot may need to be wrapped or in a cast. Be sure to see your health care provider if you notice any future problems. Surgery is usually successful. But there is a chance that the ganglion will recur.

Online Medical Reviewer: Venson, John N, DPM
Last Review Date: 6/15/2012
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