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What are Ganglia?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated: May 17, 2024

Often referred to as ganglion cysts, ganglia are collections of thick fluid that collect into lesions that develop on or near a joint or tendon. Typically, most examples of ganglia develop on the wrist, although there are a number of cases reported on ankles and finger joints as well. In many cases, the presence of ganglia can create joint swelling that ranges from mildly irritating to very painful. Here is some information on what seems to be the root causes of ganglia, as well as some suggestions for treatment.

While the exact cause for ganglia remains unknown, there is some evidence that overuse of the joint may help to establish conditions that are ideal for the presence of the joint swellings. In some cases, ganglia may develop after a strain or sprain, once the ankle or wrist swelling has subsided. This is because the fibrous tissue that surrounds the joints may become weaker, making the area more susceptible to the collection of fluid. The fact that ganglia often results in swollen ankles and swollen wrists whose appearance is very similar to a sprained joint, some people may assume they have one condition when it fact the opposite is true.

Many incidences of ganglia are relatively minor and will slowly disappear. However, ganglia that do not appear to improve should be treated immediately. While an old folk method for treating ganglia used to be striking the ganglion cyst with a heavy book, most physicians do not recommend this method. The chances of leaving lingering fluid that does not absorb back into the system is quite high, and in fact may only bring temporary relief. Instead, it is a good idea to consult a physician and investigate either aspiration or excision as a means of dealing with the condition.

Aspiration is an outpatient procedure that essentially involves lancing the swollen area and allowing the collected fluid to drain. However, it is important to understand there is a relatively good chance of recurrence if this method is used. More reliable is the use of surgery to remove ganglia. Usually referred to as arthroscopy, an incision is made and the contained cyst is removed from the wrist or ankle swelling. This removes the cause of the inflammation without the chance for the fluid to infect the surrounding area, and often leads to a full recovery. Usually, choosing to immobilize the wrist or ankle for a few days after the procedure will help to further ensure that there is no recurrence of ganglia in the future.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By Phaedrus — On Aug 05, 2014

I actually had to have some ganglia cysts removed from my ankle after a really bad sprain. I spent several weeks in an air cast and could put weight on it, but the little nodules were causing short bursts of pain while walking. The doctor used a local anesthestic and a surgical lance to take care of the problem. Of course I couldn't stand to watch it happen!

By Ruggercat68 — On Aug 04, 2014

When I was working at a deli, I had to use the meat slicer a lot and I developed a bad case of tendinitis. The restaurant owner's dad happened to be a doctor, so she sent me over to his office for an after-hours exam. After he checked out my arm and wrist, he wrote me out a prescription for a strong anti-inflammatory medication and ordered me to stay off that slicer for a week or so.

While I was there, I pointed out several bumps I could feel under the skin of that arm. He said they were ganglia cysts, probably triggered by the muscle strain on that arm. He said they could be lanced and drained, but it was not strictly necessary. He said they would either go away on their own or wouldn't be anything but a nuisance. A lot of people have wrist ganglia and don't even realize it.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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