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Ganglia and nodules

Filip De Keyser, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Zacharia Isaac, MD
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


Soft tissue masses are usually benign and of little clinical consequence. However, benign lesions such as ganglia and nodules may interfere with joint function and, therefore, require treatment. The differential diagnosis of nodular soft tissue masses is extensive and includes a number of systemic diseases and solid tumors [1] (table 1A-B).


A ganglion is a cystic swelling overlying a joint or tendon sheath. Ganglia are thought to arise due to herniation of synovial tissue from a joint capsule or tendon sheath. They represent myxoid degeneration and may be of congenital origin. The role, if any, of repetitive movement in causation is uncertain; it may induce enlargement of the lesion and may provoke symptoms.

Common locations for ganglia include the wrist and tissue adjacent to finger joints (picture 1). They also occur over the dorsum of the foot and, less often, may arise in the knee, in the shoulder, in the spine, or in other intraarticular, extraarticular soft tissue, intraosseous, or periosteal locations [2,3]. The lesions may be unilocular or multilocular. A jelly-like fluid can be aspirated from the lesion.

Ganglia may present as an obvious swelling on physical examination or may only be manifested by joint (particularly wrist) pain. Most wrist ganglia originate from the palmar capsule near the radioscaphocapitate ligament and are not caused by ligamentous disruption, soft tissue edema, or intraosseous communication [4].

The diagnostic approach depends upon the physical examination:


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Literature review current through: Jun 2015. | This topic last updated: Jan 15, 2014.
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