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Ganglion cysts of the wrist and hand

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


A ganglion cyst is one of the most common soft tissue swellings in the hand and wrist. Although ganglion cysts are benign lesions, they may lead to pain, weakness, and loss of function, and sometimes require treatment.

The presentation, diagnosis, differential diagnosis, and treatment of ganglion cysts of the wrist and will be discussed here. The evaluation of the adult with hand or wrist pain are discussed separately. (See "Evaluation of the adult with acute wrist pain" and "Evaluation of the adult with subacute or chronic wrist pain" and "History and examination of the adult with hand pain".)


A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled swelling overlying a joint or tendon sheath. Ganglion cysts are thought to arise from a herniation of dense connective tissue from tendon sheaths, ligaments, joint capsules, bursae, and menisci. They contain a mucinous, gelatinous fluid.

The most common location for ganglion cysts is the dorsal side of the wrist (70 percent) (picture 1) [1]. Most of the dorsal wrist ganglions can be traced by their stalk as originating from the radiolunate ligament [2]. The cysts can be unilocular or multilocular. The second most common location for ganglion cysts in the hand is the volar side of the wrist (20 percent) over the scaphotrapezoid joint. Ganglions can also arise from the digital flexor tendon sheath, which has classically been described as arising from the first annular (A1) pulley (figure 1) of the fingers. A small mass may be palpable in the flexion crease at the base of the finger.

A digital mucous (or mucinous) cyst is a ganglion cyst that forms over the dorsal side of the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint [3]. They occur most commonly in the fifth to seventh decades and are usually associated with an underlying diagnosis of osteoarthritis.


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Literature review current through: Oct 2015. | This topic last updated: Aug 24, 2015.
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