Ganglion cysts are growths that can develop directly on joints or on the covering of tendons connecting joints. It’s not unusual for these benign sacs to be present without related discomfort (nearly 40 percent are without symptoms), which usually means no treatment is necessary. Commonly found on the palm side of the wrist or on the back of the hand by the wrist joint, ganglion cysts can become a source of pain when the growths develop in the spine. Los Angeles spine surgeons explain what you need to know about causes, symptoms, and treatment options for spinal ganglion cysts.
What Causes Ganglion Cysts?
Normally, special cells around joints that connect bones (diarthrodial joints) produce a lubricating substance in connective tissues (synovial membranes) that allows a joint to move without pain from friction. Age-related wear or deterioration from repetitious movements sometimes causes the surface of a joint to wear away.
Increased friction during joint movement can result in bone spurs. These growths may then irritate the joint capsule, which could lead to a tear where lubricating substances for joints are produced. This irritation may produce a cyst. A related theory on the possible cause of ganglion cysts is that a flaw in the joint capsule causes the joint tissue to protrude.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Ganglion Cysts?
When a ganglion cyst develops in the spine, it may develop in a location that’s close to a nerve root or disc. This compression can result in noticeable discomfort. It’s also possible for patients who have slippage of one disc on top of the one below it (degenerative spondylolisthesis) to develop cysts. Patients may experience the following symptoms with spinal ganglion cysts:
- Pain in the area of the spine where the cyst is located
- Radiating nerve pain felt elsewhere (arms, legs, shoulders, thighs)
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness or “pins and needles” sensations
- Difficulty with walking or mobility
- Bladder problems (rare)
How Are Ganglion Cysts Diagnosed and Treated?
Since pain related to spinal ganglion cysts can be very similar to what’s experienced with more common sources of back pain, diagnosis is often a process of elimination. Ultrasound or MRI scans can confirm the presence of a cyst on the spine.
Patients with mild symptoms may benefit from steroid injections to shrink the size of the cyst. Needle aspiration (drainage of the cyst) may also be recommended. If conservative treatments aren’t providing relief, surgical removal of the growth may be necessary. If the spine becomes unstable because of a slipped disc, fusion surgery can restore stability.
There are no standard recommendations for preventing ganglion cysts from developing. However, taking steps to keep the spine healthy and hydrated can reduce the risk of experiencing related issues with discs around areas where cysts develop. Because ganglion cysts are harmless and small, they can often be treated with minimally invasive spine surgery. Los Angeles residents who want to find out if surgery is necessary for a cyst or other spinal condition should get in touch with The Spine Institute today.
Approximately 90 percent of spinal ganglion cysts do not return following surgical removal, and patients with other spinal conditions are also likely to find the relief they are looking for if spinal surgery is necessary. At The Spine Institute Center, we specialize in a wide array of fusion procedures and back fusion alternatives. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.