Baker’s Cyst

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What Is Baker’s Cyst?

Baker’s Cyst is a small growth filled with fluid that forms on the back of the knee. It may grow due to joint damage, leading to swelling, knee bending pain, and restricted movement.

Baker’s cysts are not dangerous but require diagnosis and adequate treatment to relieve symptoms. They may sometimes mimic the symptoms of other more severe conditions, such as blood clots and deep vein thrombosis.

How Severe is Baker’s Cyst?

Baker’s cyst can signify a more serious health problem but is generally considered mild. The most common complaints associated with it – swelling in the knee, stiffness, and mild pain – usually get better once the treatment is applied. Rarely, Baker’s cyst may rupture, leading to severe complications. 

Even if Baker’s cyst causes discomfort and pain that interferes with daily activities, there are several ways to relieve the symptoms, with the RICE method being the most popular and effective. See the ‘Treatment’ paragraph to learn how to manage Baker’s cyst at home successfully.

Causes

Baker’s cysts form if there is too much lubricating fluid, called synovial fluidTrusted Source, in the cavities of the knee joint. The purpose of this fluid is to reduce friction between the moving parts of the knee and make the leg move smoothly. But the ‘the more, the better’ saying does not apply to synovial fluid – its excessive amount is problematic for the body, resulting in a swelling that triggers a Baker’s cyst.

A knee may start to produce an abnormal amount of lubricating fluid due to arthritis, injuries, and damage to knee ligaments. Here are the most common types of arthritis that can cause Baker’s cyst:

Inflammation due to knee injury may affect the production of synovial fluid. These types of injuries put you at risk of developing Baker’s cyst:

Injuries to knee ligaments that may cause Baker’s cyst include the following:

Risk Factors

Baker’s cyst may develop in people of all ages, but it is more likely to affect individuals with specific injuries, health conditions, or hobbies. The following risk factors are associated with Baker’s cyst:

Baker's Cyst: What Is, Causes, Risk Factors, Treatment, and Prevention

Signs and Symptoms

For some people, Baker’s cyst is asymptomatic (does not cause any issues) and is discovered incidentally in a diagnosis for other conditions. In these instances, it is usually identified in ultrasound scans and physical examsTrusted Source.

If symptoms occur, baker cysts can usually be recognized by their telltale sign – a lump behind a knee. Other symptoms may also include:

Once the cyst becomes very large, it can cause severe symptoms, including pain, numbness (if nerve compression develops), weakness, and swelling. It happens because a cyst may put a pressure on the veins in the leg, interfering with the blood flow.

In some cases, Baker’s cyst may mimic blood clot symptoms or deep vein thrombosis, a severe medical condition. Learning the difference between those conditions is crucial to react swiftly if dangerous symptoms appear. If you experience swelling in your calf and severe pain, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to determine if you have a blood clot. 

Complications

The most often observed complication of Baker’s Cyst is a ruption of the cyst. Still, the cyst’s bursting and the resulting leakage of synovial fluid rarely occur. It may lead to the following symptoms:

Diagnosis and Tests

The first step to diagnose Baker’s cyst is a physical exam performed by a healthcare professional. During this initial assessment, your healthcare provider will examine your knee to determine if there is a lump and how large it is. If a lump is present, you may be asked the following questions:

Answering these questions honestly will help your doctor determine the underlying cause of Baker’s cyst and rule out other possibilities, such as blood clots. If there is room for doubt, you may need some tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-ray, or ultrasound.

Imaging tests are helpful if a detailed image of the cyst is needed. They allow doctors to determine the presence of tumors, potentially causing the swelling, and if there is damage to the cartilage. On the other hand, X-rays are used to evaluate the severity of inflammation and monitor arthritis.

Treatment

Baker’s cysts themselves are rarely the focus of the treatment. Instead, doctors aim to treat the underlying condition that causes inflammation. After the damage in the knee is healed, the cyst will disappear within a few weeks. Depending on the type of injury and cause, several treatment options are recommended to eliminate Baker’s cyst. These typically include the RICE method, physical therapy, fluid draining, knee surgery, and medications.

RICE Method

The RICE methodTrusted Sourcestands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation and is effective against most minor injuries. Its four core tenets are as follows:

Physical Therapy

Individuals with arthritis and recovering from a leg injury may benefit from physical therapy. It encompasses a series of gentle exercises that can be performed under the guidance of a physical therapist or individually after discussing the details with your healthcare provider.

Physical therapy aims to strengthen the muscles around the knee and reduce the pain caused by the swelling.

Fluid Draining

Fluid draining is a procedure in which a healthcare professional inserts a needle into a knee joint to remove the fluid. The process is often performed with an ultrasound in order to guide the needle to the cyst.

Surgery

In rare cases, a recommended way to treat Baker’s cyst is knee surgery. It usually applies to people with fractured bone, torn cartilage, or ligaments in the knee.

The surgical procedure involves draining or removing Baker’s cyst, which eliminates severe pain and discomfort while using the knee. Your surgeon will decide which type of surgery best suits your needs and provide guidance regarding recovery after the surgery.

Medications

Medications supplement the RICE method to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Your doctor may recommend popular over-the-counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Some people may also benefit from prescription corticosteroids and cortisone shots.

When Should You See a Doctor?

You should contact your healthcare provider when you notice a telltale symptom of Baker’s cyst – a bump behind a knee. If you don’t have a lump, determine if you are experiencing other symptoms such as difficulty bending a knee, range of motion worse than before, or pain that does not go away.

Your doctor may order some tests to rule out other conditions such as DVTTrusted Source (deep vein thrombosis, an aneurysm, or a tumor. An MRI scan or ultrasound is usually sufficient to diagnose Baker’s cyst.  

Prognosis

For most people, treated Baker’s cyst goes away within a few weeks. Once you start treatment, you will notice that the swelling gets smaller and your knee starts to heal, making bending easier and more comfortable. However, recovery time may take less or longer, depending on what caused it. 

It is not recommended to ignore Baker’s cyst, which causes symptoms, even if it gets better on its own. Contact your doctor and tell them about any changes you experience. They can tell you if your condition is severe and whether there is a more serious underlying cause.

How to Prevent?

Baker’s cyst often develops due to an injury, prolonged pressure on the knee, and activities that gradually damage your knee. To reduce the risk of developing this condition, consider the following measures and general safety tips:

It’s important to note that prevention strategies may vary depending on the underlying cause of the Baker’s cyst, and individual circumstances may require personalized medical advice. It’s vital to consult with a healthcare professional for guidance tailored to your specific situation.

Baker's Cyst: What Is, Causes, Risk Factors, Treatment, and Prevention

Key Facts You Should Know

Baker’s cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst, is a benign growth that develops at the back of the knee due to an excess of synovial fluid, often resulting from knee joint damage. While generally considered mild, it can cause swelling, pain, and restricted movement. Baker’s cysts may be asymptomatic and get diagnosed incidentally during tests for other health problems.

Causes of Baker’s cyst include arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis), knee injuries (dislocations, fractures, hyperextensions, sprains, tears), and damage to knee ligaments. Some of the risk factors involve degenerative knee conditions, being between 35 and 70, being an athlete, and engaging in activities that put pressure on the knee.

Symptoms range from mild pain to severe complications, including nerve damage and compartment syndrome. Diagnosis includes physical exams and imaging tests like MRI, X-ray, or ultrasound to rule out other conditions.

Treatment focuses on the underlying causes, utilizing the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation), physical therapy, fluid draining, knee surgery, and medications (NSAIDs, corticosteroids). Complications are rare, with cyst rupture leading to severe symptoms.

Prevention involves maintaining joint health through proper posture, regular movement, wearing protective sports gear when necessary, regular stretching, weight management, proper hydration, and keeping a safe, tidy environment. Prevention strategies may vary based on individual circumstances.

Sources

December 5, 2023
10 minutes read
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