HomeHealth TopicDermatology

How to Get Rid of a Ganglion Cyst (Without Smashing It)

Cherilyn Cecchini, MDKatie E. Golden, MD
Published on September 20, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Ganglion cysts are small, fluid-filled bumps that often develop on the wrist or hands. But they can also appear in other areas of the body, like the ankles and feet.

  • Ganglion cysts are harmless, but they can appear in positions that cause pain. The good news is that they can sometimes go away on their own.

  • If a ganglion cyst doesn’t go away or causes a lot of discomfort, there are treatment options that can help.

A close-up of a ganglion cyst on an adult’s hand.
taniche/iStock via Getty Images Plus

You may know ganglion cysts by the more common name “Bible bumps” or “Bible cysts.” They got this nickname because people used to treat them at home by hitting them with a heavy book — like a Bible. But don’t worry, these little lumps are not demonic. 

Ganglion cysts are small collections of fluid that often pop up on the back of your hand or wrist. They’re not dangerous, and they often go away on their own with time. But if you have one that is bothering you — or keeps coming back — there are treatment options available that can help get rid of it. (And they don’t involve using a book).

What causes ganglion cysts? 

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes ganglion cysts. They’re more common in people who are 15 to 40 years old, but they can develop at any age. And they tend to affect women more often than men. 

One theory suggests that they may be due to trauma to a joint or tendon. And that may explain why they’re common in gymnasts, since they often apply stress to their wrist joints.

What does a ganglion cyst look like? 

A ganglion cyst looks like a small lump under the skin. They can vary in size, but they’re often roughly the size of a quarter. Sometimes a ganglion cyst is so small that you can’t see it. But when you can see one, it’s generally round or oval in shape. It can feel spongy or firm, like it’s filled with a jelly-like substance.

Where can a ganglion cyst develop? 

Ganglion cysts develop most commonly on the back of the hands or wrists. Occasionally they occur on the palm side of the wrist. Sometimes they’ll pop up at the base of a finger or on a finger. They can also develop on ankles and feet, but this isn’t as common.

How do you diagnose a ganglion cyst? 

A healthcare provider can usually diagnose a ganglion cyst simply by looking at it. If there’s any question about the diagnosis, they may recommend more testing. To confirm the diagnosis, they may order an ultrasound, X-ray, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). 

How do you treat a ganglion cyst? 

There are several different treatment options for ganglion cysts. They include:

  • Observation: Sometimes a ganglion cyst will go away on its own. This can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months. But it isn’t an exact science. And if it’s small and doesn’t cause any discomfort, observation is the easiest method of treatment.

  • Immobilization: If the cyst is in a spot that causes pain, wearing a brace or splint may help. This can keep the affected joint from bending in a way that causes discomfort.

  • Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medication, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), can help lessen any associated pain. 

  • Aspiration: This is a small procedure where a provider uses a needle to drain fluid out of a cyst. It helps shrink the size of the cyst, which can relieve pain. But sometimes the cyst can come back after an aspiration.

  • Surgery: Surgery is another treatment option for ganglion cysts. This removes the cyst and its “stalk,” which is the part that attaches it to the tendon or joint. Removing the stalk usually decreases the chances that the cyst won’t come back. But it’s not a guarantee. 

Your healthcare provider may recommend different approaches, depending on the size and location of the cyst and whether or not it’s causing a lot of pain. Your provider can help you choose which treatment option is best for you.

Can you get rid of a ganglion cyst at home? 

Some people have tried getting rid of their ganglion cyst at home by whacking it with a heavy object like a book. This essentially ruptures the cyst using blunt trauma. 

There’s limited research on whether blunt trauma works to get rid of a ganglion cyst. Small studies show that some people have success, and the ganglion cyst doesn’t recur after smashing it. But healthcare professionals do not recommend this approach.

Are ganglion cysts serious? 

Ganglion cysts are not serious. But it’s still important to have a healthcare provider check out lumps and bumps to make sure they aren’t something else. Whenever you notice an irregular lump or bump that you have never had before, it’s always a good idea to have your provider take a look. 

Do not delay medical attention if you also have: 

  • Fever or night sweats

  • Significant pain

  • Redness, rash, or swelling around the lump

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • More than one lump, or a lump that’s growing rapidly

Some people feel embarrassed about lumps or bumps on their bodies. But don’t be shy about talking to your provider. They can alleviate any unneeded worry, and they can help you get rid of it sooner rather than later. 

The bottom line

If you think you may have a ganglion cyst, you might feel tempted to whack it with a big book to get rid of it. While this may be effective, healthcare professionals do not recommend it. Instead, see your provider to discuss which treatment option is the best for you. And if you notice a bump that’s getting worse or if you have significant pain or other symptoms, see a provider right away to figure out what may be going on.

References

American Society for Surgery of the Hand. (2020). Ganglion cyst.

Gregush, R. E., et al. (2022). Ganglion cyst. StatPearls.

View All References (8)

Gude, W., et al. (2008). Ganglion cysts of the wrist: Pathophysiology, clinical picture, and management. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine.

Hospital for Special Surgery. (n.d.). Ganglion cyst.

Nemours KidsHealth. (2017). Ganglion cysts.

OrthoInfo. (2022). Ganglion cyst of the wrist and hand.

Penn Medicine. (n.d.). Treating ganglion cysts in hand and wrist.

Trivedi, N. N., et al. (2016). Blunt force may be an effective treatment for ganglion cysts. Hospital for Special Surgery Journal.

United Kingdom National Health Service. (2021). Ganglion cyst.

Yale Medicine. (n.d.). Ganglion cyst.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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