Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi
Ganglion cysts are small growths that can develop in any joint in the body. Oftentimes they are asymptomatic, so many people who have them do not know they are there, and that’s completely fine. However, when they develop in the spine, they are often symptomatic and painful. Today, we explain why these growths occur and how they are treated.
Spinal Ganglion Cyst Development
First, let’s explain how a ganglion cyst develops. Inside your body are a number of diarthrodial joints, which are joints that connect two bones. The surfaces of the joint are covered by hyaline cartilage, and around the joint is a thick material known as the capsule. The entire capsule is lined by a thin layer of cells known as the synovium, which produces an oil-like substance that helps facilitate movement in the joint.
Over time, the surface of the joint can start to erode. Oftentimes this is the result of degenerative arthritis or acute injury. This can cause bone spurs to develop, which can rub against the joint capsule, causing tears through which the synovial lining can protrude. The synovium cells in this area will still produce lubricating fluid, but since it is not longer contained in the capsule, it can result in the formation of a cyst. Your spine is comprised of a number of diarthrodial joints, and when cysts form in this area, they’ll typically compress nerves or other structures and cause pain.
Spinal ganglion cysts that compress nerves or discs can cause a range of symptoms, including localized pain, radiating pain, numbness, muscle weakness, inhibited gait, stiffness and in rare cases, bladder issues.
Treating Ganglion Cysts
Ganglion cysts can be treated in a few different ways, but which method works best for you will depend on the size, location and likelihood that the treatment method will solve the problem for good. Some people may be able to avoid surgery for their ganglion cyst if symptoms are mild, and they may find success with medications or steroid injections that work to reduce the size of the cyst. A surgeon may also be able to drain the cyst with a needle and administer a steroidal agent to shrink the cyst.
If non-surgical treatments won’t effectively manage the problem, your doctor may recommend surgery. A minimally invasive operation to remove the cyst is rather straightforward and oftentimes very effective. Spinal ganglion cysts that are removed with a surgical procedure do not return about 90 percent of the time, meaning there’s a high likelihood that one surgery will resolve the problem for good.
There’s also the possibility that the cyst occurs in conjunction with degenerative spondylolysthesis, which means shifting has taken place in your spine and it is unstable. Your surgeon may also perform a spinal fusion at the same time as cyst removal, but your surgeon will explain everything prior to surgery so you know exactly what to expect.