Synovial Cysts: symptoms, causes and treatments

Updated 12/26/2023
Synovial Cyst, University Foot and Ankle Institute

What is a synovial cyst on the foot? 

A cyst is a pouch or fluid-filled sac under the skin. Synovial cysts generally occur on the top of the foot. A synovial cyst forms when jelly-like fluid leaks from a nearby joint. Although they're known medically as soft tissue tumors, synovial cysts are not cancerous and are easily treated.

 

Synovial fluid lubricates the facet joints and helps them move smoothly. A channel between the cyst and joint capsule, tendon sheaths, bursae, and ligaments allows fluid to move freely between the structures.

The size of the sac or cyst can change with activity and may disappear for some time, only to recur. The mass is often soft, but it may become firmer to the touch with time.

 

Cysts are often asymptomatic but may also cause a burning sensation and skin irritation, making walking and wearing shoes difficult.

 

A synovial cyst should not be confused with a ganglion cyst, although both are fluid-filled, non-cancerous masses that can occur on the top of your foot.

 

What are synovial cyst risk factors? 

The exact cause of these soft-tissue masses is unclear, but we do know some risk factors that can increase your risk of developing a synovial cyst.

 

These benign lumps often arise near joints and tendons, and while anyone can develop them, certain factors can increase your risk, such as:

 

  • Joint degeneration: Synovial cysts are commonly associated with degenerative joint conditions like osteoarthritis. This association is likely due to the degenerative changes that occur in the joints, which may predispose them to cyst formation.
  • Joint or tendon trauma: Injuries or trauma to the joint or surrounding tissues can cause irritation and inflammation that leads to cysts.
  • Overuse: Repetitive motion or overuse of a joint or tendon can contribute to the formation of cysts. This is often seen in athletes or individuals who engage in repetitive activities.
  • Age: Synovial cysts are more common in older adults and the risk increases due to wear and tear over time. It is rare for someone under 50 to develop a synovial cyst.
  • Joint inflammation: Conditions that cause inflammation in the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may increase the risk of synovial cysts.
  • Joint dysfunction: Abnormalities in joint function or mechanics can contribute to the development of cysts. This may be due to underlying common conditions or structural abnormalities.
  • Genetics: There may be a genetic predisposition to developing synovial cysts.

 

What is synovial cyst foot treatment? 

If the mass is not causing pain and is relatively small, our doctors will likely take a watch-and-wait approach, scheduling follow-up appointments to monitor the cyst. If there is pain, limitation of motion, or difficulty wearing shoes, immediate treatment may be necessary.

 

Our doctors are firm on avoiding home remedies such as smashing the cyst, which is not effective and can cause more problems.

 

Are there non-surgical treatment options for a synovial cyst?

The podiatrists at University Foot & Ankle Institute opt for conservative, non-surgical treatment options when possible. Non-surgical treatment consists of pain management and protecting the joint while it heals.

 

Before deciding on your treatment plan, we will do a physical examination of the affected joint and take X-rays to rule out more complicated problems.

 

Our patients generally find pain relief by icing the area around the cyst and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers. Resting the joint and avoiding strenuous activity can relieve pain and give the cyst time to resolve on its own.

 

In some cases, non-invasive treatment options are unsuccessful, and a more aggressive treatment plan becomes necessary.

 

The least-aggressive form of treatment is called aspiration. Our doctor uses a local anesthetic to numb the area and drains the fluid using a needle.

 

Sometimes, we’ll utilize a steroid injection or hyalauroindase (a dissolving enzyme) to reduce the likelihood of cyst recurrence. While aspiration is a good treatment option, synovial cysts have a high recurrence rate.

 

Surgical treatment options for a synovial cyst 

Depending on the size and location of the cyst, excision surgery may be an appropriate treatment option. This procedure is done in our on-site surgical centers. Rest and reduction of activities may be required after the procedure. Typically, the patient wears a splint for 7-10 days.

 

The excision procedure has a significantly higher success rate than an aspiration, although complications such as joint stiffness, scar formation, and infection are possible.

 

University Foot and Ankle Institute is the best choice for synovial cyst treatment

University Foot and Ankle Institute doctors treat all types of foot cysts. The most common types of cysts are ganglion, synovial, and plantar fibroma.

 

You don't have to live with foot pain. There is so much innovation in podiatric medicine today, and our board-certified orthopedic surgeons are at the forefront. With decades of combined experience and the highest success rates in the nation, our DPMs have effectively treated over 200,000 patients. Foot and ankle pain is not normal. And ignoring it will likely cause your condition to worsen and become harder to treat. 

 

UFAI is well known as one of the nation's most technologically advanced foot and ankle practices (including sports medicine). While other healthcare teams say they know about "the latest and greatest," UFAI has been researching, running clinical trials, and performing these techniques for decades. 

 

For a consultation please call (877) 736-6001 or make an appointment online now.

 

University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area. Our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, El Segundo, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Santa Barbara, and Valencia.

 

 

 

Synovial cyst FAQs

Synovial cyst FAQs

 

Can synovial cysts occur in other parts of your body besides the foot?

Synovial cysts may also manifest on the spinal cord, where they are most common in the lumbar region (lower back) and cause back pain. If the synovial cysts are large enough, they may cause spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal.

 

How serious is a synovial cyst?

A synovial cyst in the foot is generally not considered a serious condition, but it can cause discomfort or pain, especially when walking or wearing certain shoes.

 

What is the difference between a ganglion cyst and a synovial cyst?

A ganglion cyst is a noncancerous lump that typically forms near joints or tendons, filled with a jelly-like fluid, whereas a synovial cyst is specifically a fluid-filled sac arising from the joint or tendon lining. Ganglion cysts are more related to the connective tissue around a joint, while synovial cysts are directly associated with joint or tendon sheath degeneration.

 

Can a synovial cyst go away on its own?

Yes, a synovial cyst can go away on its own. The body may reabsorb the fluid in the cyst over time, leading to a natural reduction in size or complete disappearance. However, the time frame for this can vary, and not all synovial cysts will resolve spontaneously.

 

Is a synovial cyst cancer?

A synovial cyst is not cancer. However, synovial sarcomas are. They are cancerous tumors that grow in muscles, fat, joints, nerves, or blood vessels. Though they are rare, they can be very serious and should be treated immediately.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

Extraforaminal Lumbar Synovial Cyst Causing Sudden Foot Drop 

https://doi.org/10.2176/nmc.48.578

 

Pseudotumoural soft tissue lesions of the foot and ankle: a pictorial review

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22347966

 

Giant Synovial Cyst of Thigh: A Rare Entity

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670511 

  • Dr. Gina Nalbandian, DPM

    Dr. Gina Nalbandian specializes in reconstructive and revisional foot and ankle surgery, foot and ankle trauma, sports medicine, lapiplasty, and limb salvage.

     

    While an undergrad, Gina volunteered at free clinics, hospitals and with the AIDS Project in Los Angeles, all the while exploring various careers in medicine. She also conducted and published her research in the lab on campus. “I soon found out that the lab life wasn’t for me, and I wanted a more hands-on approach to medicine,” she says.

     

    Dr. Nalbandian did her residency at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, which is affiliated with Tufts University. As a resident, she served an academic coordinator and chief resident.

     

    A resident of Sherman Oaks, Gina continues to volunteer her expertise with the Special Olympics, Happy Feet (providing foot care at homeless shelters), and the Boston Marathon.

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