Also known as a popliteal cyst, a Baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled lump behind the knee. The condition can form as a result of an injury, cartilage tear, rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis. However, it is caused anytime a sac of tissue behind the knee is filled with joint fluid. In mild cases, a Baker’s cyst may not cause any pain or noticeable signs. Likewise, it can also disappear on its own. If the cyst grows too large, you might experience symptoms and need treatment.
Swelling in the area of the cyst is common. If you notice an uncomfortable, swollen lump behind your leg you might have a Baker’s cyst. The swelling may even be in your leg, too. After standing for a long period of time, the symptom will get worse. See a doctor if you experience this particular symptom of a Baker’s cyst.
Another common symptom you might experience if you have a Baker’s cyst is knee pain. The soreness may also extend into your upper calf. When you straighten and bend your knee repeatedly, you can trigger the pain. During exercise or some other physical activity, you will experience a greater sensation. You should consult your medical provider if you have continued knee pain.
While some people with a Baker’s cyst experience pain while bending and straightening the knee, others may not be able to fully flex the knee whatsoever. Stiffness or tightness in the knee is another typical symptom of a Baker’s cyst.
In rare cases, the fluid-filled sac can tear open. The excess liquid will drain into your lower leg and cause redness in that particular area. Swelling is also associated with this condition.
A Baker’s cyst may go away on its own without any further medical care. However, if it is bothersome, then your doctor can diagnose your condition with a physical exam. To ensure a cyst is not mimicking more serious conditions such as a tumor, aneurysm, or blood clot, your doctor may perform an imaging test like an ultrasound, x-ray, or MRI to see the inside of your knee. Your medical provider may inject cortisone into your knee. Corticosteroids will help reduce swelling and relieve the pain. However, another Baker’s cyst may recur later.
Besides a cortisone injection, a doctor may use a needle to drain the fluid from the cyst. Known as needle aspiration, an ultrasound is required to perform the noninvasive operation. It will help treat the symptoms and remove the cyst altogether.
Several forms of physical therapy can aid in healing a Baker’s cyst. For example, using an ice pack and compression wrap around your knee will assist in reducing the pain and inflammation. Using crutches, a cane, or a walker will take the pressure off of your knee and give it time to rest. Focus on strengthening routines that require a gentle range of motion. That way, you can not only reduce your symptoms but also preserve your knee function.
Besides resting your knee as much as possible, there are things you can do at home to help you feel better. Over-the-counter medications can help with pain and swelling. Both ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) are recommended. Knee supports like elastic bandages can also help treat a Baker’s cyst, but make sure they are simply snug and not tight enough to cause numbness. You should never feel tingling or experience swelling below the bandage. Aside from dealing with a Baker’s cyst after it appears, you should always try to maintain a healthy diet and weight to avoid putting extra strain on your knee.
In the case that a cartilage tear is the underlying cause of the Baker’s cyst, you may need surgery. A tear can lead to the overproduction of synovial fluid. Your doctor can operate to repair or remove the torn cartilage. If you experience a Baker’s cyst because of arthritis, surgery is rarely required. You and your doctor can discuss the different treatments for a Baker’s cyst to determine which one is right for your condition.
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