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Baker's cyst

Alternative Names 
popliteal cyst

A Baker's cyst is an abnormal collection of joint fluid inside a sac that is located behind the knee.

What is going on in the body? 
There are normal sacs called bursae that contain joint fluid in and around joints. These normal sacs and the joint fluid help to reduce friction and wear on the bones and muscles. In some people, an abnormal outpouching from these sacs may form in the back of the knee. This outpouching is known as a Baker's cyst. These cysts usually form due to some type of knee irritation or injury and may cause symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
A person may have no symptoms at all. When signs and symptoms do occur, they may include:
  • a fullness or lump felt behind the knee
  • pressure
  • pain, aching, or tenderness
  • a limited ability to bend the knee
  • swelling of the knee or calf
Symptoms are usually mild and often come and go. However, if the cyst breaks or ruptures, severe symptoms may occur suddenly.

What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
In children, this condition seems to occur for no reason and is not related to knee irritation. In adults, Baker's cysts are commonly due to:
  • arthritis, which may be the common type, also called osteoarthritis. Other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may also cause this condition.
  • injury to the knee, usually a cartilage tear
  • increased fluid in the knee, called an effusion, which can be due to infection and other causes
What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Most cases cannot be prevented. Sports safety guidelines should be followed for children, adolescents, and adults.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
Diagnosis is primarily made by the history and physical examination of the knee. Fluid may be withdrawn from the cyst. This can often confirm the diagnosis and reduce or stop symptoms. The cyst may also be studied with imaging tests, such as ultrasound, MRI scans, or joint x-rays. These tests may confirm the diagnosis, look for arthritis or injury to the knee, and help rule out other causes for the bump in the back of the knee.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
The cyst may rupture, causing pain and swelling in the calf. The cyst can also slowly get bigger, which may worsen symptoms. This is especially common in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The cyst is not a cancer and is not life-threatening.

What are the risks to others? 
There are no risks to others, as this condition is not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Treatment is not usually needed for the cyst. If symptoms become severe, a needle can be inserted through the skin and into the cyst to drain it. In severe cases, surgery can be used to remove the cyst.

If a cause for the Baker's cyst can be found, the cause may need treatment. For example, a knee injury that causes a cartilage tear may need surgery. A person with rheumatoid arthritis may be given any of a number of medications to reduce damage to the joints.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
The cyst might come back if fluid is withdrawn from it or after surgery. Surgery may cause bleeding, nerve injury, knee stiffness, and infections. Medications used for rheumatoid arthritis may cause stomach upset, allergic reactions, and other effects.

What happens after treatment for the condition? 
Most people are able to continue or return to normal activities after treatment. Those who have no further symptoms need no further therapy. If symptoms return or continue, further treatment may be advised. Other treatment may be needed for the underlying cause, such as arthritis or knee injury.

How is the condition monitored? 
A rapidly growing mass, increased pain, knee or calf swelling, or trouble moving the knee should be reported to the doctor.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 17/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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