A Baker’s Cyst is a potentially painful growth that builds right behind the knee. Also called a popliteal cyst, a Baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled swelling that develops at the back of the knee joint. The cyst often starts as excess fluid caused by a micro tear in the knee or by some other defect. The build-up of excess fluid then creates the cyst.

A Baker's cyst can cause serious pain and reduce your mobility.
A Baker’s cyst can cause serious pain and reduce mobility.

Is a Popliteal Cyst Painful?

Whether or not Baker’s cysts are painful can vary from person to person. It also depends on the underlying cause and the size of the cyst. Some people with Baker’s cysts may not experience any pain, while others might feel discomfort or pain, particularly when the cyst becomes larger or puts pressure on surrounding structures.

A Baker’s cyst can get very painful and even make using your leg difficult. Because of that, it’s always smart to address them while they are still small and before they have a chance to burst.

What is a Baker’s Cyst?

As noted, a Baker’s cyst forms when there is some agitation near a sac-like structure called the bursa. The bursa helps reduce friction between the knee joint’s tendons, muscles, and bones. However, fluid can build in the bursa and cause a cyst if agitated.

Conditions that could trigger a Baker’s cysts could include:

  • Knee Arthritis: Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can lead to inflammation in the knee joint, causing excess knee fluid to accumulate and form a cyst.
  • Cartilage Tears: Tears in the cartilage within the knee joint can trigger increased production of knee fluid, contributing to cyst formation.
  • Gout: A type of arthritis, gout results from the buildup of uric acid. This buildup can lead to a cyst.
  • Inflammation: Any condition that leads to joint inflammation, such as an injury or repetitive stress, can result in a Baker’s cyst.

Symptoms of a Baker’s Cyst

For some people, a Baker’s causes no problems or is barely noticeable. For others, a Baker’s cyst can create many problems. Symptoms of a Baker’s cyst may include:

  • Swelling: A noticeable swelling or lump at the back of the knee, which might feel soft and fluid-filled.
  • Pain: The cyst itself may or may not cause pain. However, if it grows large enough or presses on surrounding structures, it can lead to discomfort or pain in the knee area.
  • Stiffness: The presence of a cyst can lead to stiffness and limited range of motion in the knee joint.
  • Tenderness: The area around the cyst might be tender to the touch.
  • Difficulty Flexing the Knee: If the cyst is large, it can interfere with bending or flexing the knee comfortably.

Besides pain, a serious complication is if the cyst ruptures and releases fluid into the surrounding tissue. This sudden fluid release can cause sharp pain, swelling, and redness in the calf and lower leg. The symptoms of a ruptured Baker’s cyst can mimic those of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a serious condition that requires medical attention.

While not as life-threatening as a DVT, the cysts can become infected and lead to blood flow problems. Seeing a physician soon after noticing knee pain is a smart first step to address the cyst.

A Baker's cyst can be very uncomfortable, but exercise and diet can help.

A Baker’s cyst can be very uncomfortable, but exercise, diet, and dealing with any underlying issues can be very helpful in dealing with the growth of a cyst.

Treatment

The first step is to address any underlying knee joint conditions, such as arthritis or cartilage tears, that might cause a cyst. Treating these conditions first can help alleviate cyst formation when they’re still small.

The cyst itself is usually addressed with pain medication, rest and elevation, and a cold compress. In most cases, that reduces the size of the cyst and makes it manageable.

In some cases, if a cyst gets too large or bursts and leads to persistent pain, significant swelling, or other complications, more advanced treatments might be considered, such as aspiration of any remaining fluid or, in rare cases, surgical removal of the cyst. However, most physicians try non-invasive measures first, as treating the cyst doesn’t really resolve the problem. Treating the underlying problem is generally the best way to handle the cyst.

Can Physical Therapy Help?

Physical therapy can be beneficial in managing Baker’s cysts, especially when they are associated with underlying knee conditions or issues. Physical therapy focuses on improving joint mobility, strengthening muscles, and promoting proper movement patterns. While physical therapy might not directly treat the cyst itself, it can address the underlying causes and help alleviate symptoms.

Physical therapy is usually a cheaper and less invasive way to handle a cyst. For a consultation to see if physical therapy would help your issue, please get in touch with us anytime to schedule an appointment.


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