Orthopedic Conditions

What is a Baker's Cyst?

A Baker’s cyst is also known as a popliteal cyst or synovial cyst. It is a soft, fluid-filled lump that forms on the back of the knee. The lump is sometimes mistaken for a blood clot, but it is not a blood clot. A Baker’s cyst usually develops because of damage to the knee. When the structures in or around the joint are damaged, the knee produces more fluid.

What is a Baker's Cyst?

Sometimes there is only slight pain to signal a Baker’s cyst. There can still be pain in the knee from the initial damage that caused the Baker’s cyst. You may notice a soft lump that sticks out from the back of the knee. Any strain can cause this lump or the knee to swell in size.

It is possible for the Baker’s cyst to go away. The cyst can reduce in size on its own or burst under the skin. When the cyst bursts under the skin, the fluid is absorbed back into the body. It is often best to treat the source of the knee problem to get rid of the Baker’s cyst.

Causes of a Baker’s Cyst?

A Baker’s cyst is the result of damage that causes swelling in the knee. Examples of damage include:

  • Arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid).
  • Direct damage to the knee (meniscus tear, ligament tear).
  • Inflammation.
  • Gout.
How is a Baker’s Cyst Diagnosed?

You need a professional medical exam to diagnose a Baker’s cyst. Here are the ways Dr. Hayter may use to diagnose a Baker’s cyst:

  • Medical history - This will include information on previous injury to the knee.
  • X-ray – You will not see the lump through the X-ray, but it will help determine if there is arthritis present in the knee. This can be the cause of the Baker's cyst.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans – An MRI uses magnetic waves instead of X-rays to show images.
  • Ultrasound test – Ultrasound uses sound waves to determine if the lump is solid or filled with fluid.
How is a Baker’s Cyst Treated?

Treatment of a Baker’s cyst usually starts with nonsurgical options. Surgery may be suggested if it does not improve.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Here are some ways to treat a Baker’s cyst without surgery:

  • Rest and elevation of the leg.
  • Ice and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen.
  • Avoiding activities that strain the knee.
  • Treating the initial damage to the knee.
  • Going to physical therapy.
  • Draining the cyst with a needle.
  • Getting a steroid injection.
Surgical Treatment

When you have a serious pain in your knee, or you have limited mobility in your knee Dr. Hayter may suggest surgery. He may only need to make a small incision on the knee. Surgery will only relieve the problem if the initial cause of the Baker's cyst is treated as well.

What will my recovery be like after surgery?

Your ability to recover and how long it takes you to recover can be different for each patient. Here are some things to expect:

  • You may feel a little tenderness and throbbing in the knee after surgery.
  • You may go back to work and continue daily activities when you feel you are able to and Dr. Hayter has cleared you to do this.
  • Be sure to keep the knee propped up for a few days after surgery to lessen swelling or pain.
  • Avoid strenuous activities.
  • There will be a follow up appointment several days after your surgery.
  • You may receive pain medications after your surgery. Take medications as instructed by your surgeon.
  • You should be able to drive two weeks after surgery.
What are Complications Associated with a Baker’s Cyst?

You may feel the pain is too mild and leave the Baker’s cyst untreated. If left untreated:

  • The cyst may go away on its own.
  • The pain may get worse or the cyst can increase in size.
  • The cyst can burst and cause bruising in the lower leg.
  • If it doesn’t go away, the cyst might actually be a tumor or artery aneurysm. It is important to get the right diagnosis from a medical professional in this case.
Can a Baker’s Cyst be Prevented?

You can best prevent a Baker’s cyst by preventing knee injuries. Here are some ways you can prevent an injury to the knee:

  • Wear appropriate shoes.
  • Use the balls of your feet to turn instead of your knees.
  • Warm up properly before you exercise and cool down afterwards.
  • When you get a knee injury, stop and immediately take care of the knee and make an appointment to see Dr. Hayter in his office.

Please contact the office or our Nurse Coordinator, Jamie Flores, R.N. at 727-278-3996 if you have any questions or concerns.