Baker’s cysts are actually pretty common. While many of these unpleasant cysts resolve on their own, some patients experience so many symptoms that they need one of several treatments to lead a normal life. Others never find resolution.
What is a Baker’s Cyst?
A Baker’s cyst is a swelling that occurs when synovial fluid from your knee joint protrudes into the back of your knee, MedicineNet.com reports. Health care providers sometimes refer to it a popliteal cyst because it forms in the popliteal area of the knee.
This type of cyst is the result of any kind of arthritis, an injury like a torn meniscus or any trauma to the knee. Any of them can cause the weight of your body to compress fluid between the bones of your knee joint. A Baker’s cyst occurs when a sac of fluid forms behind or beside the joint. The most common cause is osteoarthritis. Some patients experience these cysts behind both knees at varying times or even simultaneously.
A lot of individuals with a Baker’s cyst experience no symptoms and don’t even know they have the deformity. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are some telltale signs of this fluid-filled sac.
Among the most common is swelling behind your knee. Sometimes the entire leg is swollen. Others include stiffness, pain in your knee and a texture of the tissue behind it that feels like a balloon filled with water.
Among the complications of a Baker’s cyst are continual swelling, a sharp pain in your knee, redness in your calf, or a sensation of water running down the calf.
For many patients, a Baker’s cyst disappears without treatment. Otherwise, you might need a specialist to treat it. This is normally an orthopedic surgeon.
Once the underlying problem has been resolved, the cyst often disappears. However, the first step of treatment for most patients whose Baker’s cysts don’t resorb is physical therapy. Exercises can increase your range of motion and strengthen the muscles around your knee. They also help reduce symptoms and help save the function of your knee.
The orthopedic surgeon might opt to drain fluid from your knee joint using needle aspiration. This usually requires some type of local anesthetic.
Some Baker’s cysts respond to a corticosteroid injected directly into your knee to cut inflammation in the joint. However, complex Baker’s cysts – those that reside in extra-sturdy capsules – generally don’t respond well to this treatment.
In some cases, particularly when osteoarthritis is the culprit, treating the underlying cause brings no resolution for the patient. When a Baker’s cyst is very large or painful, the orthopedic surgeon might suggest surgery to remove it. However, most are reluctant to do so because these cysts tend to re-form after removal.
If surgery to remove a cyst isn’t recommended and other treatments have failed, a patient is left with learning how to live with this condition. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to lessen discomfort.
The first is using the P.R.I.C.E. principle. This involves protection, rest, icing, compression and elevation. Any doctor should be able to explain in detail what to do. Compression stockings help with circulation and can, for some patients, reduce fluid in and around the knee joint. However, you need to consult a physician to learn whether they might be helpful in your case and whether you can get by with an over-the-counter product or need prescription stockings.
Many patients rely on NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen due to their anti-inflammatory properties and ability to relieve pain. Examples of over-the-counter brands are Aleve, Motrin and Advil. Sometimes doctors recommend prescription NSAIDs. Some patients, such as those with inflammatory bowel disease, can’t take either type. They utilize acetaminophen (brand: Tylenol) to reduce their pain. However, these drugs don’t reduce inflammation.
Individuals who have to live with a Baker’s cyst need to change their physical activities to reduce knee inflammation. You should always start with your doctor’s recommendations. However, many patients find that they need to go through a period of trial and error to figure out what their legs will tolerate. Sometimes they can no longer run or jog but are able to walk several times a week. Doctors often caution them to avoid stairs whenever possible.
When standard treatments and at-home steps fail to get rid of the cyst, the patient is likely to continue to experience discomfort. Being aware of the causes, symptoms and treatment options associated with a Baker’s cyst can make living with this condition manageable for most individuals.