A ganglion is a fluid-filled swelling of the lining of a joint or tendon. Although ganglions can form on any part of the foot, they mostly appear on the ankle or top of the foot. Ganglions tend to change in size and usually grow slowly.
Repeated irritation can weaken the lining of a joint or tendon and lead to ganglions. People who wear boots are more vulnerable to ganglions, as this type of footwear puts stress on the foot and ankle. Bone spurs (bony outgrowths) may also cause ganglions by irritating the joints and tendons.
Ganglions often form with no symptoms. But if the ganglion puts pressure on the nerves in the overlying skin, it can cause tingling, numbness, or pain. Ganglions sometimes swell and their size can change with different activities or a change in weather.
Because ganglions can be mistaken for tumors, it’s important to have a complete examination and, possibly, tests to confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor will ask you questions such as how long you’ve had the ganglion, what kind of symptoms you’re feeling, if its changed in size, or if its size varies according to your activities. During the evaluation, your doctor may do a translumination exam, shining a light through the swelling (usually, you can see through a ganglion, but not through a tumor). When your foot is palpated (pressed), a ganglion feels spongy and the fluid moves from side to side.
Ganglions are often difficult to treat without surgery—but nonsurgical methods may be helpful in relieving some of your symptoms.
- Pads placed around the ganglion can ease pressure and friction
- Fluid removal may also relieve symptoms, though ganglions may recur
- Limiting movements and activities that increase pain may bring relief
- Icing the ganglion for 15-20 minutes may temporarily relieve inflammation and pain
- If your inflammation is severe, your doctor may treat your symptoms with medication
If a ganglion is causing ongoing or sever pain, your doctor may recommend surgery. The entire ganglion wall is removed during the procedure, some surrounding tissue may also be removed. You may feel pain, swelling, numbness, or tingling for several weeks following surgery. You’ll be able to walk soon afterward, though your foot may need to be wrapped or casted. Notify your doctor if you see any problems. Although surgery is successful, there’s a chance ganglion will recur.