I Have a Baker’s Cyst: Should I Worry?

If you have pain in the back of your knee, knee stiffness, a sense of swelling or fullness behind your knee, or swelling behind the knee that goes away when you bend the joint, you might be experiencing what’s called a Baker’s cyst. Your doctor will examine your knee and may perform an MRI or ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis.

If your doctor says you have a Baker’s cyst (also known as a popliteal cyst), should you be worried? The good news is that these cysts are generally not dangerous. However, they may indicate other problems in the knee, so it’s best to seek the guidance of a professional, skilled orthopedist if you suspect you have a popliteal cyst.

What Is a Baker’s Cyst?

A Baker’s cyst is a walled-off collection of gelatinous fluid in the back of your knee. It is typically found at the crease of your knee, off-center towards your other knee. Typically these cysts are the size of a large grape, but they can range from even smaller than that to much larger.

Medical illustration of the formation of a Baker’s cyst at the back of the knee

These types of cysts are usually painless and are often found during an evaluation for some other issue. Occasionally they can be symptomatic. Larger cysts can press on adjacent structures and cause local pain. Sometimes they can get so large, that, like an overfilled water balloon, they can burst. In these cases, the liquid they contain may drip internally down your leg. This may cause quite a bit of swelling and subsequent leg and ankle pain from the increased fluid.

Baker’s Cyst: Do I Need To Worry?

Mostly, however, these cysts are asymptomatic. More importantly, they are benign, so they should not be confused with a tumor or cancer. They will never turn into cancer. As a result, they usually don’t require any treatment or observation. So if you have a Baker’s cyst behind the knee, and it’s not causing you any symptoms, you can usually just forget about it.

A cyst on the leg such as this can develop in children spontaneously, without any cause or other associated problem. This can also be the case with adults, but it is much rarer. In adults, popliteal cysts are usually a sign of other issues in your knee.

Typically a meniscal tear or knee arthritis causes increased swelling and fluid accumulation in the knee. This fluid increases the pressure in the knee. As a result, some of the fluid bulges out a weak spot in the back of the knee and this bulge produces the cyst.

Does a Popliteal Cyst Need Treatment?

Although a Baker’s cyst is not usually a cause for concern in and of itself, it often indicates that there is a problem in your knee that may need to be addressed. In those rare cases where the cyst is bothersome, the liquid within it can safely be removed with a needle and the use of ultrasound for guidance. However, be warned that until the underlying problem is treated and the excess knee fluid is no longer being produced, the cyst is likely to recur.

Speak to an Orthopedic Specialist

If you have a cyst behind the knee and have localized symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your knee doctor and get an evaluation just to be sure that no related problems are present.

As a leading provider of high-quality, state-of-the-art orthopedic care for patients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, the orthopedic specialists at Town Center Orthopaedics evaluate each unique case with the duty, care, and attention you deserve. Our patient-centered approach means that you will be involved in every step of the process to ultimately achieve the best outcome for you.

For more information about options to address a Baker’s cyst, call Town Center Orthopaedics any time at (571) 250-5660, or request an appointment today.

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