We are often asked to explain what a ganglion is and how to treat it. There is a simple way of getting your head around just what a ganglion is. Imagine a garden hose with a 1cm2 cut out of it. Now glue in that place a piece of balloon material. When you turn on the hose, the weaker material will bulge out into a shape like a hot air balloon. That bulging part is the ganglion. To be a little more technical, ganglions are fluid filled sacks that form under the skin as an extrusion of fluid from deeper structures. The fluid might come from a joint or from a tendon sheath, both of which contain a thick liquid lubricant. Often, they come from the structure closest to where you can see the bump but this is not always the case. Ganglions can be quite long, snaking up to 5cm before emerging.
This often leads to a reluctance on the part of the family doctor to cut them out as it can escalate into a bigger job than was imagined. In fleshy areas, a ganglion will appear as a bump under the skin that you can compress a little by pressing it. In thinner skinned areas such as toes, they will often look like a blister, with the yellowing fluid quite visible. While blisters always obviously have all of their fluid on top of the skin, a ganglion cyst will be ‘set in’ to the skin – even if the bulge protrudes out a little.