Foot Cyst Removal
When you feel a lump on your foot or ankle, it can be concerning. Rest assured, not all bumps or lumps are cancerous. It's much more likely you're dealing with a foot cyst, which looks scarier than it actually is.
Regardless, the issue may be more than cosmetic. You may be experiencing some pain or discomfort from this cyst, so let's understand the issue and see if foot cyst removal is the best option for you.
- What is a cyst
- Types of foot cyst
- Foot cyst causes
- How we diagnose
- Do you need to remove the cyst?
- Benefits of ganglion cyst removal
- Risk of surgical removal
- How long is the recovery time?
What is a Cyst?
You’ll feel a cyst as a soft or firm lump under the skin. It's a small, irregular fluid-filled sac of soft tissue rooted to a joint or tendon with a stalk. These cysts can appear anywhere in the body, but because of how concentrated the joints are in your foot, it’s common for them to emerge there.
Types of foot cysts
There are three types of cysts your feet may suffer from: ganglion cysts, synovial cysts, and plantar fibroma cysts.
The most common cyst found on feet is the ganglion cyst. The good news is it's benign or in other words - non-cancerous. It's oftentimes asymptomatic, which means you wouldn't even know it was there if you couldn't see it.
The bad news is that it can range in size and location. This means it can create skin irritation, limit mobility, or even cause foot pain by the cyst pressing on surrounding tissue and nerves. A symptomatic ganglion cyst often requires surgery.
Synovial cysts are in many ways similar to ganglion cysts. They appear in the same places - close to joints and tendons on your feet. They're both benign.
The main difference is the lining and contents. Synovial cysts have a lining of synovial cells. They're full of synovial liquid, similar to ganglion cysts but less concentrated.
Both types of cysts have many similarities and the terms are often used interchangeably in the literature. Yet the distinctions are important because synovial cysts often suggest an underlying intra-articular condition. In other words, synovial cysts are more likely to be a symptom of something more serious.
Plantar fibroma cysts
Plantar fibroma cysts are fibrous knots that form on the plantar fascia, in the arch of the foot. Unlike the other two types, they always form at the bottom of the foot.
Plantar fibroma cysts are benign, but they won't go away without treatment. Non-surgical treatments exist so surgery isn't always required.
Determining what kind of cyst you have or if it's even a cyst at all shouldn't be subject to self-diagnosis. It's still worth seeing a podiatrist if you have a bump on your foot, even if it's not symptomatic.
At the Foot Specialists of Birmingham, we can give you a thorough exam to determine what we're dealing with and whether treatment and/or removal are necessary.
Foot cyst causes
Most cysts are idiopathic. This means they can form spontaneously and the exact causes are unknown. However, we've often observed similarities between patients who come in with foot cysts.
Possible causes include:
- Tendon or joint injuries - many of our patients who suffer from foot cysts have a history of tendon or joint injury.
- Osteoarthritis - while it's not a direct causal link, osteoarthritis can create the kind of wear-and-tear that increases the risk of developing ganglion cysts.
- Genetics - some people have a genetic predisposition to developing foot cysts.
We'll know more once we've done a full examination.
How Can We Diagnose a Foot Cyst?
If a lump appears on your foot, don't hesitate to schedule an appointment with our podiatrists. Even if you don't show any other symptoms, it's best to rule out more serious conditions.
To diagnose a foot cyst, we first perform a physical exam. We might also use ultrasound to determine if the mass is solid or filled with fluid.
In some cases, we might need to draw a small sample from the fluid with a syringe. Don't worry - you'll barely feel a thing.
Requesting an MRI or performing a biopsy may be necessary in some more extreme cases, but it's very rare.
Once we've confirmed it's a cyst and identified what type (it's most commonly a ganglion cyst), we can proceed to talk about treatments.
Do You Need to Have Your Foot or Ankle Cyst Removed?
Ganglion cysts are harmless in most cases. They may come and go on their own. If your cyst is asymptomatic, we would probably recommend home remedies or a non-surgical procedure.
However, if the cyst is big, persists through other methods, or causes you pain, we might recommend surgery.
Non-surgical procedures for ganglion cyst removal
The non-surgical procedure for removing a ganglion cyst on your foot is called aspiration. Aspiration involves draining the fluid from the cyst by puncturing it with a thin needle.
After all the fluid has been extracted, the area will be treated with a corticosteroid injection to relieve pressure. The procedure is almost painless.
This method may improve your condition, but there’s always a chance that the cyst will come back since it’s not technically removed, just remedied.
Surgical procedures for ganglion cyst removal
Ganglion resection is the procedure to surgically remove a ganglion cyst on your foot. It is the most comprehensive option. Your foot and ankle specialist will likely suggest this treatment if your cyst is particularly painful or large, or if you’ve previously undergone aspiration that has proven unsuccessful.
Surgery offers the lowest rate of recurrence but it doesn't eliminate it completely. Still, this is your best bet against dealing with ganglion problems in the future.
Ganglion resection is an outpatient procedure, which means you'll likely get to come home the same day. The surgery is performed under a local anesthetic.
Home remedies and alternative treatments for foot cysts
If the cyst is not particularly problematic, we may recommend over-the-counter medication and other home treatments.
- Over-the-counter pain relief medication
- Warm compresses to stimulate blood circulation and hopefully get the cyst drained
- Avoiding repetitive movement or stress on the joint or tendon at the root of the cyst
- Wear shoes with looser laces
None of these are ideal, but we can talk more about your treatment options once we've performed a full examination.
Here are a few home "treatments" to avoid:
- Don't whack the lump with a heavy object. Old folk remedies included this method. The idea that popping the cyst would cure it was prevalent at the time. However, this may lead to infection and recurrence.
- Don't try to drain it with a syringe or puncture it with a sharp object. Doing it at home will be painful and likely lead to infection and recurrence.
Benefits of Ganglion Cyst Removal
A symptomatic ganglion can cause pain and prevent you from enjoying normal activities. If the cyst presses a nerve, it can be particularly painful and may not be fixed by home remedies or aspiration.
In this case, getting it surgically removed is your best bet to solve the problem and get back on your feet. It may be the only way to relieve your symptoms.
On top of that, surgery has the lowest recurrence rate. While it's not zero, the chances of dealing with another cyst on your foot drop significantly compared to other methods. Sadly, there is no way to completely prevent recurrence.
Risks of Surgical Removal
Like any surgery, ganglion resection is not without risk. While those are minor, they include:
- An adverse reaction to the anesthesia or the stitches.
- If not properly cared for, the removal site might get infected.
- You may experience scar tissue sensitivity or skin irritation.
- Damage to nearby tendons, tissues, or nerves.
Don't worry - those are extremely rare occurrences. In most cases, patients heal quickly and get back to their daily lives within a few weeks.
How Long Will it Take You to Recover from a Ganglion Resection?
You can expect to be fully recovered within 2-6 weeks after surgical removal. Your foot doctor will determine whether you need a boot, cast, or need to stay entirely immobile from your foot while it heals.
You will need to avoid irritation. It's best to wear shoes that don't rub on the scar tissue or you might feel a burning sensation.
Schedule an Appointment
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort in your foot or ankle caused by a lump, contact us today to schedule an appointment with our podiatrists.