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Most frequently occurring in women over 40, a Baker’s cyst is basically swelling in the form of a soft lump behind the knee. This area is called the popliteal space, which is the small indent in the back of your knee where the femur and the tibia meet. Sometimes called a “popliteal cyst” or a “synovial cyst,” a Baker’s cyst can form due to a knee injury, arthritis, infection, or even gout.
Anything that causes synovial fluid to leak in the knee area may result in a Baker’s cyst. Synovial fluid is an important joint lubricator that protects the joints in your body. As the synovial fluid builds, the cyst gets larger. Even if painless, a Baker’s cyst can decrease your knee’s range of motion and cause stiffness. A Baker’s cyst may or may not include inflammation, but if it does, you will experience pain. Medical News Today also includes include the symptoms of joint locking, knee pain, and calf pain for a Baker’s cyst.
Fortunately, a Baker’s cyst is usually little more than a blemish that recedes on its own. Despite this encouraging information, however, any new bump or lump should always be seen by a physician.
When a Baker’s Cyst Causes Intense Pain
Although it’s a rare thing, if your Baker’s cyst erupts, you will know it. A burst Baker’s cyst causes intense, sharp pain that is very similar to deep vein thrombosis. Deep vein thrombosis is a life-threatening problem that requires immediate medical attention. If you’re not certain what is causing that acute leg pain, get to the doctor at once.
A 2014 medical discussion in the Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, states that most Baker’s cyst ruptures are brought on by physical activity and inflammatory pathology, like gout, more often than due to osteoarthritis. Your physician will likely order an ultrasound or arthrogram with contrast dye to confirm the diagnosis of a Baker’s cyst.
A Baker’s cyst has nothing to do with baking. It was named after its discoverer, William Morrant Baker (1839–1896), a British surgeon who also authored a number of articles on bone and joint conditions. Besides the Baker’s cyst, there are other medical terms that adopt his name:
- Baker’s cannula: A cannula is a thin tube inserted into a vein or body cavity to administer medicine, drain off fluid, or insert a surgical instrument; Baker’s innovation was a flexible tracheal cannula.
- Baker’s disease: A defect of the periarticular (around the joint) ligaments.
Baker’s Cyst Treatments
You can administer home treatment for a Baker’s cyst by using ice to reduce inflammation, resting the knee, and using compression bandages to support the knee, if needed. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving drugs, like ibuprofen, can help reduce the pain and inflammation. Elevating the knee above your heart level may also be helpful with a Baker’s cyst, advises bigkneepain.com.
If the Baker’s cyst is large and truly affecting your movement, your physician may decide to drain the cyst and inject a corticosteroid to reduce the pain. However, advises Livestrong.com, these are not long-term strategies, as a steroid injection can degrade tendons and ligaments, which may further weaken your knee. This method simply treats the Baker’s cyst itself and not the cause of the cyst, setting the stage for a repeat injury. It’s wise to seek treatment for a Baker’s cyst that includes a determination and elimination of the actual cause, if possible.
Conservative treatments for a Baker’s cyst that address causes include acupuncture, physical therapy, and knee exercises. Acupuncture is a strong option if the cause is arthritis because acupuncture helps relieve pain and improves the knee’s range of motion. Physical therapy and knee exercises should focus on building your knee joint strength with the goal of avoiding another injury.
ThePhysicalTherapyAdvisor.com recommends exercises for a Baker’s cyst that include knee stretches, leg raises, resistance exercises, wall squats, hip rotations, and bridge exercises. Working with a physical therapist, at least in the beginning, is wise to ensure you’re targeting the correct area.
Surgery is usually a last-option choice for when the Baker’s cyst is causing severe pain.