Have you noticed a firm lump on the back of your wrist or hand? Does your wrist ache sometimes? The lump could be a ganglion cyst.
Sometimes known as ‘mother’s wrist’, or a ‘bible cyst,’ ganglion cysts can occur post birth due to increased strain when caring for the baby. Ganglion cysts vary in size, some may be the size of a pea whereas others may be as big as a golf ball.
What is a ganglion cyst?
A ganglion cyst is a benign, fluid-filled cyst that develops near a joint or tendon. Ganglion cysts most commonly develop on the back of the hand or wrist (on the palm side). The cysts are typically round or oval in shape and are filled with a jellylike fluid. This fluid is from a joint capsule or tendon sheath.
What causes a ganglion cyst for mothers?
In the 1960s, ‘mother’s wrist’ was thought to be caused by the repetitive movement of wringing nappies to clean them. If reading that sentence didn’t make you fall in love with your washing machine, I don’t know what will. Luckily, it’s not considered to be a potential cause today.
Carrying babies can cause ganglion cysts, especially if the baby is heavy and/or long.
As you use your hand to support the baby’s head when carrying him, you put pressure on the tendons in your wrist. If your baby is in the top percentile for height or weight, you have an increased risk of developing ganglion cysts.
The condition may not develop immediately after the birth. In fact, symptoms usually develop when the baby reaches six months old or later.
As the baby grows bigger and puts more strain on your wrist, this can cause ganglion cysts to develop.
As your baby gets older still, they should learn to support their own weight better, even when carried, and so you may find the symptoms disappear.
Ganglion cyst symptoms
The main symptom of a ganglion cyst is the swelling of the affected area.
Ganglion cysts vary in size. Some may even be so small that they cannot be felt or seen. In some cases, the ganglion cyst may cause pain and prevent full use of the wrist or hand.
If you think you have a ganglion cyst, you should contact your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Ganglion cyst treatment
If the cyst is painless, you may not require treatment.
Some women find that as their baby grows and becomes more independent, the symptoms of the condition disappear without the need for treatment.
However, if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, of if the ganglion cyst interferes with function, it’s worth seeing your doctor. Your doctor may suggest a number of nonsurgical treatment options, including:
- A wrist brace – you can ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a wrist brace to wear for this condition. The brace will act to immobilise your wrist, and stop you worsening the condition. The brace will also provide extra support to your wrist.
- Acupuncture – some women have found that acupuncture has helped to treat the pain and discomfort caused by mother’s wrist.
- Pain relief – if you are experiencing pain that is preventing you from going about your daily business, you should speak to your pharmacist or healthcare provider about pain relief options.
- Rest – you should try to rest the affected wrist. By avoiding further strain, you can prevent the condition from worsening.
If you have tried the above and are still experiencing discomfort, speak to your doctor about medical treatment options for removing the cyst.
Draining and surgery are two options for severe cysts. However there is a high rate of recurrence in drained cysts, and if the fluid has thickened (which it does over time) then it may be too difficult to aspirate successfully.
Surgery is a very invasive and extreme option, and most people find the ganglion cyst returns after an aspiration. So try to keep in mind the ganglion cyst will likely resolve itself naturally over the coming months.
How to prevent or avoid ganglion cysts
To avoid developing future ganglion cysts, or aggravating your existing condition, you could try the following:
- Use a sling – if the cyst was caused by carrying your baby and supporting his head with your hand, you could try babywearing instead. The baby will be supported by the sling, and you’ll have your hands free to get on with important things (like making a cup of tea). You can even breastfeed in a sling, reducing your risk of developing mother’s wrist even further.
- Breastfeeding position – be careful not to use your wrist and thumb to support your baby’s head during feeds. Instead use pillows to prop your baby up, or try feeding lying down in bed.