If you have pain and swelling in the back of your knee, there is a good chance that you might be suffering from a problem called Baker’s cyst and also known as a popliteal cyst. You might ask yourself, “what is a Baker’s cyst, and what can I do about it .”We will try to answer your question and provide you with some useful tips.
A baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled cyst that is in the rear part of the knee. You may feel tightness and swelling at the back of your knee if you are suffering from this condition.
The synovial fluid reduces friction between your knee’s moving parts by lubricating it. It helps your leg swing smoothly.
The knee can produce too much synovial fluid; these fluids accumulate in the back part of the knee and get stuck in between tissues, and form a ball-like structure called a cyst. Generally, it can represent any problem of the knee that is causing excessive production of fluids.
This can occur because:
- Different types of arthritis can cause inflammation of the knee joint
- Knee injuries, such as cartilage tears, can cause inflammation of the knee joint
In some cases, the cyst will not cause pain, and it will be a coincidental finding on an MRI or ultrasound. In other cases, symptoms will include swelling at the back of the knee, pain, and inability to fully flex (bend) the knee joint. Rarely this cyst may burst, resulting in sharp pain in the knee joint, swelling, and possible redness of the calf. If you are experiencing sharp pain, swelling, stiffness, and redness of the calf, our advice is to seek immediate medical help as it may represent a blood clot OR deep vein thrombosis (DVT) rather than a baker cyst, a much more serious condition that is potentially dangerous.
In many cases, the diagnosis is done by a physician or a physiotherapist and based on your signs and symptoms. The physiotherapist will evaluate you by first observing the area to detect redness, swelling, or any obvious deformity. The physiotherapist will then proceed to a range of motion evaluation and will notice that your knee flexion (bending) is less on the injured side. This is caused by the swelling that acts as a block to full knee flexion. Palpation will reveal pain over the swollen area. Other tests will be done to rule out deep vein thrombosis, a potentially dangerous condition that requires immediate medical treatment. The physiotherapist may want to refer you to imaging tests such as MRI and Ultrasound, which are very reliable in detecting Baker’s cyst.
In some cases, the cyst will disappear on its own; however, in most cases, it is recommended to get evaluated by a doctor or a physiotherapist who may recommend the following treatments:
A corticosteroid medication, such as cortisone, may be injected into your knee to relieve inflammation. This may relieve pain, but it does not always prevent recurrence of the cyst.
A needle may be used to drain the fluid from the knee joint. This procedure is called needle aspiration and is often performed under ultrasound guidance.
Ice, a compression wrap, and crutches may help reduce swelling and pain. You may also find that gentle range-of-motion exercises and strengthening exercises for the muscles around your knee will help to reduce your symptoms. The physiotherapist might suggest temporary changes to your lifestyle, fit you with walking aids if necessary, and with specific exercises tailored to your specific condition. More testing may be prescribed to determine the root cause of Baker’s cyst.
Whenever possible, doctors treat the underlying cause of the cyst. For example, suppose your doctor determines that a cartilage tear is causing the cyst. In that case, he or she may recommend surgery to remove or repair the cartilage.
- Baker’s cysts associated with osteoarthritis usually improve with the treatment of arthritis. Surgical intervention is rarely.
The goal of the evaluation will be to determine that your issue is indeed a baker cyst and not something else (like a blood clot). Another very important goal of the initial evaluation is to try detecting the underlying cause of Baker’s cyst. As mentioned earlier, Baker’s cyst can be the result of different knee problems, and it is important to treat these underlying conditions in a specific and appropriate manner.
Here, at AMS clinic, you will go through an evaluation process with one of our licensed physiotherapists. The physiotherapist will propose a specific treatment protocol based on your condition. If needed, you can get a referral to one of our specialized doctors, such as a sports medicine physician or orthopedic surgeon.
Hopefully, this answers some of your questions; please do not hesitate to contact us or schedule a free consultation appointment with one of our physiotherapists.