Baker’s Cyst: Complications, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

The swelling occurs due to the accumulation of synovial fluid inside a small sac known as a bursa.

A Baker’s cyst is a painful condition that can be characterized by swelling in the back of the knee.

If you are not yet familiar, a bursa is a small balloon-like structure that is found throughout the body and acts as a cushion between bones, tendons and muscles.

When this condition develops, the synovial fluid (which is normally contained in a hard capsule that lines the knee joint) accumulates in a bag and protrudes from behind the knee.

This is also known as a “popliteal cyst” because it directly affects the popliteal region of the knee (that superficial depression located behind the knee joints).

If it is not treated, it may break. A broken Baker’s cyst can cause the collected synovial fluid to transfer and travel through the calf muscles of the legs. This can trigger a rapid swelling of the leg that can cause more complications.

Complications of Baker’s Cyst

The most common complication of a Baker cyst is that it opens (ruptures). If this happens, fluid inside Baker’s cyst may leak into the calf muscle.

This can cause swelling of your calf. You may also develop itching and redness of the calf skin due to irritation caused by fluid leaking from the cyst. It is believed that about 1 or 2 out of 20 Baker’s cysts rupture.

If a Baker’s cyst ruptures, it can be quite difficult to distinguish rupture of the cyst and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the leg.

A DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein in the leg. In these cases, it is important that the investigations be carried out to exclude a DVT because it can be a serious condition that requires treatment.

Common causes of Baker’s cyst?

Baker cysts are very common and can be caused by almost any swelling related to the joints. Some of the most common causes may include:

  • A micro-rupture in the meniscal cartilage of the knee.
  • Arthritis of the knee (which is more common in older adults).
  • Injury to the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee (ACL injury).
  • Injury related to sports that affects the knee.

Symptoms and signs

Symptoms can include; visible swelling or protrusion in the back of the knee (which may be painful or painless), constant and prolonged knee pain, tightness in the back of the knee or just a sensation of pain in the back of the knee.

Your doctor may suspect a Baker’s cyst when they examine your knee. The area behind your knee may be swollen. Your doctor can shine a light through the swelling. If light passes through it, the swelling is filled with fluid. The swelling is, therefore, a cyst.

Treatment to help relieve symptoms of Baker’s cyst

If you have pain and discomfort due to your Baker’s cyst, one or more of the following recommendations may be helpful:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):  These may help relieve pain and may also limit inflammation and swelling. There are many types and brands. You can buy ibuprofen in pharmacies, without a prescription. You need a recipe for others.

Side effects sometimes occur with NSAIDs. Stomach pain and bleeding from the stomach are the most serious.

It is possible that some people with asthma, high blood pressure, kidney failure and heart failure can not take NSAIDs. Therefore, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking them, to make sure they are right for you.

Greater pain relief:  If Baker’s cyst ruptures, fluid inside the cyst may leak into the calf and cause worse pain. In this situation, stronger medications may be needed.

Ice can also help reduce swelling and pain:  Wrap ice cubes in a plastic bag or towel.

(Do not place ice directly on the side of the skin, as it can cause ice burns.) A bag of frozen peas is an alternative. Apply the ice pack for 10-30 minutes. Less than 10 minutes has little effect. More than 30 minutes can damage the skin.

Crutches : It may be necessary to use crutches to move until your symptoms are relieved. They help to remove the weight of the affected leg while walking.

Physical therapy: Keeping the knee joint in motion and using strengthening exercises to help the muscles around the knee can be helpful.

Finally, we must consider … how is baker’s cyst treated?

Baker’s cyst often improves and disappears on its own over time. Baker’s cysts in children usually disappear over time.

However, Baker’s cyst may persist for months or even years before it disappears. In many people it causes little in terms of symptoms and no specific treatment is needed.

As it is a type of soft tissue injury, an adequate treatment that could be administered in the first 24 to 48 hours may include rest and ice to minimize inflammation.

While this will initially reduce the pain and swelling behind the knee, it is often not enough to resolve the injury.

Instead, the pain behind the knee will often continue to get worse over time, which will cause more swelling behind the knee, an increase in discomfort and a worsening of pain.

When this occurs, the individual will usually visit a doctor to learn about the available treatment options.

Unfortunately, there have been very few advances in regards to Baker’s cyst treatments. This usually means that your doctor probably only suggests some alternative treatment options.

In general, most doctors will suggest; anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling.

Also, if there is a noticeable swelling behind the knee, your doctor may also recommend draining the inflamed pouch with a syringe to remove excess fluid … even surgery can be recommended in extreme cases.

For many people, the treatments mentioned above simply will not be an option. This can be for several reasons:

  • Some people have already tried one or more of these treatments with little or no benefit.
  • Some people may not be suitable for these types of treatments due to age or a pre-existing medical condition.
  • In addition, such procedures can be painful and many individuals who currently have this condition will consider it invasive.
  • Alternatively, some people simply prefer to first research a natural treatment option when it comes to their health.