Baker's cyst

Also known as a popliteal cyst

A Baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled swelling that can develop behind your knee. It is usually caused by a problem in your knee, such as arthritis or a cartilage tear.

Key points about Baker’s cyst

  1. It is more common in women and usually develops in people over the age of 40.
  2. Symptoms include tightness or swelling behind your knee, pain around your knee and trouble bending your knee.
  3. If you have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, you can take pain relief medicine and won't need any further treatment. The cyst will usually go away by itself.
  4. If you have ongoing pain or trouble using your knee due to the swelling, there are treatments available.

What is a Baker’s cyst?

A Baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled swelling that can develop behind your knee. It is usually caused by a problem in your knee, such as arthritis or a cartilage tear. With these conditions your knee can make too much fluid (synovial fluid) which then collects behind your knee.

Baker’s cysts are more common in women and usually develop in people over the age of 40. Rarely, children and younger people with a healthy knee can get a Baker’s cyst.

What are the symptoms of a Baker’s cyst?

Symptoms include:

  • tightness or swelling behind your knee
  • pain around your knee
  • trouble bending your knee.

Rarely, a Baker's cyst can burst causing severe pain, swelling and redness in your calf.

How is a Baker’s cyst diagnosed?

If you have a swollen knee, your doctor may be able to diagnose a Baker's cyst from hearing what your symptoms are and examining your knee. If your doctor wants to rule out another cause for the swelling, you may need an ultrasound scan or MRI of your knee.

If your cyst has ruptured, you may need tests to rule out a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) as the symptoms are the same.

Self-care of a Baker’s cyst

Simple pain relief such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can be useful.

Use rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE):

  • Rest – Rest your leg
  • Ice – Apply an ice pack for 10 to 20 minutes at a time
  • Compression – Wear a support bandage
  • Elevation – Keep your leg raised

How is a Baker’s cyst treated?

If you have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, you won't need any further treatment. The cyst will usually go away by itself.

If you have ongoing pain or trouble using your knee due to the swelling, options include the following:

  • Treating any underlying knee problem. This may include a corticosteroid injection into your knee to reduce inflammation from arthritis or surgery to repair cartilage damage.
  • Draining of the fluid through a needle sometimes followed by corticosteroid injection into the cyst. The cyst can reform after this treatment.
  • Surgery – very rarely surgery is used remove the Baker’s cyst. This is only considered if the cyst is very large and painful and other treatments haven’t worked.

Reference

  1. Baker's cyst (popliteal cyst) HealthInfo NZ, 2021
  Credits

Content used with permission from HealthInfo Canterbury as part of a National Content Hub Collaborative. 

Credits: HealthInfo, NZ. Reviewed By: Health Navigator Editorial Team Last reviewed: 09 Sep 2021