What is a Baker’s Cyst and how is it treated?


A Baker’s Cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst, is common in patients with increased swelling and inflammation from arthritis in the knee joint. When the joint has increased fluid it often forms a bulging sac behind the knee, and is usually the result of another problem in the joint which caused the swelling. 

Sometimes Baker’s cysts don’t cause any pain and you might never realize that one has formed. In other cases, they can cause knee pain, joint stiffness, and the inability to flex the knee. Rarely, the Baker’s cyst can rupture, causing fluid and bruising to track down the leg into the calf.

Common causes of Baker’s cysts include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cartilage tears (torn meniscus)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • prior injury to the knee

The name Baker’s cyst was given after the British surgeon who originally described the condition, Dr. William Morant Baker. 

How is it Diagnosed? 

Orthopedic surgeons often diagnose Baker’s cysts but they are also commonly seen in rheumatologist and primary care offices. Upon examination the physician will feel the area and compare to the other leg, and may do manual testing to determine other causes. 

If a Baker’s cyst is suspected, diagnostic imaging can be used to confirm. Ultrasounds, arthrograms, and MRI scans can help determine if there is actually a Baker’s cyst and rule out other ailments such as tumors, neuroma, deep vein thrombosis or a popliteal aneurysm. An MRI can also show the cause of the Baker’s cyst, such as meniscal tears or severe arthritis. 

Treatment and Prognosis 

The outlook for recovery from a Baker’s cyst is generally very good if you treat the underlying cause. There are several different options for treatment depending on the severity of your joint problems and the amount of fluid in the Baker’s cyst. 

Physical therapy can help reduce the inflammation and swelling in the knee as well as regain strength and range of motion of the joint. Using an assistive device for ambulation, ice to control inflammation, and a compression wrap to reduce swelling may also be used to alleviate the problem. Over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are also used, but daily long term use should be discussed with your physician. 

Baker’s cysts are commonly treated in the doctor’s office through aspiration (draining of the fluid manually with a needle) and corticosteroid injections, which can relieve the symptoms immediately or within a few days. The Baker’s cyst has the possibility of returning after some time if the underlying causes are chronic. 

In cases of severe arthritis or joint damage, arthroscopic surgery is an option to remove the damaged tissue or smooth out the arthritic cartilage causing the fluid. For chronic joint pain patients a total knee replacement may be an option to completely regaining knee function and reducing pain. 

If you think you are suffering from a Baker’s cyst, or your joint pain and swelling has increased, contact the Heekin Clinic to schedule an evaluation and get to feeling better soon. 


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