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Baker's cyst

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

A Baker's cyst is a fluid-filled swelling that develops at the back of the knee. These often cause no problems at all but the larger the cyst, the more likely it is that you may have symptoms from it. The cyst can become inflamed, causing pain in the knee and calf and you might find your knee locks or clicks. For some people, they may get a sharp pain if the cyst bursts, which happens in about 1 in 20 cases. Fluid can then leak into the calf, causing swelling and redness. Baker's cyst is more likely to develop in women than men, and people over the age of 35, although it can affect anyone including children in the 4-7 year old age group.

What causes a Baker's cyst?

Direct injury or trauma to the knee can cause a Baker's cyst but the most common causes are certain inflammatory joint conditions such as osteoarthritis, gout or rheumatoid arthritis that put you at a higher risk.

When should I see my doctor?

Book a routine appointment with your doctor if you have knee pain that’s not getting better after three or four weeks, or if your knee gives way, locks or clicks in a way that causes pain (painless clicking is not alarming).

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, your medical history and examine your knee to diagnose the condition. If your doctor is concerned that this could be a more serious problem, such as a blood clot in the calf, they will arrange for scans to rule this out.

How is it treated?

If the cyst isn’t causing you any symptoms, you don’t have to do anything as it will usually resolve on its own with time.

For symptoms of pain and inflammation, simple painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help and ice wrapped in a towel and applied to the back of the knee can reduce inflammation.

If there are underlying health conditions such as inflammatory arthritis, these need to be managed first in order to help resolve the cyst.

If the cyst isn’t resolving with time or your symptoms are worsening you may be referred to a specialist for drainage of the fluid or surgical removal if other treatments haven’t helped.

What's the prognosis?

They usually clear up on their own, but this can take several months or even years. They can be exacerbated by strenuous exercise or activity.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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