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Knee Problems Popliteal Baker Cyst

Knee Problems Popliteal Baker Cyst

What is a Baker Cyst? The Anatomy, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments for Popliteal Cysts and Baker Cysts.

A Baker cyst, also know as a popliteal cyst, is swelling of the knee joint caused by an excess of synovial fluid. Synovial fluid lubricates the femur and tibia allowing the allowing the bones to glide smoothly inside the knee.

Popliteal Cyst

If the knee joint is compressed, some of this fluid can separate from the joint forming a sac which protrudes to the back of the knee.

This benign lump was named after the British surgeon who first described the condition, William Morrant Baker.


Baker cysts are not uncommon and can be caused by any kind of joint swelling.

This includes injury and inflammation of the joint lining, as well as diseases such as gout or arthritis. The most common from of arthritis associated with Baker cysts is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis.

Baker cysts can also result from other knee injuries such as torn cartilage.


Backer cysts are usually visible as a lump behind the knee. The cyst is usually more apparent when standing, especially compared to the other knee.

The cyst may cause little or no pain. The cyst may feel soft and slightly tender, and the knee joint may feel prone to buckling. You may also experience tightness and aching of the knee.

The condition can become a problem if the protrusion of fluid goes between the muscles of the calf, this is known as dissection.

The cyst can also rupture, causing pain and swelling in the back of the leg below the knee. The fluid may leak down the leg also causing the ankle to swell.

The fluid will reabsorb back into the body but the cyst will more than likely grow back in a few days.

Although these symptoms appear shocking, Baker cyst dissections and ruptures are not life threatening.


The doctor will review the history of the problem and perform and physical examination. He will watch and feel the knee as your leg bends and straightens.

This is usually all it takes to diagnose a popliteal cyst, however if there are any complications such as a rupture, you may need an ultrasound exam, MRI scan or arthroscopy to confirm it.


Nonsurgical treatments for Baker cysts are generally effective, especially if the symptoms do not interfere with your daily activities.

Medications along with resting the knee can help reduce pain and inflammation.

The doctor may also drain the fluid using arthroscopy and then inject cortisone into the knee to further reduce swelling.

If these treatments are not successful you may be required to undergo surgery to remove the swollen tissue (synovium) repair the joint lining.

If the Baker cyst is the result of other knee injuries such as cartilage tears, then surgery is usually the best treatment.

Surgery is performed using the minimally invasive technique known as arthroscopy.

You will be given general anesthesia to put you to sleep or spinal anesthesia to numb the leg.

The doctor makes incision in the skin over the cyst. The sac is then removed and a synthetic patch sewn over the hole in the joint lining.

The surgery is done in an outpatients ward and does not usually require an overnight stay.


After surgery the knee will be bandaged with a splint for support.

You will be required to keep the incision dry for 24 hours. After which you should clean the knee 3 or 4 times a day making sure you immediately dry the wound.

Most of the stitches will be absorbed into your body; the ones that remain will be removed after 10-14 days. When all the stitches are removed the doctor may place strips of tape over the wound. Leave these on as long as instructed.

Popliteal cysts form close to major nerve and blood vessels in the leg and although complications are rare, these vessels can be damaged during surgery.

If you feel numbness or weakness in your lower leg or foot following the surgery, you should contact the doctor immediately.

Other problems that require a visit to the doctor include:

  • Increased pain in your lower leg
  • Tenderness or redness above or below your knee
  • Increased swelling in your lower leg, ankle, and foot
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sudden chest pain
  • High fever or chills
  • Increased knee pain or trouble moving around
  • Increased bleeding from the wound

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