If you’ve been diagnosed with a Baker’s cyst, chances are this is the first time you have heard of this ailment. And if you are dealing with a recent onset of pain to the back of the knee with or without swelling, this might be a term you have stumbled upon in your searches for answers. What is a Baker’s Cyst and what causes it?

What is a Baker’s Cyst?

A cyst is by definition a fluid-filled sac. A Baker’s cyst is this abnormal accumulation of fluid behind the knee joint, the area behind the knee cap or patella. This is called the popliteal area, and hence a baker’s cyst can also be referred to as a popliteal cyst. The body naturally produces a lubricating fluid called synovial fluid, to keep the joints moving smoothly without encountering friction. Sometimes, an injury or chronic condition can lead to excess production of this fluid and the accumulation of it can lead to problems. What are some of the reasons that this occurs?

Injury to components of the knee such as the:

  • Meniscus, the two pieces of cartilage that provide cushioning to the area where the two leg bones meet.
  • Ligament, the fibrous connective tissue that connects bones to other bones.

Athletes are very prone to injuries to the knee from repetitive use and strain, but can also occur in cases of a traumatic injury or fall.

Chronic conditions that cause inflammation in the joints such as:

  • Arthritis (rheumatoid and osteoarthritis)
  • Gout
  • Lupus

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Swelling or lump behind the knee
  • Difficulty and stiffness when flexing the knee
  • Knee or calf pain

You should certainly see your doctor if you are suffering from these symptoms. Although Baker’s cyst is not dangerous, these symptoms may be the sign of a more serious problem such as tumor growths or blood clots. Your physician will know what test to order and may or may not include ultrasound, Cat Scan or MRI.

Treatment Options

Non-invasive options would be RICE, rest, icing, compression and elevation. If there are no contraindications an over the counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory may also be used to reduce the pain.

Needle drainage of fluid pocket, steroid injections, and surgery are more invasive options for cases not responding to treatment.

Medical News Today reports that gentle range of motion exercises can help to extend and strengthen the knee.

Can Physical Therapy Be Used to Help a Baker’s Cyst?

Most definitely. When any movement causes discomfort, the natural reaction is to avoid moving completely. Therefore, attempts to rehabilitate on your own may be too daunting without encouragement and guidance from a 3rd party. Physiopedia recommends a rehabilitation program to reduce the pain of a Baker’s cyst. This regimen could include a range of motion exercises of the knee joint, increasing motion and flexibility. Initiation of and guidance of hamstring and quadriceps strengthening exercises to be repeated several times a day could result in decreased pain in 6-8 weeks.

As muscle tightness in the hamstrings could also contribute to Baker’s cyst, a physical therapist will be able to give you a thorough exam to ascertain if this is a precipitating factor.

A skilled and knowledgeable physical therapist can set you on the right path to rehabilitation, getting you to your prior level of function. With this expert guidance, you will also be educated about how to prevent future injuries or re-occurrences of this condition. At Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, we don’t just treat pain, we fix problems. Give us a call at (570)208-2787 to speak with one of our specialists or to find out about some of the free workshops we offer.