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A Baker's cyst, also called a popliteal cyst, is a fluid-filled swelling that develops at the back of the knee. It is caused by a problem with the knee joint or the tissue behind it.
The swelling may cause:
However, it may cause no symptoms at all other than the lump.
In rare cases, a Baker's cyst can burst (rupture), causing fluid to leak down into your calf. This can cause sharp pain, swelling and redness in your calf.
Knee damage caused by a sports-related injury or blow to the knee can lead to a Baker's cyst developing.
A Baker's cyst can also be caused by a number of health conditions, including:
A Baker's cyst is more common in women than men, probably because women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It usually develops in people aged over 40, although it can affect people of any age, including children.
You should see your doctor if your cyst causes you problems and does not go away. They can usually diagnose a Baker's cyst by examining your knee and asking about your symptoms.
They will also want to know if you have any associated health conditions, such as arthritis.
Further tests may be recommended to rule out other more serious conditions, such as a tumour or aneurysm (a bulge in a section of a blood vessel). These can include an ultrasound scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
You can reduce the swelling and relieve any pain using over-the-counter painkillers, bandages or an ice pack (a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel works well).
It's important that any underlying condition is properly managed as the cyst may go away when the condition causing it has been treated.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to drain the cyst or to remove it.
Read more information about treating a Baker's cyst.
You can treat a Baker's cyst yourself at home. Further treatment is only needed if the cyst stops you using your knee properly or causes pain that doesn't go away.
To treat a Baker's cyst:
See your doctor for further treatment if your cyst still causes problems after you have tried the treatments above.
One treatment option is to inject corticosteroid medication directly into the affected knee. This helps reduce inflammation and swelling.
In rare cases, a Baker's cyst can burst, causing fluid to leak down into your calf. This can cause sharp pain and swelling in your calf. The fluid will gradually be reabsorbed into the body within a few weeks.
Prescription painkillers – usually a combination of paracetamol and codeine – can be used to control any pain. See your doctor for a prescription.
If there is a lot of damage to the knee joint caused by a condition such as osteoarthritis or a physical injury, surgery may be needed to fix the problem with the joint. This is usually done using a type of keyhole surgery called arthroscopy. This allows the surgeon to look inside a joint and repair or remove any damage.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.