Baker cyst is a buildup of joint fluid (synovial fluid) that forms a cyst behind the knee.
Popliteal cyst; Bulge-knee
A Baker cyst is caused by swelling in the knee. The swelling occurs due to an increase in synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the knee joint. When pressure builds up, fluid squeezes into the back of the knee.
Baker cyst commonly occurs with:
In most cases, a person may have no symptoms. A large cyst may cause some discomfort or stiffness. There may be a painless or painful swelling behind the knee.
The cyst may feel like a water-filled balloon. Sometimes, the cyst may break open (rupture), causing pain, swelling, and bruising on the back of the knee and calf.
It is important to know whether pain or swelling is caused by a Baker cyst or a blood clot. A blood clot (deep venous thrombosis) can also cause pain, swelling, and bruising on the back of the knee and calf. A blood clot may be dangerous and requires medical attention right away.
Often, no treatment is needed. The provider can watch the cyst over time.
If the cyst is painful, the goal of treatment is to correct the problem that is causing the cyst.
Sometimes, a cyst can be drained (aspirated), however, the cyst often returns. In rare cases, it is removed with surgery if it becomes very large or causes symptoms. The cyst has a high chance of returning if the underlying cause is not addressed. The surgery may also damage nearby blood vessels and nerves.
A Baker cyst will not cause any long-term harm, but it can be annoying and painful. The symptoms of Baker cysts often come and go.
Long-term disability is rare. Most people improve with time or with surgery.
Call your provider if you have swelling behind the knee that becomes large or painful. Pain could be a sign of infection. Also call your provider when you have increased swelling in your calf and leg and shortness of breath. This can be a sign of blood clots.
If the lump grows quickly, or you have night pain, severe pain, or fever, you will need more tests to make sure you do not have other types of tumors.
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Huddleston JI, Goodman S. Hip and knee pain. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, Koretzky GA, McInnes IB, O'Dell JR, eds. Firestein & Kelley’s Textbook of Rheumatology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 51.
Rosenberg DC, Amadera JED. Baker cyst. In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 64.
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