Baker's cyst 

Introduction 

A Baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled swelling that develops at the back of the knee 

Pain

What to do about different types of pain, including joint pain, back pain and migraines, and managing long-term pain

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:

  • pain in the knee and calf
  • a build-up of fluid around the knee
  • occasional locking or clicking in the knee joint

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.

What causes a Baker's cyst?

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:

  • osteoarthritis – usually caused by age-related "wear and tear" of joints, it particularly affects the knees, hips, hands and big toe
  • rheumatoid arthritis – a less common but crippling type of arthritis caused by the immune system attacking the joints 
  • gout – a type of arthritis that usually affects the big toe caused by a build-up of the waste product uric acid in the blood

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.

When to see your GP

You should see your GP 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.

Treating a Baker's cyst

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.

Page last reviewed: 06/09/2013

Next review due: 06/09/2015

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 222 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Big Jim said on 28 June 2013

My wife is pregnant and I have developed a Baker's Cyst ... are the two related? It seems like a pretty big coincidence to me.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

claytog said on 10 July 2012

I cannot follow your recommendation to take NSAIDs for Baker Cyst as I am on Warfarin. What can I take?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Shin splints

What to do if you have exercise-induced leg pain

Long-term conditions

Living with a long-term condition, including healthcare, medicines and support