Baker’s Cyst Behind Knee

My right calf swelled up so my primary doctor first thought it was a blood clot. But after I had deep ultra sound they determined it was a popped Baker’s Cyst Behind Knee.










A Baker’s cyst can sometimes rupture (burst), resulting in fluid leaking down into your calf. This causes a sharp pain in your calf, which becomes swollen, tight and red, but redness can be harder to see on brown and black skin. The fluid will gradually be reabsorbed into the body within a few weeks.

  A Baker’s cyst (also known as a popliteal cyst) is a fluid filled sac (cyst) behind the knee that causes tightness, pain, or knee stiffness that may worsen when you move your leg around or during physical activities. An accumulation of synovial fluid (which lubricates your knee joint) causes the swelling and bulges to form a cyst at the back of the knee when under pressure. The important steps to treating a Baker’s cyst come in resting the affected leg and treating any potential underlying cause, such as arthritis.

What is the difference between a Baker’s cyst and a popliteal cyst?
A popliteal cyst, better known as Baker’s cyst, is a fluid-filled swelling that is developed at the back of the knee in the popliteal fossa region. Ganglia which are benign cystic tumors, originate from synovial tissue. Common areas for cyst can occur at the wrist, hand, foot, and knee.

If you think you have a Baker’s cyst, it is important you visit your doctor to rule out more serious afflictions, such as a blood clot or arterial obstruction. Sometimes, a Baker’s cyst can split open (rupture) and cause symptoms in the calf that can be similar to a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A Baker’s cyst often gets better and disappears by itself over time. However, there are various treatments that may help if there are symptoms associated with it.

It is named after a doctor called William Baker who first described this condition in 1877. It is also sometimes called a popliteal cyst, as the medical term for the area behind the knee is the popliteal fossa. The cyst can vary in size from very small to large (it can be several centimeters across). Rarely, a Baker’s cyst can develop behind both knees at the same time.


The joint capsule is a thick structure that surrounds the whole knee and gives it some support. It is lined by a special membrane called the synovium. The synovium produces a fluid called synovial fluid. This fluid acts as a lubricant within the knee joint and helps to cushion it during movement.

There are also various tissue pouches called bursae next to the knee. A bursa is a small sac of synovial fluid with a thin lining. Bursae are normally found around joints and in places where ligaments and tendons pass over bones. They help to reduce friction and allow maximal range of motion around joints. The bursa at the back of the knee is called the popliteal bursa.

Each knee joint also contains a medial and a lateral meniscus. These are thick rubber-like pads of cartilage tissue. The menisci cartilage sit on top of, and are in addition to, the usual thin layer of cartilage which covers the top of one of the bones of the lower leg, called the tibia. They act as shock absorbers to absorb the impact of the upper leg on the lower leg. They also help to improve smooth movement and stability of the knee.

A primary Baker’s cyst

A Baker’s cyst may develop just behind an otherwise healthy knee joint. This type of cyst is sometimes referred to as a primary or idiopathic Baker’s cyst and usually develops in younger people and in children.

It is thought that, in this type of Baker’s cyst, there is a connection between the knee joint and the popliteal bursa behind the knee. This means that synovial fluid from inside the joint can pass into the popliteal bursa and a Baker’s cyst can form.


A secondary Baker’s cyst

It is more common for a Baker’s cyst to develop if there is an underlying problem within the knee, such as arthritis or a tear in the meniscal cartilage that lines the inside of the knee joint. This is sometimes referred to as a secondary Baker’s cyst.

In a secondary Baker’s cyst, the underlying problem within the knee joint causes too much synovial fluid to be produced within the joint. As a result of this, the pressure inside the knee increases and this has the effect of stretching the joint capsule. The joint capsule bulges out into the back of the knee, forming the Baker’s cyst that is filled with synovial fluid.

Baker’s cysts are most common between the ages of 35 and 70, particularly if there is an underlying knee condition. As above, primary Baker’s cysts can occur in children, typically between the ages of 4 and 7.

Arthritis is the most common condition associated with Baker’s cysts. This can include various different types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis (most common), rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout.

Baker’s cysts may also develop if you have had a tear to the meniscus or to one of the ligaments within the knee, or if you have had an infection within your knee joint.

Some people with a Baker’s cyst do not have any symptoms at all. Small cysts may not always be found during a knee examination and the cyst may be found incidentally during an investigation on the knee, such as a scan.

Usually, larger Baker’s cysts are more likely to cause symptoms. The swelling behind the knee might be able to be seen or felt;. . some people feel an ache around the knee area. It may be difficult to bend the knee if there is a large Baker’s cyst and the area behind the knee may feel tight, especially when standing up. Less commonly, there may be a sensation of clicking or locking of the knee.

If there is an underlying knee problem such as arthritis, there may also be symptoms related to that, such as knee pain or swelling of the knee joint itself.

The most common complication of a Baker’s cyst is for it to split open (rupture) – this is thought to happen in about 1 in 20 Baker’s cysts. If this happens, the fluid from inside the cyst can leak out into the calf muscle and cause swelling of the calf. Sometimes redness and itching of the skin of the calf can develop as a result of irritation caused by this fluid.

If a Baker’s cyst ruptures, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the ruptured cyst and a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT is a blood clot that forms in a leg vein. In these cases, it is important that investigations are carried out to exclude a DVT because it can be a serious condition that needs treatment. See the separate leaflet called Deep Vein Thrombosis for more detail.

Very rarely, a Baker’s cyst may become infected.


A Baker’s cyst is usually diagnosed by an examination of the knee. The swelling feels as though it is fluid filled and it might be “transilluminable” (a light can be seen through it) which confirms the diagnosis of a cyst.

Usually no investigations are needed to confirm the diagnosis. If there is a doubt about the diagnosis then an ultrasound scan (or occasionally an MRI scan) might be used. If there is a concern about a DVT then specific tests (usually a Doppler ultrasound scan) will be arranged in hospital.

A Baker’s cyst usually gets better and disappears by itself over time. However, the cyst may persist for months or even years before it goes. Most people have very few symptoms and no specific treatment is needed.

There are various treatment options that may help if there are symptoms associated with a Baker’s cyst. These include:


Treatment of any underlying knee problem

It is important that any underlying knee problem is treated. This may help to reduce the size of a Baker’s cyst and any swelling or pain that it causes. For example, if there is osteoarthritis of the knee joint, a steroid injection into the knee may help to relieve pain and inflammation. However, this does not always stop the cyst from coming back again.

If there is an injury to the knee such as a meniscal tear, treatment of this may help to treat the Baker’s cyst as well. See the separate leaflets called Knee Ligament Injuries and Meniscal Tears (Knee Cartilage Injuries) for more detail.

Treatment to help relieve symptoms

If the Baker’s cyst is causing pain or discomfort, one or more of the following may be helpful:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These can help to relieve pain and may also limit inflammation and swelling. There are many types and brands. Some – such as ibuprofen or naproxen – can be bought over the counter from a pharmacy. Others require a prescription. NSAIDs can cause side-effects – inflammation of the lining of the stomach which can cause pain and bleeding is the most serious. Regular or long-term use can cause damage to the kidneys and it is important to have regular blood tests if taking this medication regularly. Some people with asthma, high blood pressure, kidney failure and heart failure may not be able to take NSAIDs so it is important to check with the pharmacist before buying these.
  • Stronger pain relief. If the cyst ruptures, the fluid from inside the cyst may leak into the calf and cause worse pain. In this situation, stronger medication may be needed on prescription.
  • Ice may also help to reduce swelling and pain. An ice pack can be made by wrapping ice cubes in a plastic bag or towel and applying it to the area for 10-30 minutes. (Ice should never be put directly next to the skin as it may cause ice-burn.) A bag of frozen peas is an alternative.
  • Crutches. Very occasionally, crutches may be needed to help to take the weight off the affected leg whilst walking for a few days until the symptoms ease.
  • Physiotherapy. Keeping the knee joint moving and using strengthening exercises to help the muscles around the knee is often very helpful.

Other treatments

There are some other treatment options that are sometimes used:

  • Fluid drainage – sometimes a doctor may use a needle to drain excess fluid from the knee joint to help to relieve the symptoms. However, it is common for the Baker’s cyst to re-form over time.
  • Cortisone (steroid) injection – this is sometimes used following fluid drainage, to reduce the pain and inflammation caused by the cyst. It does not prevent it from coming back again.
  • Surgery to remove the cyst – this is sometimes done, especially if a cyst is very large or painful and/or other treatments have not worked. Sometimes a keyhole method is used to close off the connection between the Baker’s cyst and the knee joint. The cyst is also sometimes removed using open surgery. Surgery may be carried out to treat an underlying problem at the same time – for example, repairing a meniscal tear.
Is a ruptured Baker’s cyst serious?
Surgery isn’t usually needed for a Baker cyst. In rare cases, a Baker cyst can rupture. This can cause serious complications. See your provider right away if your leg is red and swollen.
How do you treat a ruptured Baker’s cyst?
Most cases of ruptured Baker’s cysts will clear up over time. A doctor may recommend that a person speed the healing process by elevating the affected leg as much as possible or applying heat packs to the area. They may also prescribe pain medication.
Is walking good for a ruptured Bakers cyst?
Baker’s cysts often form as a result of a knee injury. During recovery, walking may help a person gradually regain strength and mobility.
Is compression good for ruptured Bakers cyst?
If a Baker’s cyst causes discomfort or interferes with normal activities, there are several things you can do. To bring down swelling, apply a cold pack to the area, or use a compression wrap.
What causes a Baker’s cyst to flare up?
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.
Should you wear a knee support with a Baker’s cyst?
Treatment for a baker’s cyst typically involves rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication. Ibuprofen, paracetamol and even over-the-counter medications can help reduce the swelling in your knee. Try using an ice pack or compressive knee sleeve or brace to provide relief and help limit swelling.
What happens if a Baker’s cyst is left untreated?
These types of popliteal cysts may go away on their own, but if left untreated, they can also worsen. From time to time, a Baker’s cyst ruptures, sending fluid down the inside of the calf and presenting as a bruise. Blood clots can also lead to bruising and swelling at the back of the knee and calf.
What not to do with Baker’s cyst?
Exercising with a Baker’s Cyst is not recommended. NOTE: the physician that I talked to said that it was OK to exercise but just don’t over do it. Unfortunately, exercise only places more stress on the injury, further aggravating the condition. It is however important to move around normally and not to be bedridden.
What is the recovery time after draining a Baker’s cyst?
It typically takes around four weeks after baker’s cyst excision for the wound to completely heal. A firm bump of scar tissue will form in the incision. As the wound heals, the bump will slowly go away.
Is heat or ice better for Baker’s cyst?
There are several ways to reduce your pain and discomfort if you have been diagnosed with a baker’s cyst: Ice your knee for about 20 minutes two to three times a day, as long as pain and swelling persists.
Does heat help a ruptured cyst?
Use heat, such as a warm water bottle, a heating pad set on low, or a warm bath, to relax tense muscles and relieve cramping.


How do you fix a popliteal cyst?
Your doctor may inject a corticosteroid medication into your knee joint to reduce inflammation. Aspiration. In this procedure, your doctor numbs the area around the cyst, then uses a needle to drain the excess fluid from the joint. Aspiration is often performed using ultrasound to guide the placement of the needle.


Is Massage OK to relieve the swelling and pain from a Baker’s Cyst?

Unlike muscular injuries that respond well to massage, a Baker’s Cyst is not a muscular injury. In fact massage should be avoided, as it will cause further irritation of the condition. A Baker’s Cyst contains inflammatory fluids.

A Baker’s cyst is a swelling that is not within muscle but contained within an enlarged synovial membrane at the back of the knee, in the popliteal fossa. The popliteal fossa is an area through which large blood vessels and nerve pass through on route to the lower leg, and is contraindicated to massage for this reason. Massage and pressure on a Baker’s cyst will be painful and unlikely to help the condition. In most cases it will make the Baker’s cyst more painful, and if further irritated may make the cyst swell more. 

Massage to the surrounding tissues such the quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscle is safe provided the back of the knee is avoided.

Massage therapy can help individuals harboring a Baker’s cyst. By focusing on the probable underlying knee problem, the swelling and discomfort of a Baker’s cyst can typically be relieved. Seeking the cause of an imbalance in the knee can be aided by performing some manual resistive testing to your assessment skills. For more information on these tests, read the article, Eight Tests for Anterior Knee Pain.

Interestingly, popliteal cysts are located in an area contraindicated for most massage techniques. Although it is important for bodyworkers to avoid deep, direct pressure on the cyst, it is still possible to have a significant therapeutic impact. Experts recommend treating the area above the cyst, primarily by addressing the hamstrings and adductors. Balancing the musculature supporting the knee joint compensates for pathological injury or torque contributing to knee dysfunction. Additionally, including lymphatic drainage massage techniques into a session will facilitate absorption of the excessive synovial fluid accumulation, leading to a quicker recovery.

Bodywork Precautions

The presence of a firm protrusion behind the knee should not be assumed by a massage therapist to be an innocuous Baker’s cyst. There is a possibility it could be a tumor or popliteal artery aneurysm, thus necessitating thorough evaluation by a medical doctor.

It is very important for massage therapists to avoid firm pressure directly on the cyst. A Baker’s cyst could become large enough to locally impinge nerves or blood flow, which in the worse case scenario could spawn an embolus. Familiarize yourself with the signs, symptoms and risk factors for a deep vein thrombosis to avoid this potentially devastating scenario. Rarely, a Baker’s cyst bursts and synovial fluid leaks into the calf region, causing sharp pain in the knee, swelling and sometimes redness of the calf. These signs and symptoms closely resemble those of a blood clot in the leg. If a client demonstrates these symptoms, prompt medical evaluation must be sought.

Bodyworkers are regularly presented with all types of pain and physical abnormalities. Some clients will announce they have a Baker’s cyst while others will just ask if you can help reduce the swelling behind their knee. Regardless of the presentation, massage therapists are best prepared to handle these situations when they are properly informed of the condition being presented, understand any danger lurking and are comfortable knowing what they can do to aid in the client’s recovery.


more info at:

Massage, Bodywork and Baker’s Cysts


Therapeutic Deep Tissue, Swedish Massage, Sports Injury Massage Therapy in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Ca.


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