Question: What conditions can cause a synovial cyst?

In August 2001, I was diagnosed with a synovial cyst. Prior to the diagnosis, I was a fitness walker but was unable to continue until this past spring.

No doctor has been able to tell me what caused this cyst and the chance of recurring problems from it. Can you?

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Doctor’s response: Synovial cysts are due to osteoarthritis and facet joint degeneration

A synovial cyst is caused by osteoarthritis and degeneration of the facet joint. As the joints become more arthritic they produce more fluid. A synovial cyst is where a ball valve develops that lets the synovial fluid out but not back into the joint. This creates a cyst that usually fills into the spinal canal and causes compression (stenosis) of the nerve roots.

Usually, there is both the compression problem and instability at that joint. The treatment and natural history is most akin to a degenerative spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis.

The treatment choices for a synovial cyst from osteoarthritis and degeneration of the facet joint are a facet injection, an epidural injection or a surgical decompression of the nerve root. The surgery, however is usually also done with a fusion since there usually is instability. The cyst does tend to cause recurring problems until it is surgically excised. However, surgery is only suggested if the cyst limits your activity greatly.

If you are having problems finding answers and treatment, I would suggest seeing a spine specialist (for either conservative or surgical treatment).

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In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.