Baker’s Cyst: Signs You Have It and How to Treat It

Learn common causes and symptoms of a Baker’s cyst and how to treat it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

person-touching-her-leg

When your knee smoothly glides as you take a step when you walk or stride as you run, the lubricating fluid in your knee joint is to thank for that ease of movement. We need lubricating fluid in all our joints to help reduce friction and make movement feel seamless. 

However, sometimes some of this fluid can make its way to the back of the knee joint and can cause a sac that looks and feels like a little bump. This benign bump is known as a Baker’s cyst.

A Baker’s cyst can cause uncomfortable knee swelling and impact your knee’s mobility. You may find it difficult to fully move your knee or even walk. Luckily, most Baker’s cyst cases resolve on their own with time. Exercise is one important way to help manage the pain and make sure you don’t lose knee strength or range of motion as you heal. 

Read on to learn more about what causes a Baker’s cyst, along with how to manage the symptoms — especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Kemp is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in fall prevention, post-operative orthopedic recovery, neurological rehabilitation, and movement optimism.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Baker’s Cyst? 

A Baker’s cyst is a type of cyst that develops on the back of the knee, behind your knee joint. It typically forms in relation to arthritis or meniscal tears when a conduit is created that allows some of the lubricating fluid to track into the back of the knee. This results in a fluid-filled pocket called a Baker’s cyst.

It’s important to note that a Baker’s cyst can share symptoms with a blood clot, such as swelling and pain and tenderness in the leg. While a Baker’s cyst is not a dangerous condition and usually resolves on its own, blood clots can cause serious symptoms such as shortness of breath or pain with deep breathing. “If you’re worried about a blood clot, see a doctor right away,” says Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.

Symptoms of Baker’s Cyst

Baker’s cyst symptoms can range in severity. Some of the most common symptoms include: 

  • A lump behind the knee. You’ll likely feel a lump under the skin behind your knee joint.

  • Knee pain. Baker’s cyst can cause pain, especially in the back of the knee.

  • Swelling. Depending on the amount of fluid in the sac and the inflammation in the area, you may also experience knee swelling, especially behind the knee.

  • Stiffness with activity. The cyst, Dr. Kemp says, may cause stiffness when you try to bend or extend your leg.

  • Restricted range of motion. It may be more difficult than normal to move around or exercise, and you may feel a bit of discomfort when you do.

While a Baker’s cyst can be uncomfortable and alarming when you first notice it, it’s important to remember these cysts usually go away on their own with time — and exercise can help you manage your symptoms in the process.

Common Causes of Baker’s Cyst

A Baker’s cyst develops due to injury or inflammation in the knee, most commonly related to knee conditions and injuries such as: 

  • Osteoarthritis. As you get older, it’s normal for your knee joint (and other joints) to change. Knee arthritis can cause inflammation and changes to the cartilage which can allow for fluid to track into the back of the knee, which may result in a Baker’s cyst.

  • Sports injuries. Common sports injuries such as a torn meniscus or ACL tear can sometimes be associated with a Baker’s cyst. 

Treatment Options for Baker’s Cyst

In many cases, a Baker’s cyst doesn’t require medical intervention. “Instead, we focus on managing symptoms and preventing loss of function,” says Dr. Kemp. Conservative, at-home treatment options may help reduce pain and improve mobility as the area heals. 

  • Ice. Applying an ice pack can reduce swelling behind your knee, which may in turn reduce pain and make it easier to move around without discomfort.

  • Modified physical activity. Complete rest isn’t usually recommended for a Baker’s cyst. Focus on gentle movement, and modify your activities when necessary. “For example, biking may not be comfortable, but it may feel okay to take a walk,” says Dr. Kemp.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for Baker’s cyst pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

If your Baker’s cyst is not resolving on its own, or if the pain is getting worse, your medical provider may recommend other treatments. But for most people, Dr. Kemp emphasizes time and movement are the best medicine.

Exercises for Baker’s Cyst Relief

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

Exercise itself may not directly heal your Baker’s cyst, as it’s an inflamed pocket of fluid. “But staying active, especially with physical therapy exercises, can help control your symptoms and prevent you from losing mobility and range of motion while the cyst heals,” says Dr. Kemp. 

The above exercises, recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists, are a great place to start. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Give Yourself an Ice Massage

Applying ice to a Baker’s cyst can be helpful for reducing swelling and pain. Dr. Kemp commonly recommends gently massaging the cyst with an ice cube. To create a firm grip on the ice, use a paper towel or freeze the cube in a small paper cup and tear off the top. Massage the cyst for five to seven minutes maximum or until you’re numb, to avoid burning the skin.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Hinge Health is available to over 1,600 companies and benefit plans!

References

  1. Abate, M., Di Carlo, L., Di Iorio, A., & Salini, V. (2021). Baker’s Cyst with Knee Osteoarthritis: Clinical and Therapeutic Implications. Medical Principles and Practice, 30(6), 585–591. doi:10.1159/000518792

  2. Frush, T. J., & Noyes, F. R. (2015). Baker's Cyst: Diagnostic and Surgical Considerations. Sports Health, 7(4), 359–365. doi:10.1177/1941738113520130

  3. Liao, S. T., Chiou, C. S., & Chang, C. C. (2010). Pathology associated to the Baker's cysts: a musculoskeletal ultrasound study. Clinical Rheumatology, 29(9), 1043–1047. doi:10.1007/s10067-010-1483-6

person-touching-her-leg

Baker’s Cyst: Signs You Have It and How to Treat It

Learn common causes and symptoms of a Baker’s cyst and how to treat it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Dec 1, 2023
person-touching-her-leg

When your knee smoothly glides as you take a step when you walk or stride as you run, the lubricating fluid in your knee joint is to thank for that ease of movement. We need lubricating fluid in all our joints to help reduce friction and make movement feel seamless. 

However, sometimes some of this fluid can make its way to the back of the knee joint and can cause a sac that looks and feels like a little bump. This benign bump is known as a Baker’s cyst.

A Baker’s cyst can cause uncomfortable knee swelling and impact your knee’s mobility. You may find it difficult to fully move your knee or even walk. Luckily, most Baker’s cyst cases resolve on their own with time. Exercise is one important way to help manage the pain and make sure you don’t lose knee strength or range of motion as you heal. 

Read on to learn more about what causes a Baker’s cyst, along with how to manage the symptoms — especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Kemp is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in fall prevention, post-operative orthopedic recovery, neurological rehabilitation, and movement optimism.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Baker’s Cyst? 

A Baker’s cyst is a type of cyst that develops on the back of the knee, behind your knee joint. It typically forms in relation to arthritis or meniscal tears when a conduit is created that allows some of the lubricating fluid to track into the back of the knee. This results in a fluid-filled pocket called a Baker’s cyst.

It’s important to note that a Baker’s cyst can share symptoms with a blood clot, such as swelling and pain and tenderness in the leg. While a Baker’s cyst is not a dangerous condition and usually resolves on its own, blood clots can cause serious symptoms such as shortness of breath or pain with deep breathing. “If you’re worried about a blood clot, see a doctor right away,” says Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.

Symptoms of Baker’s Cyst

Baker’s cyst symptoms can range in severity. Some of the most common symptoms include: 

  • A lump behind the knee. You’ll likely feel a lump under the skin behind your knee joint.

  • Knee pain. Baker’s cyst can cause pain, especially in the back of the knee.

  • Swelling. Depending on the amount of fluid in the sac and the inflammation in the area, you may also experience knee swelling, especially behind the knee.

  • Stiffness with activity. The cyst, Dr. Kemp says, may cause stiffness when you try to bend or extend your leg.

  • Restricted range of motion. It may be more difficult than normal to move around or exercise, and you may feel a bit of discomfort when you do.

While a Baker’s cyst can be uncomfortable and alarming when you first notice it, it’s important to remember these cysts usually go away on their own with time — and exercise can help you manage your symptoms in the process.

Common Causes of Baker’s Cyst

A Baker’s cyst develops due to injury or inflammation in the knee, most commonly related to knee conditions and injuries such as: 

  • Osteoarthritis. As you get older, it’s normal for your knee joint (and other joints) to change. Knee arthritis can cause inflammation and changes to the cartilage which can allow for fluid to track into the back of the knee, which may result in a Baker’s cyst.

  • Sports injuries. Common sports injuries such as a torn meniscus or ACL tear can sometimes be associated with a Baker’s cyst. 

Treatment Options for Baker’s Cyst

In many cases, a Baker’s cyst doesn’t require medical intervention. “Instead, we focus on managing symptoms and preventing loss of function,” says Dr. Kemp. Conservative, at-home treatment options may help reduce pain and improve mobility as the area heals. 

  • Ice. Applying an ice pack can reduce swelling behind your knee, which may in turn reduce pain and make it easier to move around without discomfort.

  • Modified physical activity. Complete rest isn’t usually recommended for a Baker’s cyst. Focus on gentle movement, and modify your activities when necessary. “For example, biking may not be comfortable, but it may feel okay to take a walk,” says Dr. Kemp.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful for Baker’s cyst pain. It’s important to make sure that you are safely able to take these medications, based on your medical history.

If your Baker’s cyst is not resolving on its own, or if the pain is getting worse, your medical provider may recommend other treatments. But for most people, Dr. Kemp emphasizes time and movement are the best medicine.

Exercises for Baker’s Cyst Relief

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

Exercise itself may not directly heal your Baker’s cyst, as it’s an inflamed pocket of fluid. “But staying active, especially with physical therapy exercises, can help control your symptoms and prevent you from losing mobility and range of motion while the cyst heals,” says Dr. Kemp. 

The above exercises, recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists, are a great place to start. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Give Yourself an Ice Massage

Applying ice to a Baker’s cyst can be helpful for reducing swelling and pain. Dr. Kemp commonly recommends gently massaging the cyst with an ice cube. To create a firm grip on the ice, use a paper towel or freeze the cube in a small paper cup and tear off the top. Massage the cyst for five to seven minutes maximum or until you’re numb, to avoid burning the skin.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Hinge Health is available to over 1,600 companies and benefit plans!

References

  1. Abate, M., Di Carlo, L., Di Iorio, A., & Salini, V. (2021). Baker’s Cyst with Knee Osteoarthritis: Clinical and Therapeutic Implications. Medical Principles and Practice, 30(6), 585–591. doi:10.1159/000518792

  2. Frush, T. J., & Noyes, F. R. (2015). Baker's Cyst: Diagnostic and Surgical Considerations. Sports Health, 7(4), 359–365. doi:10.1177/1941738113520130

  3. Liao, S. T., Chiou, C. S., & Chang, C. C. (2010). Pathology associated to the Baker's cysts: a musculoskeletal ultrasound study. Clinical Rheumatology, 29(9), 1043–1047. doi:10.1007/s10067-010-1483-6