Baker's Cyst

Baker's Cyst

A Baker's Cyst or Popliteal cyst is a prominent swelling at the back of the knee. It is usually caused by an underlying injury or condition in the knee joint but the athlete is often unaware of the exact cause. Here we explain the symptoms, causes and treatment options.


A Baker's cyst is a rounded swelling at the back of the knee. It is often about the size of a golf ball but can vary over time. A sensation of pressure in the back of the joint will be felt which may go down into the calf muscle. The patient will have difficulty bending the knee joint. If the lights are turned out and a torch is shone through the lump it should be possible to see a red glow around the lump indicating that the swelling is filled with fluid.

What is a popliteal cyst

In the hollow at the back of the knee is a bursa or small sack of fluid used to help lubricate the joint. A fairly uncommon condition is when the back of the knee joint gets swollen and causes the bursa to swell as well. Usually some underlying disorder of the knee such as a meniscus injury arthritis an increase in synovial fluid which is the knees natural lubricating fluid.

This then spills into the bursa at the back of the knee causing it to increase in size and swell up causing a popliteal cyst or more commonly known as a Bakers cyst.

In younger athletes the cause may be a torn cartilage meniscus may be the underlying cause. In older athletes, arthritis is more likely to be a possible cause.


What can the athlete do?  

Rest is important. Avoid any activities which aggravate or make the condition worse. Change training methods if possible for example substitute swimming, cycling or cross trainer machine for running. It is possible the symptoms may simply disappear by themselves. In children, the condition may just suddenly clear up however if it doesn't then surgery is an option although they do stand a 40% chance of the cyst returning.

Try wearing a compressive, wrap around knee support to help reduce the swelling. If symptoms do not clear up on their own then seek professional advice and have a full knee examination to identify the cause of the cyst or swelling.

What can a sports injury specialist or doctor do?

They will examine the knee and diagnose what is causing the swelling in the first place. For more serious cases a surgeon may operate to correct whatever might be causing the swelling including cartilage meniscus, foreign bodies or bursa that may need removing. The patient is likely to be out of action for 8 to 12 weeks following surgery.

Be aware that lumps in the back of the knee are most likely a Popliteal Cyst but might possibly be a tumor or an aneurysm which is a swelling of an artery. If unsure always seek professional advice.