Cysts are closed capsule or sac-like structures, typically filled with a liquid, semisolid, or gaseous material. They can vary in size from microscopic to very large. Although the majority of cysts are benign, some cysts can be cancerous or precancerous. Cysts are common and can occur anywhere on the body. The most common causes of a cyst include infection, clogged sebaceous glands, or piercings. Other causes include tumors, genetic conditions, a fault in an organ of a developing embryo, a defect in the cells, chronic inflammatory conditions, blockage of ducts, or an injury that breaks a vessel.
The main symptom is a non-painful lump beneath the skin. Different types of cysts can appear in different areas of the body. A cyst is not a normal part of the tissue where it is located. They have a distinct membrane and are separated from nearby tissues.
A Baker’s cysts, also called a popliteal cyst, is a fluid-filled cyst that causes a bulge behind the knee. A Baker’s cyst can cause a feeling of tightness behind the knee and the pain usually gets worse when the knee is fully extended or during physical activity. Knee arthritis or a cartilage tear can lead to a cyst formation. This is because both conditions can lead to increased fluid production in the knee joint causing a Baker’s cyst.
In some cases, a Baker’s cyst causes no pain but in other cases it may cause symptoms of swelling behind the knee and/or leg, knee pain, and inability to fully extend the knee. Symptoms can become worse during physical activity or during long periods of standing.
Intraarticular knee disorders, such as osteoarthritis and meniscus tears, are commonly found in association with a Baker’s cyst. There is a valvular opening of the posterior capsule that is a 1-way valve which allows fluid to pass into the gastrocnemius-semimembranosus bursa. It is common for effusion to occur in intraarticular knee disorders leading to the hypothesis that a Baker’s cyst formation is likely occurring to provide protection for the knee. By transporting the excess fluid to the back of the knee decreases the hydraulic pressure within the knee through this 1-way valve. This supported by a study that showed that the volume of the Baker’s cyst is associated with the size of the knee effusions. The cyst wall resembles synovial tissue with fibrosis as well as characterized by chronic inflammation.
Conventional treatment of Baker’s cysts typically results in surgery. Although surgical excision can remove the cyst, there is a 63% reoccurrence rate since treatment for intraarticular knee disorders are difficult.
For more information, please reference the Baker’s Cyst Protocol.
An epidermoid, or epidermal, cyst is a small, movable lump under the skin. It forms when surface skin cells move deeper into the skin and multiply. These cells form the wall of the cyst and secrete a soft, yellowish substance called keratin, which fills the cyst. Most epidermoid cysts are caused when epidermal cells move under the skin surface, or are covered over by it instead of shedding. These cells continue to multiply, like skin does normally. They then form a wall around themselves and secrete keratin.
Symptoms of an epidermoid cyst can include a small, round bump under the skin, usually on the face, neck, or trunk and a tiny blackhead plugging the central opening of the cyst.
Sebaceous cysts form out the sebaceous gland which secretes sebum that coats the hair and skin. They are usually found on the scalp, face, neck, and back. These cysts can develop if the gland or duct becomes damaged or blocked. The main cause of this is usually trauma to the area. The trauma may be a scratch, wound, or skin condition such as acne. These types of cysts grow slowly and may occur weeks or months after the initial trauma. Other causes of sebaceous cysts include deformed duct, damage to the cells, or a genetic condition.
An epididymal cyst (also called a spermatocele) is a fluid-filled sac that grows in the epididymis - a tightly coiled tube about 20 feet long where the sperm matures as it passes through. Epididymal cysts vary in size. They typically don’t hurt, but they could cause pain if they grow too large. Epididymal cysts can be smooth. They might also be filled with a whitish, cloudy fluid. Sometimes, they hold sperm. Often, epididymal cysts develop for no specific reason at all. Sometimes they might happen when one of the tubes that transport and store sperm gets blocked.
In TCM, the cause of the cyst is due to Damp and Blood Stasis. Both of which would cause the narrowing or blockage of the epididymal duct and cause epididymal fluid discharge and the resulting cyst.
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form in or on the surface of the ovaries. The most common type of ovarian cyst, called a functional cyst, form during the menstrual cycle. The most common types of functional cysts are either follicular cysts or corpus luteum cysts. Follicular cysts form when the follicle that usually releases an egg doesn’t break open causing the follicle to continue growing into a cyst. Corpus luteum cysts form when the follicle sac that usually shrinks into a mass of cells called the corpus luteum doesn’t shrink. Instead, the sac releases itself after the egg is released, and then fluid builds up inside. Other types of ovarian cysts which are less common are endometriomas, dermoids, and cystadenomas.
Most ovarian cysts do not cause symptoms. In some cases, a cyst can cause symptoms of pressure, bloating, swelling, and pain in the lower abdomen. If a cyst ruptures, very severe symptoms occur such as sudden and sharp pain.
For more information, please reference the Women’s Health Protocol.