How Serious Is a Baker's Cyst?

Baker's cysts are fluid-filled sacs caused by excess knee-joint fluid.

This common condition occurs when excess fluid produced by the lining of the knee joint pushes through the back part of the joint capsule (the fibrous tissue that surrounds the joint), forms a cyst and protrudes into the back area of the knee, known as the popliteal fossa. A Baker's cyst may also be referred to as a "popliteal cyst."

An older man holding his low quad
Alice Day / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, you may be familiar with this painful condition. Fortunately, there are treatment remedies available for Baker's cysts, depending on the cause.


Baker's cysts have nothing to do with actual bakers; they're named for William Morrant Baker, the British surgeon who first discovered them. Anyone of any profession can develop a Baker's cyst, especially after a knee injury or due to a chronic knee condition.

Simply put, a Baker's cyst can develop after the joint capsule becomes damaged or weakened. It's caused by swelling in the knee from arthritis or an injury such as a cartilage tear or a meniscus tear.

It's important to verify whether your condition is, in fact, a Baker's cyst since there's the possibility of serious complications such as deep vein thrombosis, which can lead to the formation of a blood clot.


A Baker's cyst can be soft to the touch and slightly tender. You may have no symptoms other than a visible bulge behind the knee or a tight feeling that something is behind the knee. When you extend your knee, this can make a Baker's cyst become tighter or more painful.

A Baker's cyst can actually swell or shrink. It also can burst underneath the skin, and the consequence of a burst Baker's cyst are symptoms very much like those associated with blood clots: redness and pain in the calf. The fluid from the ruptured cyst is absorbed by the body. When this happens, the Baker's cyst temporarily disappears, but it usually comes back.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical examination is usually all that is needed to diagnose a Baker's cyst. MRIs or ultrasounds can be used to confirm that the cyst is fluid-filled, as opposed to solid.

Depending on the underlying condition that causes it, in most cases, a Baker's cyst can be treated without surgery. Nonsurgical treatment would include:

  • Draining the fluid from the cyst using a needle and syringe
  • Cortisone injection to reduce inflammation
  • Rest
  • Elevating the leg
  • Icing to reduce inflammation
  • Physical therapy regimen to control swelling
  • Treating the underlying condition

Surgical removal of a Baker's cyst is an option if you find the cyst painful or particularly bothersome. Even after it is surgically removed, it's possible that a Baker's cyst will recur. In most cases, however, treatment of the injury that caused the Baker's cyst will alleviate symptoms and reduce the likelihood that it will recur.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.