Articles Baker’s Cyst

November 25, 2019

This article covers basic anatomy, what a Baker’s cyst is, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, medical and physiotherapy management.

Basic Anatomy

Your knee joint is comprised of 3 bones. 

Bones of the knee joint

Lining the articulating surfaces is joint cartilage, this allows smooth frictionless movement. 

Acting as shock absorbers you have 2 pads of strong fibrocartilage called the meniscus.

Bird’s eye view of shin bone and meniscus

Connecting your bones together are the ligaments.

Ligaments of the knee

Covering the entire knee is a strong fibrous joint capsule. This contains a thick viscous fluid to help keep the knee lubricated.

Joint capsule of the knee

Small fluid filled sacs surrounding the knee called bursae to help reduce  friction between the tendons, muscles and bones. The bursa at the back of the knee is continuous with the joint capsule. 

Bursa of the knee

What is a Baker’s Cyst?

Excessive swelling and inflammation inside the joint capsule can cause the bursae at the back of the knee to swell and expand, this is known as a Baker’s cyst.

These do not normally cause any issues when they are small however, large Baker’s cysts can result in pain, limited movement, compression of nerves or compression of veins (increasing the chances of a blood clot forming in your veins).

What Causes a Baker’s Cyst?

Injury to any of the structures inside the joint capsule can cause excessive inflammation and swelling giving rise to a Baker’s cyst. Common causes include:

  • arthritis
  • meniscus injury
  • ligament injury 
  • bone injury 
  • gout 


  • pain and stiffness at the back of the knee
  • visible or palpable swelling at the back of the knee 
  • limited knee movement especially during bending 
  • increase in swelling and aggravation of symptoms with prolonged weight bearing activity
  • pain into the calf (in cases where the cyst completely ruptures) 
A Baker’s cyst will give rise to pain and stiffness into the back of the knee


Diagnosing this condition is mainly based on an individual’s clinical presentation through a thorough subjective and physical examination. An X-Ray, ultrasound or MRI may also be required to assess the severity of the condition and to exclude/identify other injuries. 


Management should firstly be directed at the underlying cause of the inflammation (i.e. arthritis, meniscus injury). Drainage of a cyst will only provide short term temporary relief and are likely to reoccur. Small cysts often resolve with modified rest, conservative physiotherapy treatment (see below) and anti inflammatory medication. However, larger problematic cysts causing  nerve/vein compression may require surgical excision.

Hydrotherapy enables you to exercise with less impact

Physiotherapy Management

  • Reduce inflammation, swelling and decrease pain. Modalities such as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), strapping, bracing and manual therapy may be used.
A compressive knee brace can provide additional support and limit swelling
  • Provide education regarding the injury, address unhelpful beliefs and identify and modify aggravating factors.
Walking downhill can often increase symptoms
  • Restore pain free knee range of motion and prevent secondary complications (i.e. secondary weight gain, calf shortening)
Calf stretch
  • Strengthen particularly the VMO muscle and other muscles surrounding the knee and hip joint.
Squats are a good way to strengthen your knees, hips and core
  • Regain balance and fine motor control.
Balance exercises
  • Identify and address movement and postural issues that may have contributed to the injury (i.e. excessively flat feet, weak hip muscles).

Please keep in mind the information provided is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute to consult your treating health professional. If you have any specific questions or require assistance with your individual treatment requirements please do not hesitate to contact My Family Physio in Mona Vale, NSW.

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