Synovial Cysts — A Lesser-Known Cause of Back Pain

Jun 01, 2023
Synovial Cysts — A Lesser-Known Cause of Back Pain
Most people know that arthritis and disc herniations can cause back pain, but not many have heard of synovial cysts as a culprit. These fluid-filled sacs can form in the joints of the spine and cause sciatica and other pain. Read on to learn more.

Chronic, debilitating back pain affects some 16 million Americans. The causes of this pain varies, but a sprain or strain, degenerative disc disease, and disc herniation are some of the most common diagnoses. A lesser-known diagnosis of a synovial cyst can also be to blame for pain in your lower back.

Synovial cysts are fluid-filled sacs that tend to form on the lower spine and often cause no symptoms whatsoever. But they can cause back pain and pinching of nerves that lead to sciatica. 

The skilled physicians at Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine in Birmingham, Alabama, see patients every year with back pain complaints due to synovial cysts. Here’s what you should know.

About synovial cysts

Synovial cysts tend to develop as you age and experience related degenerative changes. They most commonly occur in people older than 65

The cysts form in the spine’s facet joints that sit between the bony protrusions at the back of the vertebrae. They develop when the synovial fluid, a thick compound that lubricates your joints, builds up to create a cyst. 

As you get older, your body may produce more synovial fluid in an attempt to keep your aging joints lubricated; the excess causes the cyst to form. Joint diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, are also associated with the development of synovial cysts.

Synovial cysts aren’t cancerous. 

Symptoms of synovial cysts

Synovial cysts create pressure inside your spinal canal. This can create the same symptoms as spinal stenosis — a condition in which the spinal canal narrows and puts pressure on surrounding nerves. 

It’s not unusual to experience no symptoms when a synovial cyst is present. If you do experience pain related to synovial cysts, it manifests as back and leg pain that intensifies when you stand and walk but feels better when you sit. 

A synovial cyst can also pinch spinal nerves to cause leg heaviness, cramping, numbness, weakness, and general pain. Sciatica, which describes symptoms related to compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, can also occur. You may experience leg pain, tingling, or a burning sensation that radiates down the back of the leg down to the foot. 

Treatment for synovial cysts

Mild symptoms associated with a synovial cyst respond to conservative treatments like rest, monitoring the cyst’s growth, and over-the-counter medications. Corticosteroid injections are a possible solution for severe pain and pressure caused by a synovial cyst. 

When these conservative treatments are unsuccessful, the team at Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine may recommend surgery to remove the cyst and relieve pressure on the surrounding nerves. 

Following the cyst’s removal, your surgeon may need to fuse the affected joint to prevent the cyst from reforming. 

If you have symptoms of nagging back pain that interferes with your quality of life, it’s time to make an appointment at Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine. Call our office, or use this website to request an appointment. We can assess your situation and determine what’s causing your back pain and which treatment is best, even if it’s surgery.