I have a Baker’s cyst behind my right knee, which makes it difficult for me to walk. Would exercise help?
A Baker’s cyst is a swelling in the back of the knee which can grow as big as a tennis ball, making it very uncomfortable and difficult to bend or fully straighten the knee. The cyst is filled with joint lubricating (synovial) fluid which the knee has produced in excessive quantities, because it is reacting to some other underlying problem in the knee.
Knees are pretty complicated and finely balanced structures, and in theory any kind of damage could set off this over-production of joint fluid. In practice, a Baker’s cyst is often linked to a tear in the shock-absorbing meniscal cartilage (in younger people) or arthritis (in the over-50s).
The first thing you need to be clear about is that the diagnosis of a Baker’s cyst is correct: made by a professional and not something you read on the internet. There are a couple of other behind-the-knee swellings that can be far more dangerous and need prompt medical attention. So I am assuming that you have had the cyst checked out and confirmed. Knowing what it is is half the story. You also need to know why it has appeared, because the only way to stop it coming back is to deal with the underlying problem.
As for exercise, this is one of those cases when you need to avoid aggravating the knee in order to help the swelling go down, which rules out most kinds of exercise. You can help yourself by following the “RICE” rules: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Try to keep your weight off the knee, put your leg up whenever you are sitting and at night in bed. Short applications of packs of frozen peas (10 minutes) and a stretchy bandage over the knee when you walk will help (but not too tight, you don’t want to burst the cyst). If you are able to take anti-inflammatories, this might also help reduce the swelling. You are likely to have to take a break from exercise anyway to sort out whatever the underlying injury is. Concentrate on finding out and repairing this damage.
I do know, however, that if you are used to doing regular workouts, the idea of an enforced layoff is always grim. So don’t give up altogether: rather, focus on some new challenges. You can still, for instance, do upper body and core strength training. You could use an arm-cycle machine in the gym for a cardio workout, or really challenge yourself by practising arms-alone swimming strokes. Or perch on a stool and get to grips with juggling skills: fantastic for sharpening your co-ordination and reaction times. And don’t forget to rehabilitate your knee /leg properly once the mystery behind the cyst has been dealt with.