Synovial cysts — overview and treatment options

Synovial cysts are often a common occurrence in older patients due to the natural degeneration of the spine. A synovial cyst is a fluid-filled sac that protects the joints as the spine deteriorates. Though synovial cysts are typically not symptomatic, they could cause the development of other spine conditions, such as spinal stenosis, in severe conditions.

Synovial cysts generally occur in the lumbar spine, specifically in the L4-L5 vertebrae. While this condition does not typically result in any pain or discomfort, the presence of synovial cysts could indicate the deterioration of the spine and the possible development of other spine conditions. If your physician has diagnosed you with synovial cysts, you should start taking proactive steps to reduce your risk of developing a new spine condition. There are several conservative methods to help strengthen your core muscles and promote a healthy spine.

Causes of synovial cysts in the lumbar (lower back)

Synovial cysts are present as a result of spinal deterioration due to age and general wear and tear. Over time, the spine is exposed to years of repetitive twisting motion, incorrect lifting forms and probable weight gain. All of these factors add pressure to the spine, making the vertebrae of the spine compress into the disc and joint found between each set of vertebrae. Imagine this as a clamp — the two vertebrae are clamping the disc and joint between them due to the compression of the spine.

As the joint and disc are compressed, they begin to gradually deteriorate. When a joint in the spine begins to degenerate, it leaks fluid produced by the thin lining of synovium tissue that keeps the joint healthy and mobile. The leaking fluid fills back into a small sac made of synovium tissue, creating a synovial cyst. The cyst itself can often go unnoticed because it is small and not under pressure from the components of the spine. However, if the synovial cyst expands or if more cysts form, spinal stenosis may begin to develop. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, which in this case would be caused by the formation of synovial cysts along the spine. The cysts may compress a nerve root in the spinal canal and result in chronic lower back pain.

Proactive treatments to prevent future spine conditions

While synovial cysts do not often result in problems with the spine, they act as an indicator that the components of the spine are deteriorating and more spine conditions may begin to develop. In order to help prevent or delay the development of spine conditions, there are two main steps on which you need to focus:

  • Lifestyle changes — One of the most common causes of degenerative spine conditions is excess body weight and inactivity. Weight gain causes the vertebrae in the spine to compress on the discs and joints in the spine, resulting in the gradual degradation of the spine. Make small lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and exercise, to reduce excess weight and strengthen the core muscles.
  • Strength train — Develop a workout plan that targets the core muscles. Strengthening these muscles will help the pressure to alleviate from your spine because your core muscles will help support the weight of the body.

If you have additional questions about synovial cysts and the treatments options available for this condition, please contact our care team at Laser Spine Institute. Our goal is to help educate you about your condition and possible treatment options so you can make an informed decision about your spine care needs.