Become Pain Free Now

Physical Therapy for Baker’s Cyst – Information, Exercises, and More

Is that fluid-filled lump behind your knee causing you constant pain? Maybe you’re finding it difficult to walk. You might have trouble squatting down. You’ve noticed your leg is swollen.

These painful symptoms, plus many others, might mean you have a Baker’s cyst.

Luckily, there are many treatments for Baker’s cysts, physical therapy included.

Learn how a variety of physical therapy exercises can help to…

  • Reduce your pain and swelling
  • Increase your range of motion; and
  • Strengthen your weak knee muscles

… caused by a Baker’s cyst.


What Is a Baker’s Cyst?

Most commonly found behind the knee, a Baker’s cyst is a fluid-filled lump that results from a damaged joint. You might hear Baker’s cysts referred to as popliteal cysts or synovial cysts.

When the knee joint is damaged or inflamed, extra synovial fluid is produced and becomes trapped in the joint, forming a cyst behind the knee.

What Causes Baker’s Cyst?

Swelling from damaged joints and structures in the knee causes fluid to create a soft lump at the back of the knee. Knee damage can happen for many reasons:

  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Meniscus or ligament tears
  • Inflammation
  • Gout 


Arthritis In the Knee

All forms of arthritis can cause the fluid build-up that can become a Baker’s cyst, but most commonly Baker’s cysts come from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. 

Why? These degenerative forms of arthritis cause the body to respond with inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis — more popular in the elderly — causes an increased production of synovial fluid from inflammation around the knee joints.

Knee Tears

Baker’s cysts are more frequent with meniscus tears than other knee tears, but any tearing and damage to knee ligaments can lead to a Baker’s cyst. Knee tears most often happen:

  • From being hit in the side of the leg
  • When falling directly on the knee; or
  • When shifting the leg incorrectly


An inflammatory form of arthritis, gout often presents itself as:

  • Severe knee pain, normally turning into Baker’s cyst
  • Pain in other joints (ankles, elbows, wrists)
  • Redness
  • Reduced range of motion; and
  • Swelling

The flare-ups from gout usually happen at night and can be increased by:

  • Diets high in:
    • Alcohol
    • Seafood
    • Meat; and
    • Fructose
  • People with:
    • Obesity
    • Kidney issues
    • Hypertension; or
    • Cardiovascular disease

Baker’s Cyst Symptoms

Many people realize they have a Baker’s cyst because it is clearly visible. As the cyst begins to fill with fluid, it grows. It might be as small as a marble or as large as a golf ball depending on how quickly you notice it.

Besides the noticeable lump, other symptoms of a Baker’s cyst include:

  • Painful flexion or extension of the knee
  • Stiffness of the knee joint; or
  • Swelling of the knee or leg

Although the obvious lump might leave you sure you’re suffering from a Baker’s cyst, only a doctor can properly diagnose you. They’ll likely first rule out a blood clot and order imaging to get a better look at the cyst.

Knee Pain

We know knee pain can happen for many reasons. Whether it be from…

  • Arthritis
  • Internal derangement; or
  • Inflammation

… the damage to the knee joint can quickly lead to Baker’s cyst.

If you’re having trouble bending or extending your knee or are experiencing pain in your knee joint, consult a doctor to rule out Baker’s cyst.

Stiffness Around the Knee

If you’re suffering from a Baker’s cyst, the increased fluid and growing sac can quickly cause stiffness around your knee joint, making it difficult to move your knee as easily, even if there is no pain.

Swelling of the Knee or Leg

Excess fluid and inflammation that results from a Baker’s cyst can cause visible swelling to both the knee and the leg. If you notice any swelling, visit your doctor.

Baker’s Cyst Treatment

If you’re showing any symptoms of a Baker’s cyst, you need an official diagnosis from a doctor before you can begin treatment. To determine if you have Baker’s cyst, a doctor will:

  • Review your medical history to learn about previous injuries or health concerns that could be causing a Baker’s cyst
  • Take x-rays to see if arthritis is present in your knee, which can cause a Baker’s cyst
  • Do an MRI to get a more detailed image of your knee and help determine a cause; or
  • Use an ultrasound machine to determine if your lump is solid or fluid

Once a Baker’s cyst is confirmed, different treatments can be discussed and begun. There are both nonsurgical and surgical options for treating Baker’s cyst, depending on the cause and your symptoms.

Nonsurgical Treatments for Baker’s Cyst

Generally, nonsurgical treatment is attempted before talking about surgically treating a Baker’s cyst. To help improve your symptoms, doctors often suggest:

  • RICE – resting when possible, icing your knee, using compression wraps to decrease swelling, and elevating your leg when resting
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Exercise and/or diet to maintain healthy body weight to reduce pressure on your knee joints
  • Avoiding exercise and movements that strain your knee and cause pain
  • Using a crutch or cane for support when walking
  • Attending physical therapy to strengthen both your knee and body

Surgical Treatments for Baker’s Cyst

Symptoms of a Baker’s cyst are almost always lessened or resolved with nonsurgical treatments. However, there are few instances where surgery might be recommended to repair the knee damage. You might need surgery if:

  • Your knee pain is severe and not lessening with nonsurgical treatment options; or
  • You have a limited range of motion

Surgical options include:

  • Draining the fluid from the cyst with a needle
  • Arthroscopic knee surgery to see and correct internal knee damage with a scope
  • Knee osteotomy to cut parts of the bone to correct knee damage and arthritis pain

Baker’s Cyst Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Physical therapy treatment for a Baker’s cyst is a nonsurgical way to attempt to decrease the knee pain while also addressing the underlying injury that is causing you pain.

Physical therapists might suggest different physical therapy protocols depending on:

  • Your pain level
  • If your Baker’s cyst is intact or ruptured; and
  • How much the cyst has affected your mobility

Our team of physical therapists at In Motion O.C. are skilled and knowledgeable professionals who are trained to handle many knee ailments, including Baker’s cysts. If you’re experiencing any knee pain, contact us today for a visit.

Best Physical Therapy Exercises for Baker’s Cysts

Physical therapists can offer a handful of exercises to help reduce the symptoms related to a Baker’s cyst while also increasing your range of motion and strengthening the surrounding knee muscles. 

Here are three effective and common exercises for a Baker’s cyst.

Hamstring Curls

  1. Lay on your stomach.
  2. Pull your heels as close to your gluteus muscles as you can.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds or count 15 reps.
  4. Add weight between your feet or ankle weights to increase difficulty.
  5. Repeat.

You can also practice these seated:

  1. Sit in a chair with your heel on the floor and your knee extended straight.
  2. Gently lean forward until you feel the stretch behind your knee and thigh.
  3. Repeat.

Glute Bridges

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Keep your arms relaxed at your side.
  3. Lift your hips high by contracting the muscles in your glutes. 
  4. Repeat 10 reps 3 times.
  5. Add a band around your thighs to increase resistance.

Heel Slides

  1. Lie on your back with your legs extended straight.
  2. Slide the Baker’s cyst knee in towards your butt as you bend your knee.
  3. Hold the stretch and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Baker’s Cyst

Living with a Baker’s cyst is both painful and inconvenient. Not only is the fluid-filled lump a sight for sore eyes, but it is also affecting your daily activities and making it difficult to comfortably move around.

Our trained team of physical therapists at In Motion O.C. can help reduce your painful symptoms and address the underlying injury that is causing your Baker’s cyst. We’ve helped dozens, if not hundreds, of patients with similar knee ailments get back to living their best lives in strong and symptom-free bodies. 

Not only are we the #1 rated clinic in America, but we’ve got the testimonials and case studies to prove that we are the best of the best. Contact us today to see how we can help use physical therapy for Baker’s cyst treatment.


In Motion O.C.