There are many conditions that can be confused with TMJ because they have overlapping symptoms. Tracking down the exact cause of your symptoms is crucial to ensuring you get proper treatment.
If you are experiencing jaw-related symptoms, TMJ is the most common cause, but in rare cases, a ganglion cyst may be to blame.
What Is a Ganglion Cyst?
A ganglion cyst is a balloon of tough, fibrous tissue that’s filled with synovial fluid. Synovial fluid is the slippery liquid that lubricates and nourishes your joints, and that’s where ganglion cysts develop: on a joint. We don’t know what causes ganglion cysts, but they may be related to joint damage caused by trauma, stress, or wear, as they are sometimes associated with arthritis.
The most commonly affected joints are the wrists and ankles, but in rare cases the temporomandibular joint can be affected. In this case, the cyst develops right out of the joint capsule, which enfolds the cartilaginous cushioning disc.
A ganglion cyst is just one of many different types of cysts that can develop in or around the temporomandibular joint, causing similar symptoms.
How to Know if a Cyst Is Causing Your Symptoms
A ganglion cyst can produce many TMJ-like symptoms, such as jaw pain, tinnitus, or vertigo. However, a ganglion cyst probably won’t cause jaw clicking or popping, and the jaw pain will be only in the joint, with no pain in the muscles.
A ganglion cyst is more likely to cause a visible swelling at or near the jaw joint. It will happen on just one side, and all your pain will be related to that mass. The visible swelling is likely to happen before you notice any pain. Push on the swelling region. If it feels like it’s a fluid-filled balloon, then it’s a cyst. Often, if the cyst is close to the surface, light will shine through it. TMJ-related swelling is more likely to feel firm, like muscle.
Treating Ganglion Cysts
Once a ganglion cyst begins to cause symptoms, surgical removal is the only treatment available. When the cyst is removed, symptoms should go away.
TMJ treatment, of course, has many more options, and because the condition is more complex and multifactorial, treatment isn’t always so simple. Often, symptoms will diminish and fade over time with treatment, but may return if treatment stops.