Golf nodule?

Dear Alice:

I've noticed what appears to be a wrist bone protruding on the back of my right hand. It's on the thumb side and closest to my forearm bones. I've been playing a lot of golf lately, and someone told me it was a "golf nodule." If so, what are golf nodules? Is this dangerous (it doesn't hurt right now), and do I need to do anything about it?

— Hacking

Dear Hacking,

It sounds like the “golf nodule” you’re describing is what medical professionals often call a tumor. Now, “tumor” doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. Tumor is just the technical term for any lump, bump, mass, cyst, or nodule on or inside the body. And not to worry, the vast majority of tumors found on the hand (about 95 percent) are not cancerous — they’re benign. That said, it’s a good idea to have a health care provider take a peek at it in order to rule out any serious conditions. They can recommend treatment, if needed, or help you arrange to get it removed.  

There are many different types of tumors that can occur on the hand. Three of the most common (benign) varieties include:

  • Ganglion cysts, which are outgrowths of the lining of the joints or tendon sheaths. The thick lubricating fluid of the joint fills these cysts and makes them feel firm to the touch. They usually occur at the wrist (approximately where your nodule is), but they can also appear at any other joint such as the base of a finger or the knuckles.
  • Giant cell tumors of the tendon sheath, which are solid tumors that can occur anywhere near the lining of tendons. Fortunately, these slow growing tumors are not cancerous.
  • Epidermal inclusion cysts, which are sacks just below the skin that are filled with keratin, a soft cheese-like substance produced by the skin cells.

In addition to these three, there are a myriad of other tumors that can occur on the hand. Almost all of them are considered benign. Sometimes even foreign bodies such as splinters can cause bumps to form. Though extremely rare, it’s possible for your nodule to be caused by a cancerous tumor.

The recommended next step to take would be based off of a diagnosis, so making an appointment with a medical professional to get it checked out is wise. During an appointment, the provider will likely review your medical history and perform a physical exam. Other means of viewing the bump in question may be utilized, such as an x-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. To confirm a diagnosis, a biopsy may also be in order.

Often these bumps will go away on their own; others may require draining (if they’re fluid-filled) or surgical removal. If the tumor is benign, you may choose to leave it alone and go about your life as usual. But, keep an eye on it. If you experience pain, numbness, changes in skin color near the tumor, or an increase in size, another trip to your provider for reevaluation is advised. If the tumor causes you pain or otherwise interferes with your life (e.g., your golf game), you may want to opt for surgery.

Best of luck with your golf game!

Last updated Feb 10, 2017
Originally published Feb 16, 1995