A prospective cohort study was undertaken to observe the long-term outcome of different treatments for palmar wrist ganglia. One hundred and eighty-two patients agreed to participate in the study. One hundred and fifty-five patients (88%) responded at 2 or 5 years. Seventy-nine had been treated by surgical excision, 39 by aspiration and 38 by reassurance alone. At 5 years no significant differences were observed in the recurrence rates which were 42% after excision of a palmar wrist ganglion and 47% (19 of 39) after aspiration. Twenty of the 39 untreated ganglia had disappeared spontaneously. Eighty-five per cent of the patients were satisfied irrespective of treatment. Patients having surgery had a complication rate of 20% and took more time off work (14 days). Significantly more patients in the untreated group felt the persistent ganglion was unsightly. The patient evaluation measure scores were similar. At 2 and 5 year follow-up, regardless of treatment, no difference in symptoms was found, regardless of whether the palmar wrist ganglion was excised, aspirated or left alone. One in four wrists remained weak regardless of treatment or disappearance of the ganglion.