A child born with clinodactyly has an abnormally curved finger. The finger may be curved so much that it overlaps with other fingers. The bent finger usually functions fine and doesn’t hurt, but its appearance can make some children self-conscious.

Clinodactyly is uncommon, affecting about 3 percent of babies born in the general population. Any finger on either hand can be curved due to clinodactyly. It’s unusual, though, for fingers on both hands to be affected.

Approximately 25 percent of children with Down syndrome have this condition. In babies with Down syndrome, it’s sometimes the thumb that’s bent away from the other fingers. In most people, however, the little finger is usually affected, with the joint closest to the fingernail bent toward the ring finger.

Clinodactyly is a congenital condition. That means a child’s born with it, as opposed to developing it later on. The unusual shape may be caused by the growth of an abnormally shaped finger bone or by a problem with a growth plate in one of the finger’s bones.

It’s not clear why some children have this problem and others don’t. However, it’s associated with certain disorders, such as:

Clinodactyly is also more common in boys than in girls. There may also be a genetic component, though many babies born with clinodactyly are the first in their families to have this condition.

You’re not likely to have a second child with clinodactyly just because your first child had the condition. If, though, your first child also has Down syndrome and clinodactyly, your chances of having a second child with Down syndrome are higher.

In mild cases, clinodactyly may not be noticeable until a child is a few years old. Often, though, clinodactyly can be preliminarily diagnosed shortly after birth.

A thorough physical examination of the hand will include range-of-motion tests to determine whether hand motion and coordination are affected. X-rays are usually taken to help confirm a diagnosis. They will show a C-shaped bone in the curved finger.

A prenatal ultrasound may detect clinodactyly, but there’s no treatment that can be done while a baby is in the womb.

Because clinodactyly usually causes no symptoms and doesn’t severely restrict the use of the affected finger, your child’s doctor may not recommend any treatment.

Splinting the finger with a neighboring finger to help straighten it isn’t recommended. It could worsen the health and growth of the affected finger.

In mild cases, your child’s doctor may choose to monitor the growth of the fingers and hand to watch for signs that the condition in worsening or affection function.

When the curve is more than 30 degrees, hand function may be compromised, and surgical treatment may be necessary. Surgery usually has the best results when your child is young and the bones are still growing.

Surgery to treat clinodactyly usually involves:

  • taking out a wedge-shaped section of curved bone
  • stabilizing the finger
  • making sure the bones and tissue in the affected finger are lined up properly within the finger
  • lining up the finger that was operated on with the other fingers

A cast or splint will be placed on the finger while it heals after surgery. The hand and forearm may be placed in a sling for further protection. The operation usually involves an orthopedic surgeon and a plastic surgeon. The two doctors check that the function of the finger is retained or improved, while also helping to make sure the finger’s appearance is as normal as possible.

Treatment may also involve some physical therapy and occupational therapy after the bones heal.

The long-term outlook is very good for someone born with clinodactyly. If the condition is treated successfully with surgery, there’s a chance that clinodactyly may recur in that finger. However, your child can live a long life with no further signs or complications from clinodactyly.

Because clinodactyly may be caused by a growth plate problem in a finger, you should pay attention for other growth-related concerns with your child. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about any other signs of bone or growth abnormalities. And if you’re considering surgery to treat the finger, seek out a specialist with experience treating children with clinodactyly.

Your child’s doctor should also outline when it’s fine to resume normal activities with the affected hand.