Syndactyly is the medical term for webbing of the fingers or toes. Webbed fingers and toes occur when tissue connects two or more digits together. In rare cases, the fingers or toes may be connected by bone.

Approximately 1 in every 2,000–3,000 babies is born with webbed fingers or toes, making this a fairly common condition. Webbing of the fingers is most common in Caucasian males.

There are several different types of webbing that can occur between the fingers and toes, including:

  • Incomplete: The webbing appears only partially between the digits.
  • Complete: The skin is connected all the way up the digits.
  • Simple: The digits are connected by only soft tissue (i.e., skin).
  • Complex: The digits are joined together with soft and hard tissue, such as bone or cartilage.
  • Complicated: The digits are joined together with soft and hard tissue in an irregular shape or configuration (i.e., missing bones).

A child’s hand initially forms in the shape of a paddle while developing in the womb.

The hand begins to split and form fingers around the 6th or 7th week of pregnancy. This process is not completed successfully in the case of webbed fingers, leading to digits that are fused together.

Webbing of the fingers and toes mostly occurs at random and for no known reason. It’s less commonly the result of an inherited trait.

Webbing can also be related to genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome and Apert syndrome. Both syndromes are genetic disorders that can cause abnormal growth of the bones in the hands.

Webbing of the fingers or toes is often a cosmetic issue that doesn’t always need treatment. This is especially true with webbed toes. However, if treatment is necessary or desired, surgery is required.

Surgery

Every case of webbed fingers or toes is different, but they’re always treated with surgery. Surgery is performed under general anesthesia, which means your child will be given a combination of medications to put them to sleep.

Your child shouldn’t feel any pain or have any memory of the surgery. The surgery is usually performed on children between the ages of 1 and 2, which is when the risks related to anesthesia are lower.

The webbing between the fingers is split evenly in the shape of a “Z” during surgery. Extra skin is sometimes needed to completely cover the newly separated fingers or toes. In such cases, skin may be removed from the groin to cover these areas.

The process of using skin from another part of the body to cover these areas is called a skin graft. Often, only two digits are operated on at a time. Several surgeries may be required for one set of digits depending on your child’s specific case.

Your child’s hand will be placed in a cast after surgery. The cast stays on for about 3 weeks before it’s removed and replaced with a brace.

A rubber spacer may also be used to help keep their fingers separated while they sleep.

It’s also likely that they’ll undergo physical therapy after surgery to help with things like:

  • stiffness
  • range of motion
  • swelling

Your child will need to have regular appointments with their healthcare provider to check the healing progress of their fingers and toes. During these checkups, their healthcare provider will make sure that the incisions have healed properly.

They’ll also check for web creep, which is when the webbed area continues to grow after surgery. From the evaluation, their healthcare provider will decide whether your child will need additional surgeries.

Thankfully, after surgery, most children are able to function normally when using their newly separated digits. Working with your child’s healthcare team is important. They’ll help you make sure that your child achieves the best possible results.

However, it’s important to note that some differences may still be visible when comparing digits that underwent surgery to those that didn’t. As a result, some children may experience self-esteem concerns.

If you notice your child is having self-esteem issues, talk to their healthcare provider.

They can help connect you with community resources, such as support groups, whose members understand what you and your child are going through.