What Is Syndactyly?

Syndactyly, also called webbed fingers, is the most common congenital hand deformity. It usually affects the third and fourth web spaces of the hand and involves the fusion of the skin or bones of the fingers. 

If your child is born with a birth defect, it is normal to feel overwhelmed when considering the treatment and prognosis for your child. At the Yale Hand and Microsurgery Program, our internationally recognized team of surgeons and cross-disciplinary specialists work to provide top-level quality care for your child while offering the utmost concern and support for your family.

Causes of Syndactyly

Syndactyly shows a strong familial tendency with up to 10 to 40 percent of cases showing genetic inheritance. It may be in both hands, and it affects males twice as often as females. It may also be seen in combination with other birth anomalies or as part of a syndrome, such as Saethre-Chotzen syndrome.

Often parents have feelings of guilt and frustration when their child is the first to carry a genetic mutation. However, it is important to know that there is nothing you did to cause syndactyly, nor could you have prevented your child from getting it. 

Symptoms of Syndactyly

There are two classifications of syndactyly, each with different symptoms:

  • Simple: the fusion of the fingers involves only the skin and soft tissues
  • Complex: there is bony fusion 

In addition, syndactyly can be complete or incomplete: 

  • Complete: the entire length of the fingers is fused
  • Incomplete: only part of the length of the fingers is fused 

Our doctors will perform a detailed physical examination of your child as well as X-rays to help classify the syndactyly.

This list should be used as a guideline. Not every symptom is included. If you or a loved one has one or more of these symptoms, it does not mean that he or she has syndactyly. If you are concerned that you or a loved one might have syndactyly, please make an appointment with your doctor.

Treatments for Syndactyly

If your child has incomplete, simple syndactyly, he or she does not necessarily require treatment. However, most parents do have it surgically corrected early in life for cosmetic reasons. Your child may also develop physical limitations to certain activities as he or she grows, such as playing the piano, etc.; therefore, it may become necessary to correct an incomplete, simple syndactyly. 

Complex syndactyly should be treated in order to allow proper growth and development of the bones and skin of the fingers. The timing of surgery will be based upon the particular digits involved and the complexity of the webbing. A web may be corrected as early as six months or as late as -three to four years of age. 

During the surgical process, the fingers are released using small skin flaps from each finger. If your child has more than two fingers fused, only one side of a finger is released in a single operation. In incomplete syndactyly, the creation of these skin flaps is usually sufficient to cover both sides of the previously fused fingers. If the fusion is complete and complex, the main problem stems from a deficiency of skin. Usually, full-thickness skin grafts will be required in order to cover both sides of the finger. 

At the Yale Hand and Microsurgery Program, we know how scary it can be to have your child undergo the surgical process. Rest assured your child will be treated by some of the top surgeons in the nation. We discuss the treatment plan with you in detail so that you understand the process and you know what to expect. It is important to us that you feel supported throughout the treatment process.

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Hand & Microsurgery Program
Yale Physicians Building
800 Howard Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
203.737.5130 or 203.785.2253

Yale Orthopedic Building
1445 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437