What causes and how to treat syndactyly?

Symptom Database

Syndactyly is a congenital condition characterized by the fusion or webbing of two or more fingers or toes. It is a relatively common condition, affecting approximately 1 in every 2,000 to 3,000 live births. Syndactyly can occur in different forms and can vary in severity. In this article, we will explore the causes of syndactyly, the available treatment options, and the importance of syndactyly surgery in managing this condition.

Causes of Syndactyly

Syndactyly can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Here are some of the common causes:

  • Genetics: Syndactyly can be inherited from one or both parents. It is often associated with certain genetic syndromes, such as Apert syndrome, Poland syndrome, or Holt-Oram syndrome.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain medications or substances during pregnancy, such as thalidomide or alcohol, can increase the risk of syndactyly in infants.

Treatment for Syndactyly

The treatment for syndactyly depends on the severity of the condition and the functional impairment it causes. Here are some of the treatment options available:

Non-Surgical Treatment

In mild cases of syndactyly, where the webbing does not significantly affect the function of the fingers or toes, non-surgical treatment may be recommended. This can include:

  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy exercises can help improve range of motion and function in the affected fingers or toes.
  • Orthotic devices: Splints or braces may be used to help separate the fused digits and promote proper alignment.

Surgical Treatment

In more severe cases of syndactyly, surgical intervention is often necessary to separate the fused digits and restore their normal function. Syndactyly surgery is typically performed during early childhood, between the ages of 6 months to 2 years. The specific surgical technique used will depend on the type and extent of the syndactyly. Some common surgical procedures include:

  • Simple web release: This procedure involves dividing the skin and soft tissues between the fused digits to separate them.
  • Complex tissue rearrangement: In cases where the webbing involves bone, tendons, or blood vessels, more complex surgical techniques may be required to achieve separation.
  • Skin grafting: In some instances, a skin graft may be necessary to cover the raw areas left after separation.

Following syndactyly surgery, physical therapy and rehabilitation are often recommended to optimize the functional outcome and promote proper healing.

Syndactyly in Infants

Syndactyly is often diagnosed at birth or during the routine newborn examination. The severity of the condition can vary widely, ranging from a small webbing between two fingers or toes to complete fusion of multiple digits. It is important for parents to consult with a pediatrician or a specialist in hand and upper extremity conditions to determine the best course of action.

Types of Syndactyly

Syndactyly can be classified into different types based on the extent and location of the fusion. The most common types include:

  • Simple syndactyly: In this type, only the soft tissues between the fingers or toes are fused.
  • Complex syndactyly: This type involves fusion of both the soft tissues and the underlying bones.
  • Complete syndactyly: In complete syndactyly, all digits are fused together.
  • Incomplete syndactyly: In incomplete syndactyly, only a portion of the digits are fused.

Syndactyly Pictures

For a visual understanding of syndactyly, here are some pictures that illustrate the different types and severities of the condition:

Picture of simple syndactyly

Picture of complex syndactyly

Picture of complete syndactyly

Syndactyly Definition

Syndactyly is defined as the fusion or webbing of two or more fingers or toes. It is a congenital condition that occurs during fetal development.

Syndactyly Genetics

As mentioned earlier, syndactyly can have a genetic component. It can be inherited in an autosomal dominant or autosomal recessive manner, depending on the specific genetic syndrome associated with the condition. Genetic counseling may be recommended for families affected by syndactyly to understand the inheritance pattern and the risk of recurrence in future pregnancies.

Syndactyly Research

Ongoing research is being conducted to better understand the underlying causes of syndactyly and to develop more effective treatment strategies. Scientists are studying the genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in the development of syndactyly, as well as exploring potential gene therapies and regenerative medicine approaches.

In conclusion, syndactyly is a congenital condition characterized by the fusion or webbing of fingers or toes. It can be caused by genetic factors or environmental exposures during pregnancy. Treatment options include non-surgical interventions such as physical therapy and orthotic devices, as well as surgical procedures to separate the fused digits. Syndactyly can vary in severity and is classified into different types based on the extent of fusion. Ongoing research aims to improve our understanding of syndactyly and develop more advanced treatment options for affected individuals.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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