Polydactylism of the feet is how podiatrists and other medical professionals describe the phenomenon of being born with extra toes. The term polydactylism comes from the Greek words for ‘many’ and ‘digits’ (‘polys’ and ‘daktylos’). An alternative name for this congenital abnormality is polydactyly.
A baby born with polydactylism of the feet will have one or more extra toes on one or both feet. Although we think of our bodies as being fairly symmetrical, this condition is as likely to affect only one foot, as it is to affect both. As health resource Foot Vitals points out, about 50% of cases are unilateral and 50% bilateral.
Polydactylism of the feet and hands has made a carpenter from India, Devendra Suthar, a Guinness World Record holder. With 14 toes and 14 fingers, Suthar has more digits than any other living person.
Polydactylism is Surprisingly Common
Being born with extra digits is a more common occurrence than you might expect. It’s estimated that 1 in every 1,000 babies has extra toes and/or fingers. What’s more, polydactylism is the most prevalent congenital abnormality affecting the forefoot.
Extra toes are more often found on the left foot than the right, and more boys are born with them than girls. The most likely place for an extra toe to grow is on the foot’s outer side, close to the little toe. Polydactylism rarely affects the area by the big toe or middle toes.
A Hereditary Condition? Not Always
When a baby is growing inside the mother’s womb, the feet initially look like paddles. Gradually, their key features, including toes, develop. If one of the ten digits developing on the feet happens to split in half, the baby will have an extra toe. Polydactylism can sometimes be seen during an ultrasound scan, which means some babies are diagnosed before birth.
Polydactylism may run in families. If both parents have extra digits, their children have a 75% chance of being born with them too, according to Kidspot, a parenting resource. However, the condition isn’t always hereditary so takes some parents by surprise.
Babies with extra digits are likely to be assessed by paediatricians to determine whether they’re otherwise healthy. Polydactylism can be a sign of serious, underlying genetic abnormalities, but this is rare. In most cases, the condition has no clear cause.
Most Extra Toes Don’t Develop Properly
Do extra toes look and function like ordinary toes?
In some cases, extra toes are well-developed, independent digits, complete with skin, nails, soft tissue, bones, joints, nerve endings, etc. They therefore resemble ordinary toes, though they tend to be smaller and have a more limited range of motion. However, most extra toes don’t develop properly. They’re either partially attached to ordinary toes (which often gives rise to conjoined toenails) or simply fleshy nubs.
Problems Caused by Polydactylism
As extra toes make feet wider than normal, parents may struggle to find comfortable footwear for children with polydactylism, particularly when it comes to buying enclosed shoes such as school shoes. The problem is likely to be compounded by the fact that feet grow quickly during childhood.
Toes being squeezed together and rubbing against the inside of ill-fitting shoes can all too easily lead to blisters, calluses, swelling, pain and even deformities.
To prevent their children experiencing the foot problems associated with polydactylism, many parents decide to have the extra toes removed at an early stage. This is especially true when a child has a non-functioning, underdeveloped, stump-like toe.
Newborn babies’ tiny feet are difficult to operate on. As Podiatry Today magazine makes clear, ‘the ideal age for surgical intervention is between eight and ten months’, before the child can walk. However, this kind of foot surgery is also offered to older children and adults.
Removing a poorly formed extra toe is usually straightforward. A better-developed extra toe is harder to remove, especially if it contains bones, but X-rays will help the surgeon to determine the best approach.
London Foot Care for Patients with Polydactylism
If your child has an extra toe or has had toe-removal surgery, you can rely on our professional London podiatry team to provide expert children’s foot care. What’s more, if you’re an adult experiencing foot issues linked to polydactylism, we’d be delighted to help you too.
Our experienced podiatrists can perform gait analysis to assess the affect of polydactylism on foot function, fit bespoke orthotics to make walking more comfortable, check if feet are healing properly after surgery, remove calluses, and more.
For superb foot care for people born with extra toes, contact Feet By Pody today.