New parents often marvel at their baby’s ten tiny toes. Some children, however, are born with two or more digits that aren’t fully separated. Those toes may be partially or completely fused, giving them an unusual appearance and, in severe cases, limiting their mobility. The medical name for this condition is syndactyly of the foot, but it’s often referred to as webbed toes or webbed feet instead.
If your baby has webbed toes on one or both feet, two key points should reassure you. Firstly, approximately one in every 2,000-3,000 babies is born with webbed feet and/or hands every year, so the condition isn’t particularly unusual. Secondly, it can be effectively treated, as we’ll explain.
Simple, Complex and Complicated Syndactyly
Syndactyly of the foot is most often seen between the second and third toes, though it can affect the others too. The majority of webbed toes are joined by what Foot Health Facts describes as ‘a flexible skin bridge’. If the webbing is composed of skin, the infant has simple syndactyly. Children whose toes also share cartilage or bone have complex syndactyly. A third variation is complicated syndactyly, which means the affected toes possess more significant structural abnormalities, such as missing bones.
Complex and complicated syndactyly are obviously more of a concern than simple syndactyly. If toes are joined by more than just a fleshy ‘bridge’ and the condition is ignored, their flexibility and development could be considerably impaired.
But syndactyly can cause problems regardless of the extent to which toes are fused. Footwear may be uncomfortable, especially if it puts pressure on the conjoined area or has toe posts. Plus, kids who grow up with webbed toes can feel self-conscious in situations requiring bare feet, such as school swimming lessons. That embarrassment may continue into adulthood.
What Causes Webbed Toes?
Syndactyly occurs when toes fail to divide and separate properly during the baby’s development in the womb. They might not become independent digits due to a genetic condition (for example, webbed toes can be associated with Down syndrome), but this is rare.
In most cases, there’s no identifiable reason why the babies in question have webbed toes, and the problem therefore isn’t a sign of a genetic condition. As is the case with extra toes, syndactyly is present from birth and usually has no clear cause. Webbed toes can be hereditary, but that isn’t always the case.
Webbed Toes Surgery and Aftercare
Unless the child has an especially mild case, syndactyly is usually treated. This tends to happen at an early age.
X-rays and ultrasounds help doctors to determine the extent of the problem. Webbed toes are corrected with surgery, and the approach taken in each case will depend on exactly how they’re joined.
Youngsters with syndactyly of the foot are typically operated on between a year and year-and-a-half old, when the feet aren’t as delicate as at birth but haven’t finished developing. This helps to prevent foot problems further down the line.
The surgeon separates the conjoined digits to improve their range of motion and make them resemble the other toes. A skin graft may be necessary to ensure the affected side of each toe is fully covered. There’s a very small risk that the blood supply to that area will be damaged. So if syndactyly affects three or more toes on the same foot, more than one operation will be performed to eliminate the possibility of a toe being lost due to the blood supply on both sides being compromised at the same time.
The foot is bandaged or put in a cast while the toes heal (a process that may take several months). London’s renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children has a useful guide to syndactyly surgery. It emphasises that aftercare is thorough: children ‘have regular outpatient appointments to check their progress until they have finished growing’.
London Foot Care for People Affected by Syndactyly
If your child has webbed toes or has had surgery for them, you can rely on our professional London podiatry team to provide superb children’s foot care and advice. Adults with webbed toes are also welcome to consult us about any concerns and see how we can make feet more comfortable.
One option is orthotics designed to take the pressure off sore areas, enhance foot function and make movement easier.
For professional foot care for kids and adults born with webbed toes, book an appointment with Feet By Pody today.