Webbed toes and fingers are digits connected to each other by tissue. They are congenital disabilities that occur in about one out of every two to three thousand infants. Caucasian boys are the most likely to be affected. Doctors often describe webbed digits by their severity. They thus use the following descriptions: incomplete, complete, simple, complex, and complicated. The incomplete form, where the webbing extends only partway up the finger or toe, is the mildest type. In the complete form, the webbing extends all the way up to the tip of the finger or toe.
In the simple form, the digits are connected only by soft tissue like skin. In the complex type, the digits are connected by soft and hard tissues that can include cartilage and even bone. The complicated form is similar to the complex one, but the affected digits are also misshapen and may be missing parts.
Syndactyly is simply the medical term for webbed digits. The word comes from the Greek words for together and finger.
In a developing embryo, the hands and feet start off looking like paddles, and during the sixth or seventh week, the tips of the paddles split and form fingers or toes. In syndactyly, something goes wrong with this process, and the baby is born with digits more or less fused together. The only way to correct webbed digits is to perform surgery. In most cases, the doctor will separate the child’s fingers when they are between one and two years old. By that age, the child will be better able to tolerate the anesthesia. As the surgeon will only separate two digits at a time, the child may need several surgeries. Webbed digits often occur on their own as a random mutation. They can also run in some families. In other cases, however, webbed fingers occur as part of a genetic disorder.