The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Webbed Toes: Is Surgery Right For You?

Posted by on Monday, October 1st, 2012

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It was a typical day of eighth grade gym class–my friends and I were hanging around in the bleachers trying to avoid any activity that would make us break a sweat and require a shower in the uncomfortable locker room. One of my friends started talking about people with webbed feet. Most of us had never heard of such a thing and didn’t quite believe her. She swore it was true, though. We scoffed at the idea, and to prove how absurd it was, another person in our group called out to a random girl walking by: “Hey, Suzanne, you don’t have webbed feet, right?” Suzanne stopped dead in her tracks, turned red, walked over to us and said nervously, “How did you know? Who told you?”

That’s how we found out that there is such a thing as people with webbed feet, or webbed toes to be precise. It’s actually a condition called syndactyly, and it can affect either the fingers or toes. About one in 2500 babies are born with syndactyly.

Wait one duck-paddlin’ second, can you just explain exactly what you mean by “webbed” toes or feet? Most toes have space between them that runs from the tip of the toe to the base of the toe; each toe can move freely on its own. Webbed toes are toes where there is skin between two or more toes, connecting them so they become one unit.

How does this happen? Is it due to some unfortunate encounter with water fowl? No, don’ t blame the swans for this one. Syndactyly happens while a baby is in the womb. Our hands and feet start out as flat paddles, with no defined fingers and toes. As the fetus develops, the digits begin to separate until they are fully on their own. When toes or fingers don’t separate all the way, that’s syndactyly. It’s often an inherited condition; about 40% of babies with syndactyly have a family member who also has the condition.

Syndactyly can be put into four categories:

  • Complete Syndactyly The toes are connected, or webbed, from the base to the tips
  • Incomplete Syndactyly The toes are only connected halfway or part way
  • Simple Syndactyly The toes are just connected by skin
  • Complex Syndactyly The toes are connected by bone

So I have webbed toes. What does this mean to me? Do I have to worry about it? It depends on you–webbed toes don’t usually cause any pain or other problems with your feet. The biggest issue may be that you can’t wear flip flops or some sandals (Don’t think you can’t wear Vibram Five Fingers? Yes, you can–it just takes a little work with scissors and needle, as described here).

Some people, though, feel extremely self-conscious about their webbed toes and find it difficult to live with them from a cosmetic point of view. That’s something that parents of newborns with webbed toes have to consider. Infants with webbed fingers often have surgery done at about eighteen months, because of the difficulty webbed fingers can cause with every day activities. Since webbed toes don’t really cause any difficulties, though, it’s not a necessity; it’s up to the parents to decide whether they want to have the surgery done while their children are still young and save them the anxiety they might feel about their toes as they grow up.

The procedure for separating webbed toes isn’t easy and it can be painful. If you or your child have webbed toes, it’s best to discuss your options with a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) and decide if surgery is the right choice for you.

Webbed toes are not common, but they’re not so uncommon that you should feel like a lonely weirdo if you have them. Some people with webbed toes may embrace them as a personal quirk, while others may feel they can’t live with them. In the end, they’re truly the mark of an individual, because only you, the individual, can decide how you feel about them.

 

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.