Finger Deformities General Syndactyly

Recurrent Syndactyly

Syndactyly is the abnormal connection between fingers- typically skin connection but sometimes bony connection (called complex).  I have written much about it HERE.  There is also information on the internet including some basic information on Wikipedia, NIH, and numerous hospital websites.  While syndactyly is one of the most common congenital upper extremity diagnoses, treatment is not perfect and ‘failures’ occur including, most commonly, recurrence of the skin with a process of ‘creep’ of the skin.  The other issue is a contracture or banding that limits finger straightening after surgery.  These problems typically are not present right after surgery but often appear years later.  What often happens is that the scarred skin does not grow or stretch with bone growth during childhood.  Certainly, that is a simple explanation and it is part of a more complex process.  In my experience, these are more common and worse with complex (bony) syndactyly but can occur with any type of syndactyly (partial, complete, etc).

We wonder about the risk of recurrence and surgeon experience.  I am definitely biased but I believe that recurrences and complications after surgery are less common when the treatment is provided by someone who treats these conditions on a regular basis.  We know that this is true for some diagnosis like joint replacement and hospital volumes- see HERE.  But, again, this is less clear for less common diagnoses like syndactyly.  Nonetheless, my advice for any parent is to make sure you are 1) comfortable with your surgeon’s interactions and approach and 2) comfortable asking about the surgeon’s experience with your child’s diagnosis.  If the surgeon becomes difficult or doesn’t like the question, that may mean that his/ her volume is not high.  This does not mean that the surgeon is not good, it just means that they do not perform this surgery commonly and I believe that this is a key factor for success.  The opposite is also true.  Just because a surgeon may perform an operation commonly, the surgeon may still have less than perfect outcomes.  So— this is tough to sort out.

Here is an example of a recurrent syndactyly. There is web creep- the skin has crept out the fingers and a contracture or banding.  The right and left hands were both treated at an outside hospital.  Again, I am not suggesting anything was done incorrectly although the outcome on both sides is less than ideal.  I am showing before surgery and after surgery (hands are mixed).  There is creep of the skin, rotation of the fingers, and a band limiting finger motion.  There is also clinodactyly– a curvature of the small finger because the middle bone is not the typical rectangular shape.  This can be addressed at the time of surgery.

Recurrent syndactyly with creep of the skin, rotation of the fingers, and curvature of the little finger.
Recurrent syndactyly with creep of the skin, rotation of the fingers, and curvature of the little finger.  The banding is causing a contracture of the finger and rotating the finger.

This xrays shows the clinodactyly or curvature of the little finger.
Clinodactyly related to the abnormal middle phalanx on the little finger.

Surgery deepens the web space from the recurrent syndactyly, breaks up the banding, and interrupts the abnormal growth plate affecting the little finger middle phalanx.  This is done through rotation of the skin and skin flaps designed to accomplish these goals and prevent future problems.  These pictures are about one year out from surgery.  The finger alignment will continue to improve but there will always likely be some hint of rotation.  There is full finger motion (straightening was limited before).

Results after correction of recurrent syndactyly including deepening of the webspace, breaking up the band and addressing clinodactyly

Results after correction of recurrent syndactyly including deepening of the webspace, breaking up the band and addressing clinodactyly

Syndactyly surgery may be considered ‘simple’ surgery by some.  I do not think that it necessarily is.  Experience matters and designing the best flaps, using skin grafts when necessary, and addressing all issues are all important.  When necessary, revision surgery can really be helpful as shown here but, obviously, we would love to avoid the need for revision surgery in syndactyly whenever possible.

 Charles A. Goldfarb, MD              


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