Webbed toes are toes partially or fully fused together. The degree of webbing can vary considerably between patients, and this cosmetic condition is relatively common in populations all over the world. People can opt for surgery to separate the toes if they feel it will become a problem. Sometimes, webbed toes are a sign of an underlying medical condition. In other cases, they occur independently of any other health issues.
People typically notice webbed toes shortly after birth, when two or more of an infant's toes cannot be pulled apart. Most commonly, the second and third toes are involved. This condition, known as syndactyly, does not interfere with balance and most daily activities. People may have trouble with tasks relying on independently moving prehensile toes, such as tricks like learning to write with the feet. Doctors may advise waiting to see if the webbed toes will be a problem for the child, rather than rushing into surgery.
Some families have a history of webbed toes with no other medical problems, and many members of the family may have this benign condition. It can also be the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation. Certain genetic diseases are also linked with syndactyly. If a patient appears to have other symptoms of a particular condition, a doctor may recommend screening for possible genetic causes and to determine the best approach to treatment.
In a syndactyly repair procedure, the patient will go under general anesthesia, remaining unconscious for the surgery. The surgeon will use medical imaging studies like x-rays beforehand to map out the plan for surgery. During surgery, the surgeon can separate the toes before suturing the skin to close the surgical wound. A plastic surgeon may participate if significant cosmetic changes to the feet are an issue, to reshape the toes and make sure the appearance of the foot is as neat as possible.
Some scarring will remain along the inside of the toe after surgery. The patient will be able to move all the toes freely, as the surgeon takes care to leave nerves and tendons intact. Usually, people notice some swelling and inflammation at first, and these should go down within days, allowing the patient to comfortably wear shoes during recovery. Potential risks of syndactyly surgery include an adverse reaction to the anesthesia, infection at the surgical site, or a medical error like cutting through a nerve.