Be kind to your web-footed friends, for that duck may be somebody's brother, or whatever...
Syndactyly is the medical term for webbed fingers and webbed toes. The following image is a picture of my feet showing the webbed toes on both feet. My feet have been like this ever since I was born, over 50 years ago, and it has never been a problem. I have no syndactyly in my fingers.
When I was born, my mother was upset and wanted the toes separated, but the doctors convinced her that it would be better to leave them alone. Until I was around 10 years old, I thought that everybody had toes like these.
As a child, I do not recall ever having been teased about this by other children. Nobody noticed, unless I pointed this out to them, and nobody ever cared. I could swim, but not especially well, and certainly not competitively. As far as I can tell, the webbed toes neither helped not hindered my ability to swim.
I have long been curious about the frequency or incidence of this trait, and the distribution of the degree. Of all the people with a noticeable degree of webbing, what percentage have less than 40% or more than 80%? How many have webbing on more than two toes, or only on one foot? Do any of these factors depend on gender?
In July 2006, I received an informative note from a massage therapist who gets to see a lot of feet, including some with webbed toes.She reports seeing webbed toes on 5-6 clients out of roughly 250 to 300 appointments, so far that year. Both numbers include repeat visits. This implies a ratio of closer to 1 in 50 instead of 1 in 3000. It sounds like there may be a lot more of us than I had thought. Or else persons with webbed toes are more likely to see massage therapists.
More recently (2014) I received some useful information from a reader "MC". According to MC:
"Mutations/deletions/splices, etc. in the Bone Morphogenetic Protein Receptor have been identified as a cause of webbed toes like yours. ... Most people have no problems associated with the trait, i.e., 'reduced penetrance'. It may be passed down for several generations without being expressed."
MC also reported that:
"Dr. Adrian Flatt, who has webbed toes, ... has a review on treatment of webbed fingers. Being a surgeon who specializes in webbed digits, he sees a lot of people with them. The odds of seeing them in a random sample at the beach is between 1 in 2000 and 1 in 2500."
Dr. Flatt is an orthopedic surgeon at Baylor University.
MC recommended the following scientific article published in 2005: Evidence for Clinical and Genetic Heterogeneity of Syndactyly Type I, which notes that there are at least nine different types of syndactyly, of which "Type I" is most common, with a frequency of 3 cases in 10,000 people. Type I syndactyly is further divided into four sub-types. The most common of these, often called "zygodactyly", involves webbing of the second and third toes (only) and no webbing of fingers.
Another scientific article published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics in 2005, Syndactyly: Frequency of Specific Types. The abstract for this article reports that out of a set of roughly 600,000 consecutive births, some type of syndactyly was diagnosed in 174 cases (1 out of 3400), of which the most common type, "isolated syndactyly of the second and third toes" (zygodactyly) was diagnosed in 70 cases (1 out of 8600). These 70 cases affected more males than females and had a higher than expected frequency of white non-Latin-European ancestry.
More details are probably found in the full article, but one must pay the publisher $$$ in order to see this information.
One of the biggest problems reported by young girls with webbed toes is inability to wear toe-socks.
Real people with webbed toes.
I have no control over any of the web pages cited in these links. Eventually some of these links will expire or move to new addreseses.
Does anybody have syndactyly stories to tell? Send your comments to .
I am mainly interested in cases involving only toes and cases that do not involve a "named syndrome". Cases which involve fingers or a named syndrome should be handled by appropriate medical professionals.
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Updated January 13, 2002; (slight change 1/21/03);
(small changes May 29, 2003);
updated 7/23/03; updated 3/25/04; updated 9/8/04; updated 12/18/04;
updated 2/02/05; updated 3/23/05; updated 4/25/05; updated 5/07/05;
updated 5/19/05; updated 9/15/05; updated 9/08/06; updated 9/14/06;
updated 10/09/06; updated 02/10/07; updated 04/26/15