Extra Finger or Toe (Polydactyly)

The medical term for having an extra finger or toe is polydactyly (pol-ee-dak-tuh-lee). The term literally means “extra digit.”

The extra digit may range from a small bump to a fully developed working finger or toe. Most often, it’s smaller than the other digits and not well formed. The manner in which the extra digit is formed and attached may influence how it is treated (see treatment options below).

Sometimes the extra digit is connected to the hand or foot with only a narrow piece of tissue. If the digit is better formed, it may have all the normal components (bone, muscles, blood vessels and nerves). If that is the case, it connects to the hand or foot deep inside. 

Having an extra finger or toe can occur on its own, without any other symptoms or disease. It may be passed down (inherited) in families.

Extra digits may be poorly developed and attached by a small stalk (generally on the little-finger side of the hand). Or, they may be well-formed and may even function. Poorly formed digits are usually removed with surgery. 

If your child is born with an extra finger or toe, the doctor will check for other signs to see whether your child has a genetic disease or syndrome.

Your child may need an X-ray to see if there are bones in the extra digit and to see how the extra digit connects to the rest of the hand or foot.

In most cases, doctors remove an extra finger or toe in early childhood. The goal of treatment is to give your child a hand or foot that works well and looks typical. There are also practical concerns, such as removing an extra toe so your child’s foot fits well into shoes.

The method for removing an extra digit depends on how it connects to the hand or foot. An extra digit may connect with only a narrow piece of tissue, or it may connect more deeply and share bones, muscles and other tissues with the hand or foot.

Clip

If the digit is poorly formed and contains no bone, sometimes the treatment is as simple as attaching a clip at the base during a clinic visit. The clip stops blood flow to the digit so it will fall off, like the stump of belly button does soon after birth.

Surgery

If the extra finger or toe is well formed, you may elect to have surgery to remove it. This is usually done when a child is about 1 year old. This does not typically require an overnight stay at the hospital. Surgery is based on the complexity of the condition. Complex cases, where the extra finger or toe has bone, muscles, blood vessels and nerves, may require complex surgery.

After surgery, your child may need to wear a cast or splint on his / her hand or foot while it heals. The doctor will want your child to come back for follow-up visits to make sure he / she is healing well.

Children who have more complex surgery may need occupational therapy to help them avoid stiffness.

Call Cincinnati Children’s at 513-803-4263 if you have questions or concerns.


Last Updated 10/2013