Bone, Joint and Muscle Conditions


What Is Symbrachydactyly?


Hand of a child with short fingers from symbrachydactyly.

Babies with symbrachydactyly are born with short fingers, which may be webbed, or they are missing fingers. Usually this happens on only one hand, and the other hand looks typical.

Some of the finger bones (phalanges, fah-LAN-jeez) may be smaller than normal, and the fingers may be stiff. In more serious cases, the fingers are missing bones. If the fingers have no bones at all, your baby may have little stumps of skin and soft tissue (nubbins) where the fingers would be.

Most babies with symbrachydactyly have a complete thumb, but sometimes the thumb is short or missing. The long bones that connect the fingers to the wrist (metacarpals) may be short, too. Some babies have a short forearm as well. The muscles, tendons and ligaments in the hand are also affected.

Symbrachydactyly in Children

Symbrachydactyly X-ray

Left: Stumps of soft tissue without bones in place of fingers, and short bones in the hand. Right: Complete fingers with three bones each, and complete bones in the hand.

When a baby's hands begin to form in utero, they are shaped like mittens or paddles. Then the fingers divide. In babies with symbrachydactyly, the fingers (and sometimes the hand and arm) don't fully form during this time. This may happen because the area doesn't get enough blood flow or because of some other problem with the tissue. It's not caused by anything the mother did or did not do while she was pregnant.

Most children with this condition can use their hands well enough to do all the usual things children do. Even if their smaller hand doesn't work well on its own, they can use it to assist their other hand.

Symbrachydactyly isn't common. It happens in about 1 in 32,000 babies. It's not passed down in families (inherited). If you have a child with symbrachydactyly, you are not at any greater risk of having another child with the condition.

Symbrachydactyly at Seattle Children's

Our doctors, surgeons, nurses and occupational therapists are well versed in treating symbrachydactyly. Each year we see babies with this condition in our clinics, and we create a tailored treatment plan for each of them to get the best results.

Symbrachydactyly is one of the conditions treated by the experts in our Hand and Upper Extremity Program.

For many of our patients, treatment means surgery - sometimes highly complex surgery - to improve how their hand works and looks. Our surgeons are experienced at performing this type of surgery in children.

When needed, our rehabilitation program provides occupational therapy to help children with symbrachydactyly gain the best possible use of their hands.