Congenital Hand Deformities

What are congenital hand deformities?

Congenital anomalies are deformities that are present at birth. Any type of deformity in a newborn can become a challenge for the child as they grow. Hand deformities can be particularly disabling as the child learns to interact with the environment through the use of their hands. The degree of deformity varies from a minor deformity, such as unequal fingers, to a severe deformity, such as total absence of a bone.

Talking with a hand surgeon early on is an important part of the treatment process for the child born with a hand deformity. Even if reconstructive surgery is not possible, many different types of prosthetic devices can be used to increase function.

What are the different kinds of congenital hand deformities?

The classifications for hand deformities can vary. This classification has been accepted by the American Society for Surgery of the Hand. There are currently 7 groups of deformities of the hand:

Problems in formation of the parts

This occurs when parts of the body stop developing while the baby is in the womb. This causes either a complete absence of a part of the body, such as the hand, or a missing structure, such as part of the arm bone. In the case of the complete missing part, surgery is not done. Instead, these children may get a prosthetic device early in their childhood. Types of these classification include:

  • Radial club hand. A radial club hand is a deformity that involves all of the tissues on the thumb side (radial side) of the forearm and hand. There may be shortening of the bone, a small thumb, or absence of the thumb. Deformities of the wrist are usually operated on around 6 months of age.

  • Ulnar club hand. An ulnar club hand is less common than a radial club hand. This deformity may involve underdevelopment of the bone in the forearm on the side of the little finger (ulnar bone), or complete absence of the bone.

Failure of parts of the hand to separate

With this type of deformity, the parts of the hand, either the bones or the tissues, fail to separate in the womb. The most common type of this classification is syndactyly. Syndactyly is when 2 or more fingers are fused together.  There is a familial tendency to develop this deformity. If the fingers are completely fused together, it's considered complete. There are 2 types of syndactyly:

  • Simple syndactyly. This involves fusion between only the tissues of the fingers.

  • Complex syndactyly. This involves fusion between the bones.

Another example of failure of the hand to separate is seen in contractures of the hand. Contractures of the hand may also develop as a result of a problem with the cells in the womb. A contracture is an abnormal pulling forward of the fingers of the hand. It's usually caused by problems with the muscles or skin. One of the common types of this classification includes congenital triggering. Congenital triggering occurs when one of the fingers is unable to extend. It's usually seen in the thumb. It may take some time in the child's development before it's noted that the child can't extend the thumb. Some of these cases improve on their own. Surgery is usually not done until the second year of life, but preferably before the age of 3.

Duplications of fingers

Duplication of fingers is also known as polydactyly. The little finger is the finger that is most often affected.

Undergrowth of fingers

Underdeveloped fingers or thumbs are linked to many congenital hand deformities. Surgical treatment is not always needed to correct these deformities. Underdeveloped fingers may include:

  • The finger is small.

  • Muscles are missing.

  • Bones are underdeveloped or missing.

  • There is complete absence of a finger.

Overgrowth of fingers

Overgrowth of fingers is also known as macrodactyly, which causes an abnormally large finger. In this situation, the hand and the forearm may also be involved. In this rare condition, all parts of the finger (or thumb) are affected. But in most cases, only one finger is involved. It's usually the index finger. Surgery for this condition is complex. The outcomes may be less than desirable. Sometimes amputation of the enlarged finger is recommended.

Congenital constriction band syndrome

This occurs when a tissue band forms around a finger or arm, causing problems that can affect blood flow and normal growth. Ring constrictions are present at birth. This condition may be linked to other birth defects such as clubfoot, cleft lip, or cleft palate. The cause of the ring constrictions is unknown. Some theories suggest that amniotic banding may lead to ring constrictions around a finger or limb. In a few cases, the finger may need to be amputated.

Other generalized problems with the skeletal system

These are a rare and complex group of problems.

Treatment for congenital hand deformities

Treatment may include:

  • Limb manipulation and stretching

  • Splinting of the affected limbs

  • Tendon transfers

  • Toe to thumb transfer (pollicization)

  • Surgery to remove extra fingers or divide fingers that are joined

  • External appliances to help realign misshapen fingers or hands

  • Physical therapy to help increase the strength and function of the hand

  • Correction of contractures

  • Skin grafts. These involve replacing or attaching skin to a part of the hand that is missing skin or has been removed during a procedure.

  • Prosthetics. These may be used when surgery is not an option, or in addition to surgical correction.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: David Lickstein MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2020
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