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What is Swan Neck Deformity? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

December 29, 2021


Over time, age can take its toll on our bodies. There are a wide range of illnesses, injuries, and deformities that can affect how your body functions. The most common have to do with your musculoskeletal system. Among the deformities associated with physical degeneration is swan neck deformity. 

In today’s post, we’ll talk about swan neck deformity: what is it, what are its symptoms and causes, and how is it treated.

What Is Swan Neck Deformity?

The finger joint is a hinge joint that allows the finger to straighten and bend. Each of our fingers consists of 3 phalanged bones, which are joined together by 2 interphalangeal joints, the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint and the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint. The PIP joint is located near the base of the finger, while the DIP is by the tip of the finger.

swan neck deformity

Source: https://www.physio-pedia.com/File:Interphalangeal_joints_of_hand.jpg 

Swan neck deformity (SND) is a deformity that makes the finger resemble a swan’s neck. It occurs when multiple joints flex, bend, and hyperextend in abnormal positions. Specifically, you can get swan neck deformity when your PIP joint hyperextends and the DIP joint bends abnormally due to the imbalance of muscle movements or forces on the PIP. 

In swan neck deformity, the tip of the finger is bent down while the middle joint is bent back beyond normal. It can affect any finger except the thumb.

Aside from keeping you from using your hands normally, swan neck deformity can also cause pain and discomfort. As such, individuals who experience it and notice its symptoms should seek swan neck deformity treatment as soon as possible.

What Are Swan Neck Deformity Symptoms?

The most obvious symptom is swan neck deformity is the appearance of the affected finger. It will look like an outstretched swan’s neck. Aside from this, you may also experience the following:

  • Finger joint stiffness
  • Snapping sensation
  • Difficulty bending the finger
  • Difficulty gripping an object

If SND is associated with rheumatoid arthritis, you may also experience swelling and pain as the affected joints get inflamed.

What Causes Swan Neck Deformity?

Swan neck deformity doesn’t happen on its own. It is caused by any condition that causes the volar plate to loosen. The volar plate is a thick ligament that connects two bones in a finger. The most common culprit for this is rheumatoid arthritis. 

The volar plate loosens as a result of chronic inflammation. As rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease, it eventually causes deformities including SND. 

Furthermore, an untreated mallet finger can also cause swan neck deformity

Other diseases or disorders that also weaken the volar plate or damage the finger’s tendons and ligaments, ultimately causing SND, include:

  • Trauma
  • Stroke
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Scleroderma 
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Psoriatic arthritis

How Is Swan Neck Deformity Diagnosed?

If you notice that there is something wrong with your hand’s movements and you feel pain alongside it, it is necessary that you see a doctor to get your hand checked. They will perform a physical exam and interview you about your medical history.

Aside from that, an X-ray will also be ordered so the doctor can rule out a fracture. The X-ray images will also show the condition of the ligaments, tendons, and bones of the finger. 

What Are the Swan Neck Deformity Treatment Options?

As with other musculoskeletal issues, doctors will first utilize non-surgical treatment options for swan neck deformity. These include the use of a specialized splint that will keep the affected finger in place. The aim of using a splint is to promote natural healing of the bones and joints. It will prevent hyperextension of the PIP and flexion of the DIP. 

Hand therapy, daily exercise, stretching, and massage are also needed to promote healing.

Surgical Treatment of Swan Neck Deformity

When conservative and non-surgical methods fail to treat swan neck deformity, this is when surgical treatment options are considered. 

In milder forms of swan neck deformity, the surgeon will perform a surgery to release, realign, and repair the tendons and ligaments surrounding the affected joints. 

If this is not possible, the second option is to perform a PIP joint arthroplasty, wherein the PIP joint is replaced with an implant. During the procedure, the doctor will also make sure that the surrounding tissues are balanced to restore flexibility and mobility.

Finally, if a PIP joint arthroplasty is still not viable, a joint fusion for swan neck deformity will be recommended. In this procedure, the articulating surfaces are bound together. However, this means that the joint can no longer bend. This will stabilize the joint, leading to reduced chronic pain and swelling.

How Can Revive Help With Swan Neck Deformity?

Regardless of the cause, swan neck deformity can be a debilitating condition that can keep you from enjoying day-to-day activities and life in general. Revive Plastic Surgery & Anti-Aging Institute offers hand reconstructive surgery for skeletal problems including severe swan neck deformity. 

Our plastic surgeon in Coral Gables is a recognized expert in the field of reconstructive hand surgery and hand plastic surgery in Miami, so you can rest assured of a successful procedure. 

If you believe you can benefit from reconstructive hand surgery, contact us or request an appointment for a consultation. You may also call us at (305) 600-5041 for more information.

At Revive, you are in good hands.

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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