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Hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS): Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)

Hand arm vibration syndrome also known as ‘vibration white finger’ is a kind of stress injury characterized by damage to the fingers, the hands and the forearms in individuals who have need for repeated use of hand-held vibrating tools. It is a serious injury which has a potential to cause permanent damage to hands and fingers.

Hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS): Incidence, age and sex

Hand arm vibration syndrome is not a very common disorder among people. It usually affects individuals with prolonged exposure to hand-held vibrating tools. It may occur with equal frequency in both men and women.

Signs and symptoms of hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS): Diagnosis

Hand arm vibration syndrome affects the fingers, the hands and the forearms of the individual. It involves blood vessels, nerves, muscles, bones and joints. The small blood vessels may get narrowed resulting in white discolouration of the fingers. This may progress to bluish discolouration as the flow of oxygenated blood diminishes significantly. The fingers may again become red as the circulation returns after sometime. The nerves may get involved resulting in tingling and numbness in hands and fingers of affected limb. These symptoms are usually episodic rather than continuous. Some individuals may experience vague aches and pains in the affected limb. This may result from affliction of muscles and bones in the affected limb. A detailed history including work history and physical examination is diagnostic in most of the individuals.

Causes and prevention of hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS)

Hand arm vibration syndrome is a stress injury resulting due to prolonged and repeated handling of vibration tools like power drills, chainsaws, polishers, sanders and jackhammers. Preventive measures like use of anti-vibration gloves, taking regular breaks from vibrating tools and holding them in loose grip may be of help in some individuals.

Hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS): Complications

This syndrome has high chances of causing irreversible damage to the fingers and hands. Moreover, damage to nerves may result in permanent numbness in fingers which may lead to difficulty in activities, requiring fine motor coordination.

Hand arm vibration syndrome (HAVS): Treatment

There is no specific treatment of hand arm vibration syndrome. The only effective management is to discontinue the use of vibrating tools for long periods of time. Mild damage in such cases may normalise resulting in complete recovery. However in longstanding cases, the damage may be irreversible. It is advisable to keep hands warm by frequently soaking them in warm water. Avoidance of contributory factors like smoking and consumption of medications like beta blockers is advisable. These factors cause narrowing of blood vessels, thus augmenting the effect of injury on the blood vessels. Permanent damage can be avoided with preventive measures and early diagnosis.