Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

hand arm vibration syndrome

Many people confuse carpal tunnel symptoms with those of hand arm vibration syndrome or HAVS. Also commonly called vibration syndrome, it comes from your hands’ exposure to vibrating tools used on the job. The symptoms include finger numbness and tingling, blanched or discolored fingertips, and pain or weakness that spreads up to the elbow.

Where does hand arm vibration syndrome come from?

Many people who use vibrating power hand tools like jackhammers, power saws and drills know this condition. Hand arm vibration syndrome is actually an occupational injury due to exposure to these tools. Generally, such tools produce medium frequency, high amplitude vibrations.

Note that hand arm vibration syndrome is not the same as carpal tunnel syndrome. The latter is a problem with the tendons inside the wrist joint. The only similarities are some of the symptoms, like hand and finger tingling and exposure to high-risk jobs causing carpal tunnel or HAVS.

Basics of hand arm vibration syndrome

This condition actually has three separate components. All three are related, but you don’t need all three to have hand arm vibration syndrome.

  1. Nerve injury (or peripheral neuropathy): Vibration injury in the hand causes numbness or tingling in the fingers and hand. You may have some loss of hand function (dexterity).
  2. Reynaud’s syndrome:  This is sometimes called “vibration white finger” because fingertips turn white or discolor. As the condition advances, the discoloration also advanced down the fingers to the hand. Fingers may also feel tingly.
  3. Musculoskeletal: Problems: This category includes weakness, discomfort, and pain. The feelings can occur anywhere from the fingers to the elbow.

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Apply the patented massage action
twice a day for 15 mins

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Mild symptoms
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Severe carpal tunnel
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Dr. Z Carpal Rx inventor
Dr. Maik Zannakis ( Dr. Z )
Carpal Rx inventor
NeuroPhysiologist

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Apply the patented massage action
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Moderate carpal tunnel
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Severe carpal tunnel
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How symptoms begin

In general, the initial symptoms of hand arm vibration syndrome start slowly and almost go unnoticed. Usually, symptoms start in the fingers and hand. They include tingling, (pins and needles), numbness, loss of sensation and dexterity problems. You might wake up while trying to sleep because of painful fingers and hands.

As hand arm vibration syndrome worsens, symptoms include episodes of pain in the fingers that can last several minutes. Usually, during these episodes one or more fingers can discolor or turn white (blanching). Generally, such episodic attacks increase in length and frequency with continued exposure to vibration, cold temperatures, and smoking.

Vibration White Finger

What can you do?

Unlike carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, vibration syndrome is not reversible. There is no cure and its treatment is very difficult. However, if caught in the early stages, you can reduce the Raynaud’s phenomenon symptoms. However, there’s no reversing the neurological injury (neuropathy).

The best hope for patients with vibration syndrome is that it does not progress. Generally, pain management is the only course of action. For those at high risk of developing hand arm vibration syndrome, the key to not suffering is prevention.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) collects data on hand arm vibration syndrome. They say that for those already who use power tools professionally, the workplace prevalence of vibration syndrome is between 20% and 50% in the USA. That means every day, 2.5 million Americans expose themselves to the likelihood of developing this condition just from power tools.

And since there is no treatment for vibration syndrome, much of the attention has been on vigilance and prevention.

NIOSH has broken down their recommendation into 4 categories:

  1. Engineering controls: This means modification of tools used on production lines. It also recommends the redesign of tools to minimize vibration to workers’ hands.
  2. Medial surveillance and worker education: The key here is informing the worker of the dangers and signs of hand arm vibration syndrome. Also, worker education should include avoidance practices as well as ways to get medical attention early on.
  3. Work practices: Much of these recommendations fall on the employer. The employer should maintain vibrating tools to the manufacturer’s standard. Also, vibrating tool users should have 10 minute breaks per hour on vibrating tools.
  4. Personal protective equipment: These recommendations focus on reducing vibration from the tool to the hands. Good quality, insulated gloves area huge positive measure. However, gloves alone are not the only way to reduce vibration.

Summary:

Hand arm vibration syndrome is a condition with no cure. The best you can do is avoid getting it in the first place by protecting your hands from the vibration of power hand tools. But if you do have it, you can prevent the condition from worsening by taking immediate steps.

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About 15 years ago my wife was waking up during the wee hours screaming from carpal tunnel pain.
This isn’t an exaggerating. She’d literally scream from the pain shooting up through her wrist and into her shoulder. The poor thing still shudders when she thinks about it.

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So I’d massage her arm until the pain subsided and we could both go back to sleep. But her pain was so severe that she insisted on wanting surgery. It was so bad that she was afraid to go sleep at night.

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