Medical Definition of Hand-arm vibration syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome: A disorder resulting from prolonged exposure to vibration, specifically to the hands and forearms while using vibrating tools. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and loss of nerve sensitivity. The hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a painful and potentially disabling condition of the fingers, hands, and arms due to vibration. There is initially a tingling sensation with numbness in the fingers. The fingers then become white and swollen when cold and then red and painful when warmed up again. Cold or wet weather may aggravate the condition. Picking up objects such as pins or nails becomes difficult as the feeling in the fingers diminishes and there is loss of strength and grip in the hands. The pain, tingling, and numbness in the arms, wrists and hands may interfere with sleep.

Sources of vibration that can cause HAVS are very varied and include pneumatic drills, jackhammers, asphalt breakers, power chain saws, chipping tools, concrete vibrators and levelers, needle guns and scabblers, polishers, power jigsaws, sanders and angle grinders, riveters, compactors, power lawnmowers and even electronic games in which the hand controls vibrate.

HAVS was first widely recognized as a potential occupational hazard in the mid-1980s. It was first known as "vibration white finger."

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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