Vibration White Finger (VWF) or Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) is a condition affecting the fingers, hands and arms. The condition is one form of Raynaud’s Disease, a disorder that is caused by the restriction of blood supply to the extremities, usually the fingers and toes. However Vibration White Finger is triggered by continuous use of vibrating hand machinery.
Vibration White Finger can start with tingling in the fingers and hands. But with continued exposure it can develop to include numbness of the fingers and sometimes hands. Discolouration can also occur with them becoming white and blue or simply white due to the blood vessels constricting, until circulation ceases. These attacks of whiteness can often last between ten minutes and an hour. Upon re-warming, when the blood supply returns, the fingers and hands often become red and are accompanied by tingling which can be painful. VWF can also cause hands to become clumsy in cold weather.
Vibration White Finger symptoms have varying levels of severity, milder stages of the disease include; tingling and numbness in the fingers, often continuing after use of machinery; and one finger temporarily turning white and starting to ache. The condition can progressively increase with severity with the finger turning white more often or multiple fingers turning white. After several fingers turn white the disease is probably irreversible, and the sufferer experiences increasingly frequent attacks at any time. In very extreme cases the sufferer may lose fingers, but this is more likely to happen to people who work in the forestry industry with chainsaws, and those who operate vibrating machinery in cold conditions.
However there are ways to take action against Vibration White Finger, with regular exercise being recommended by many experts to improve the circulation. It is also advisable to warm the hands as soon as possible when an attack starts or symptoms develop. Soaking the hands in warm running water is a good way to get warm, but care needs to be taken that the water does not become too hot, or lose its heat and become cool.
Despite the seriousness of this disease GPs in the UK receive little training in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. Because of this doctors will refer sufferers to a specialist in RSI-type conditions, usually a rheumatologist or neurologist. In order to be sure of an accurate diagnosis there has to be a history of exposure to vibration, with the exclusion of other possible causes.
The consequences of developing the disease can be drastic and life-changing. But it is both employers as well as employees who should take heed to the seriousness of this condition, with cases of miners being awarded compensation for developing the work related injury. VWF is a progressive and irreversible disease. It is essential to avoid further exposure to work involving repetitive movements of the fingers or holding vibrating machinery, especially those working in cold conditions.