Vibration white finger (VWF) is a long-term condition that can result from prolonged use of vibrating tools, either for occupational or recreational use.

VWF causes numbness or tingling in the fingers, which is often accompanied by whitening (or blanching) of the fingertips. VWF is preventable, but there is currently no cure.

Prof. Giovanni Loriga described the first case of VWF in 1911. They observed symptoms of “pallor, cyanosis, and chills” in mine workers in Italy. According to Prof. Loriga, the workers used hammer drills for long hours, which irreversibly damaged movement and sensation in their hands.

Keep reading to learn more about VWF, including some possible causes, prevention tips, and management strategies associated with the condition.

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VWF is a vascular condition, which means that it affects the blood vessels in the body. It most commonly affects the extremities, such as the fingers and thumbs.

According to one 2019 case report in the European Research Journal, an episode of VWF may begin as a result of repeated exposure to vibration. Emotional stress can also trigger it.

During an episode of VWF, the fingers may appear drained of blood and become white. These symptoms could last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

In time, exposure to vibrating tools can go on to affect the muscles, bones, joints, and nervous system. This condition is collectively known as hand-arm vibration syndrome.

VWF can also develop as a form of secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is characterized by reduced blood flow to the fingers.

Learn more about Raynaud’s phenomenon here.

Some experts believe that VWF is an underdiagnosed condition due to low awareness of its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Common symptoms include:

  • numbness in the fingers
  • tingling in the hands and fingers
  • loss of hand or arm strength
  • whitening of the fingertips, which increases in cold weather
  • difficulty picking up small objects
  • pain in the thumb when trying to grip things
  • weakness in the hand muscles

In its most advanced stages, VWF can lead to considerable disability and poor quality of life.

Most often, VWF is an occupational injury that develops due to prolonged use of handheld power tools. It can develop in one or both hands as a result of using equipment such as:

  • rotary saws
  • hand drills
  • hammers
  • high pressure water hoses
  • concrete breakers
  • road rollers
  • disc cutters
  • impact wrenches
  • chainsaws
  • jackhammers

The International Organization for Standardization explain that habitual use of these vibrating power tools can affect the blood vessels, nerves, bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues of the hands and forearms.

Some research suggests that people in certain industries are more at risk of developing VWF. It tends to affect people in occupations such as:

  • construction
  • mining
  • forestry
  • automobile assembly and repair
  • metalworking trades
  • quarry drilling
  • stone carving

Colder climates may increase the risk of VWF. One study found a higher rate of VWF in colder areas, such as certain regions of Sweden.

People who suspect that they have VWF should consult an occupational health physician. This is a doctor who treats work-related injuries and illnesses.

The specialist will conduct tests to determine the extent and severity of the VWF and rule out other conditions.

Treatment for VWF typically involves reducing or managing its symptoms. Some doctors may recommend anti­hypertensive medications such as calcium channel blockers to improve peripheral blood circulation. However, this treatment may not work for everyone.

Chronic cases of VWF may require pain relievers. A doctor may prescribe these medications after making a careful assessment of the severity of the case and the person’s medical history.

People may better manage their symptoms by reducing or completely stopping their exposure to vibrating equipment. Experts also suggest that people stop smoking and avoid working in cold environments for long periods of time.

Since there is no cure for VWF, preventing its onset is crucial — on both a personal and an organizational level.

As a first step, health organizations and experts advise conducting regular risk assessments of the workplace and its infrastructure.

On an individual level, people who need to use heavy machinery and vibrating tools should always:

  • Use anti-vibration gloves.
  • Choose well-maintained, low vibration tools.
  • Take regular breaks during vibration exposure (about 10 minutes every hour).
  • Reduce grip force for safe operation of the vibrating tool.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a prompt visit to the doctor if a person experiences any prolonged feelings of tingling or numbness or any symptoms of blanched or blue fingers.

Most organizations now have on-site doctors who are trained in recognizing and addressing workplace injuries and illnesses. In case of VWF-like symptoms, a person should inform their reporting manager and consult a doctor for further assessment.

The person should then tell the doctor about the type of vibrating tools they use at work, how often they use them, and the duration of breaks they take between their use of these tools.

The doctor will also inquire about the person’s medical history and the presence of any other conditions or ailments.

VWF is a slowly progressing condition. It may take a few months to several years before its symptoms become clinically noticeable.

Currently, no definitive VWF treatments exist. Doctors who treat the condition tend to focus on reducing the pain and managing any associated symptoms.

Because VWF is incurable at present, it is important for people to be aware of their risk and stay vigilant of its symptoms.

It also helps to take the necessary precautions while using vibrating tools to prevent the development of this long-term condition.