If you work in construction, manufacturing, or around other heavy machinery, you may be taking your work home with you in the way of aches and pains — but this equipment can also take a toll on the blood vessels and nerves of your hands.

Tingling in your fingertips that persists after you stop using heavy machinery, along with skin that’s taking on a white, chalky look, are the symptoms of vibration white finger (VWF). Let’s look at the common symptoms, ways of treating it, and more.

Vibration white finger is a condition that can occur after long-term use of vibrating power tools or heavy machinery.

Someone with the condition experiences tingling and numbness of the hands and fingers. Numbness is often accompanied by whitening or blanching of the fingertips.

Vibration white finger is thought to be the result of repeated exposure to vibration. Some reports suggest that cold can be a trigger to this condition, but it may also be affected by metabolic rate, vascular tone, and emotional state.

It’s also possible for VWF to develop as a form of secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition caused by reduced blood flow to the fingers.

No matter the underlying cause, vibration white finger is a vascular condition. This means it affects blood vessels in the body.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome

Hand-arm vibration syndrome is a related condition that causes changes to what your fingers perceive as sensations. It’s associated with symptoms such as:

  • muscle weakness
  • permanent finger numbness
  • repeated episodes of vibration white finger

It’s the result of long-term work with power tools and heavy machinery. Reducing or stopping work with this kind of equipment can prevent mild symptoms from worsening.

What’s the difference between vibration white finger and Raynaud’s?

Vibration white finger is a secondary form of Raynaud’s phenomenon. The symptoms of classic Raynaud’s are typically mild and include sensitivity to the cold and episodes of reduced sensation of touch. VWF causes more significant symptoms, such as numbness in the fingers and difficulty using your hands.

VWF is caused by long-term power tool use. Raynaud’s often occurs without a cause or underlying health concern.

Vibration white finger causes a whitening or paleness in the fingertips. This symptom often becomes more noticeable in cold temperatures.

VWF can also affect how your hands and fingers function. As the condition progresses, this can seriously affect your quality of life.

Additional symptoms of vibration white finger include:

  • tingling, numbness, or weakness in the hands and fingers
  • difficulty picking up small objects
  • difficulty with small motor skills
  • loss of hand or arm strength
  • thumb pain when gripping objects

Vibration white finger is typically a workplace injury. It’s generally the result of years of work with tools such as:

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

Although this can apply to anyone who uses these tools occupationally or recreationally, it’s most common in people who work in industries such as:

  • construction
  • metalwork
  • mining
  • forestry
  • stone carving
  • automobile assembly
  • automobile repair
  • quarry drilling

If you develop vibration white finger on the job, you might be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

However, the validity of your claim and the amount you are eligible for will depend on the severity of your injury. It will also depend on:

  • the workers’ compensation laws in your state
  • the standards of your workplace
  • what safety steps your employer took or did not take to help prevent vibration white finger

You can find out more by contacting your state’s Workers’ Compensation Office.

Can you still work with vibration white finger?

If you’re diagnosed with vibration white finger, your doctor will discuss the smartest limits for your specific situation. You might need to switch to lighter-duty tasks or reduce the number of days you use certain tools. Often, stopping power tool use can reduce the symptoms of VWF and prevent any complications.

You can see an example of a white finger test below. The test will measure how many fingers are affected by vibration white finger and how far down your fingers the white color spreads. This gives doctors a quick way to talk about the severity and progression of your condition.

If you find that you score high on this test, reach out about what you’re seeing with your doctor.

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Illustration by Wenzdai Figueroa

Vibration white finger is often treated by a specialist called an occupational health physician. There is currently no cure for vibration white finger, but treatment can reduce and manage symptoms.

A common treatment plan for vibration white finger includes:

  • reducing or stopping the use of vibrating power tools
  • quitting smoking to improve blood vessel health
  • avoiding work in cold environments
  • taking prescription calcium channel blockers to improve circulation
  • taking pain medications to relieve any painful symptoms

Click here to learn more about Medicare coverage for occupational therapy.

What foods to avoid if you have Raynaud’s or VWF

Vibration white finger and Raynaud’s symptoms often get worse when your blood vessels constrict and expand too rapidly. That’s why some professionals recommend avoiding foods that can affect your blood vessels, such as:

It’s also why foods containing garlic, ginger, and spices reportedly reduce symptoms for some people.

Is vibration white finger reversible?

Many people experience a reduction in their symptoms if they stop using tools that vibrate. If power tool use is stopped early, symptoms may completely reverse.

However, severe symptoms cannot always be reversed. Additionally, continued power tool use after symptoms begin can do permanent damage.

Vibration white finger is an occupational condition that results from long-term power tool use.

Repeated vibration can damage blood vessels and result in symptoms such as white-coloring or paleness of the fingertips, numbness of the fingers and hands, weakness of the hands, and a loss of fine motor skills.

Reducing or stopping power tool use can help manage symptoms and prevent complications. If you continue to use power tools once symptoms appear, it may lead to permanent damage.