Diagnosis and treatment of hand-arm vibration syndrome and its relationship to carpal tunnel syndrome

Aust Fam Physician. 2003 Jul;32(7):530-4.


Background: Hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) is a condition associated with the use of vibrating tools that occurs mainly in men. It consists primarily of 'occupational' Raynaud disease and digital polyneuropathy. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is also associated with hand transmitted vibration exposure and can coexist with HAVS.

Objective: This article examines recent papers on causation, diagnosis, relationship to CTS and treatment. A Medline search was conducted, as was a search of UK, USA and Australian government occupational health and safety websites. Published papers that were single case studies or of poor design were not included.

Discussion: There are no 'gold standard' diagnostic tests for HAVS. It can mimic CTS in temperate climates and can occur with CTS. This is the diagnostic challenge when a male worker presents with apparent CTS symptoms. If he has worked with vibrating tools for many years, a diagnosis of HAVS or co-diagnosis of HAVS should be considered before a diagnosis of pure CTS is made. Nonwork risk factors for HAVS are predisposition, smoking, and exposure to vibration outside work. Cessation of exposure (and smoking) and redeployment is a critical part of treatment due to the dose response relationship of HAVS. This contrasts with adequately treated CTS, where the vast majority of workers can return to pre-injury duties. In severe cases, calcium antagonists are also used, but treatment is often ineffective. Few workplaces in Australia manage vibration risk or conduct screening to identify workers with early HAVS who should be redeployed. Local doctors have an important opportunity to diagnose HAVS and to make recommendations to the workplace on redeployment as part of treatment before symptoms become irreversible.

MeSH terms

  • Arm
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Occupational Diseases / therapy*
  • Sensation Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Sensation Disorders / etiology
  • Sensation Disorders / therapy*
  • Syndrome
  • Vibration / adverse effects*