Hand-arm vibration syndrome: What family physicians should know

Can Fam Physician. 2017 Mar;63(3):206-210.


Objective: To provide family physicians with an understanding of the epidemiology, pathogenesis, symptoms, diagnosis, and management of hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), an important and common occupational disease in Canada.

Sources of information: A MEDLINE search was conducted for research and review articles on HAVS. A Google search was conducted to obtain gray literature relevant to the Canadian context. Additional references were obtained from the articles identified.

Main message: Hand-arm vibration syndrome is a prevalent occupational disease affecting workers in multiple industries in which vibrating tools are used. However, it is underdiagnosed in Canada. It has 3 components-vascular, in the form of secondary Raynaud phenomenon; sensorineural; and musculoskeletal. Hand-arm vibration syndrome in its more advanced stages contributes to substantial disability and poor quality of life. Its diagnosis requires careful history taking, in particular occupational history, physical examination, laboratory tests to rule out alternative diagnoses, and referral to an occupational medicine specialist for additional investigations. Management involves reduction of vibration exposure, avoidance of cold conditions, smoking cessation, and medication.

Conclusion: To ensure timely diagnosis of HAVS and improve prognosis and quality of life, family physicians should be aware of this common occupational disease and be able to elicit the relevant occupational history, refer patients to occupational medicine clinics, and appropriately initiate compensation claims.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Family Practice*
  • Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome / etiology
  • Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / therapy*
  • Prognosis
  • Raynaud Disease / etiology