Dead finger, also called vibration white finger (VWF), is one form of the condition known as hand-arm vibration syndrome, in which one or more fingers tingle, grow numb, and change color due to exposure to power tools or other vibrating objects. It is considered by many to be a secondary form of Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition characterized by restricted blood flow to the extremities. As dead finger often affects those who use vibrating tools at work, many countries have attempted to regulate the maximum amount of time a worker can be exposed to vibrations.
The primary symptom of this condition is a loss of sensation in one or more fingers, which is caused by restricted blood flow to the area. At the beginning and end of an attack, the sufferer may experience tingling in the affected fingers. The skin of the affected fingers may also take on a white, blue, or red hue. Attacks may last for only a few minutes or for more than an hour. Additionally, as VWF is a progressive condition, attacks tend to be mild when the condition first develops, growing in severity over a period of months or even years.
Many medical experts consider dead finger to be a secondary form of Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition in which the blood vessels which supply the extremities constrict abnormally, causing those extremities to tingle and grow numb. In the case of dead finger, this abnormal blood vessel constriction is believed to be due to blood vessel damage caused by prolonged use of power tools or other vibrating objects. The condition is especially prevalent in those who work with vibrating tools on a daily basis, such as miners and certain factory workers. As with most instances of Raynaud’s, attacks of VWF seem to be aggravated by exposure to cold weather.
While there is no cure for dead finger, sufferers can take steps to limit attacks of the condition. Reducing one’s exposure to vibrating objects is the most important factor in limiting VWF attacks. In fact, as dead finger is common among manual laborers, many countries’ health and safety administrations have taken steps to protect workers from the condition by restricting the amount of time they can be exposed to vibrating tools each day. Further, wearing warm clothes and gloves can reduce the blood vessels’ response to cold weather, and avoiding nicotine and caffeine can help promote healthy circulation.