Study finds nerve damage could result from vibrating tools

Workers who use vibrating tools for a prolonged amount of time could suffer nerve damage, according to two researchers.

Dr. Sandya Govindaraju and Dr. Danny Riley of the Medical College of Wisconsin identified what they called hand-arm vibration syndrome at a conference for the American Association of Anatomists. The researchers say the syndrome starts with pain, tingling, numbness and increased sensitivity to cold. If the symptoms continue, permanent nerve damage can result.

According to the researchers’ study, the constant vibration of tools affects the arteries, causing them to constrict, which can then starve the nerves. Govindaraju said that if the vibration goes on too long, the cells will be permanently damaged and some will die off.

To test the affects of vibration, the tails of lab rats were shaken for four hours at a time at a similar frequency to what would be experienced by a jackhammer or chainsaw operator. While most of the rats did experience cell damage, researchers found that when the rats were given a drug in advance that causes blood vessels to dilate, the damage from vibration was significantly less. This could mean that a preventative drug could be developed to help lessen the likelihood of the syndrome in equipment operators.

Workers who are especially susceptible to the syndrome include smokers and people working in cold temperatures, the researchers said.

A study is now being done to determine at what point numbness caused by vibration becomes permanent damage.