Sign Language Interpreters and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Or Other Repetitive Motion Injuries

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Sign language interpreting is a highly respected profession in the deaf community. Interpreters study and practice for years to become certified. However, it is also a profession that carries a risk of repetitive motion injury in the form of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is defined as "A condition characterized by pain and numbing or tingling sensations in the hand and caused by compression of a nerve in the carpal tunnel at the wrist." (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition).

It can be treated with wrist supports, braces, and surgery. Nevertheless, carpal tunnel and other repetitive motion injuries have cut short the careers of some interpreters.

Prevention of Injury to Interpreters

Fortunately, plenty of advice is available to aid budding interpreters in avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome and other cumulative motion injuries. The most common suggestions are to work in teams on long interpreting assignments; to take regular, timed breaks, exercises, and to make sure the interpreting work environment does not increase the risk of injury. 

Support for Interpreters with Carpal Tunnel

There is a Yahoo group, CTS-TERPS, but it may be inactive as the list had relatively few posts to it when found. Additional support may be available through forums on the internet.

Books and Articles on Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Books

A former interpreter who was disabled by carpal tunnel syndrome, Tammy Crouch, has written a book, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Repetitive Stress Injuries (ISBN 1883319501).

Articles

Some research and articles have addressed carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Feuerstein, M., T.E. Fitzgerald. 1991. Biomechanical factors affecting upper extremity cumulative trauma disorders in sign language interpreters. Journal of Occupational Medicine 34(3):257-264.
  • Stedt, J. D., Interpreter's Wrist: Repetitive Stress Injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Sign Language Interpreters, American Annals of the Deaf, 137(1), 40-43.
  • Madden, Maree J.The prevalence of occupational overuse syndrome among Australian sign language interpreters. Journal of Occupational Health and Safety: Australia and New Zealand.vol. 11, no. 3, p. 257-263.
  • Podhorodecki A D and Spielholz N I: Electromyographic study of overuse syndromes in sign language interpreters. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 1993; 74 (3): 261-262.

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