Sign Language Interpreters and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Or Other Repetitive Motion Injuries

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.


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. 


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.



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).


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.

Visitor Comments

...I am studying to be an interpreter and was very shocked to read that many interpreters have to retire early because of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Then I thought what a shame it was that people don't know there is something that can help tremendously. It is called Active Release Technique (ART) and it is used by Chiropractors (and maybe others, I'm not sure). ART can help in so many ways that it is absolutely amazing! If you suffer from CTS please give this a try because interpreters are much needed!

...I must agree with you on this topic. I am an interpreter here in Barbados and I am presently suffering with carpal tunnel.

The long hours required by us is just too much causing the arms to hurt and pains in the neck when interpreting. I have even become exhausted when I think of the interpreting I have to do. What I have found that works is if I change with another interpreter every fifteen minutes to help ease some of the pain. Even when I am not interpreting I am still experiencing some pain in the arms or at night when I am about to sleep. What is it that we interpreters can do to easy the pain?

...I find that most interpreters including myself as a student find it difficult to hold your hands up for long periods of time.It is a second language taught to us. Just recently I have been taught my an excellent teacher and mentor on how to hold your hands up properly never sign to close to chest and hold your hands tightly therefore causing cts if you hold your hands up loosely and just let the signs follow it causes less tension on your shoulders, your elbows, and hands--trust me been there, done that.... and still trying to just let the signs follow it's a hard habit to break specially since this only our second native language!

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