Carpal Tunnel in Sign Language Interpreters

Woman holding sore wrist
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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." 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. 


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.
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