Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 401–415 | Cite as

An Interpreter’s Interpretation: Sign Language Interpreters’ View of Musculoskeletal Disorders

  • William L. Johnson
  • Michael Feuerstein


Introduction: Sign language interpreters are at increased risk for musculoskeletal disorders associated with work. Previous studies have used survey techniques to identify potential risk factors and approaches to their medical management. Little is known about risk factors and management of symptoms in this group from the perspective of the interpreter. Such qualitative information should help inform future research related to this professional group. Method: One thousand ninety-two sign language interpreters recruited from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf completed an open-ended question that was a component of a national prevalence survey. Responses were evaluated using content analysis. Inter and intra rater reliability were high (.88 and .92, respectively). Results: Risk factors for initiation and/or exacerbation of symptoms included: difficult job, interpreting setting (educational), interpreting style (e.g., posture, self generated force), and emotional and physical stressors. Exercise (e.g., stretching, aerobics) was a common prevention strategy. Conventional medical treatment was used as the first line approach to symptom control. Self-care methods such as exercise, diet and warm up prior to interpreting were also reported. While massage and chiropractic care was used as commonly as in the general population, acupuncture was found to be used more often. Coping strategies that were more active (e.g. exercise, diet, more control over work schedule) were also reported as useful. Conclusions: These findings provide a description of factors that interpreters view as important in the development and exacerbation of hand and wrist pain. The results also indicate that interpreters used many self-management approaches. Future research should carefully investigate the utility of such approaches using well-controlled designs. Also, because of its widespread use in this group the evaluation of acupuncture in the management of these symptoms appears warranted. The qualitative approach used in the present study permitted an analysis of the worker perspectives regarding risk and management of these work related symptoms. This information can be used to further inform future research.


upper extremity symptoms upper extremity disorders sign language interpreters risk factors qualitative research primary prevention secondary prevention 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical and Clinical PsychologyUniformed Services University of the Health SciencesBethesda
  2. 2.Georgetown University Medical CenterWashington DC

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