Musculoskeletal disorders in sign language interpreters: A systematic review and conceptual model of musculoskeletal disorder development

Fischer, S.L., Marshall, M.M., Woodcock, K., 2012. Musculoskeletal disorders in sign language interpreters: A systematic review and conceptual model of musculoskeletal disorder development. WORK: a journal of prevention, treatment and rehabilitation 42, 173–184.

Abstract. Objective: Increasing evidence suggests that one in four sign language interpreters (SLIs) may experience symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) severe enough to modify their activities. This systematic review examined published research on SLIs and the development of MSD pathology, seeking to identify injury pathways to MSDs and work-related factors with the largest impact in targeted MSD-reduction intervention.

Methods: Embase and Medline electronic databases were searched from their inception until March 2009, finding 23 eligible peer-reviewed papers related to MSD pathology in SLIs, including narrative reviews, intervention studies, and qualitative and quantitative research.

Results: Three factors were shown to have limited support as increasing the risk forMSD pathology in SLI: increased mechanical exposure, stress, and speaker’s pace (a contributor to movement rate). Overall, the published literature was rated medium to low quality, with limited statistical methods and power, often lacking description of how dependent variables were measured, and how risk of biasing or confounding was minimized.

Conclusions: A conceptual model was developed to integrate the multi-factorial elements ofMSD pathology development among SLIs. However, to strengthen development of evidence-based practice and policy-driven initiatives, higher-quality research is warranted to examine MSD pathology amongst SLIs.

Author: Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is Professor at Toronto's Ryerson University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors engineering / ergonomics particularly applied to amusement rides and attractions (https://thrilllab.blog.ryerson.ca), and to broader occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.