Date: 21 Dec 2013

…you earn money by suffering pain:” Beliefs About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Among Latino Poultry Processing Workers

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Abstract

The nature of poultry processing puts workers at risk for developing neurological injuries, particularly carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Many poultry processing workers are Latino immigrants. This qualitative analysis uses an explanatory models of illness (EMs) framework to describe immigrant Latino poultry processing workers’ (Guatemalan and Mexican) beliefs of CTS. Understanding these workers’ CTS EMs provides a foundation for recommendations to reduce the risk factors for this occupational injury. In-depth interviews were completed with 15 poultry processing workers diagnosed with CTS. Systematic qualitative analysis was used to delineate beliefs about causes, symptoms, physiology, treatments, quality-of-life and health implications of CTS. Participants’ EMs largely reflect current biomedical understanding of CTS. These EMs are similar for Guatemalan and Mexican workers. Beliefs about causes include factors in the work environment (e.g., repetition, cold) and individual physical weakness. Treatments include over-the-counter medicine, as well as traditional remedies. Most know the future impact of CTS will include chronic pain. These workers know what causes CTS and that curing it would require quitting their jobs, but feel that they must endure CTS to support their families. Latino poultry processing workers, whether Guatemalan or Mexican, have a fairly complete understanding of what causes CTS, how to treat it, and what they must do to cure it. However, situational factors force them to endure CTS. Policy changes are needed to change the structure of work in poultry processing, particularly line speed and break frequency, if the prevalence of CTS is to be reduced.