If you can't see it, it never happened, the legitimation experiences of women and men living with repetitive strain injuries of the upper extremities

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Werhun, Jennifer
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Work-related upper limb disorders are widespread despite improved ergonomic awareness and practice (Gardiner, 1998). Women and men in today's workforce who sustain these disorders face the challenge of living with a contested condition. To date, there is little known about the legitimation experiences of persons with repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). This study is a qualitative examination of 12 women and men living with RSIs of the upper extremities. All participants were recruited from the Manitoba Federation of Labour Occupational Health Centre in Winnipeg. In-depth interviews were conducted in order to explore the legitimation of these conditions, and to show if and how the process differs by gender. Four main themes emerged from the interviews: the illness experience of RSIs, the presentation of symptoms, sources of legitimation and the recovery process. These themes revealed that women and men with RSIs negotiated definitions of their conditions in order to gain access to various forms of social support, and to confirm their identities in the eyes of physicians, employers, co-workers, friends, family members, and themselves. The strategies adopted by participants to facilitate the acceptance of their RSIs challenge the conception of ill persons as passive agents in the legitimation process. Comparison of the stories of female and male participants also revealed that gender shaped the experience of RSIs. The women and men in this study differed with respect to the value placed on the external and internal legitimation of RSIs, and rehabilitation outcomes. Their accounts contribute to the qualitative literature of RSIs, and provide insight into the impact of gender and context on the experience of a work-related condition that is contested.