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Soc Sci Med. 1991;32(5):601-12.

Pilgrimage of pain: the illness experiences of women with repetition strain injury and the search for credibility.

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  • 1School of Community Health, Cumberland College of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Lidcombe, N.S.W., Australia.


Repetition strain injury (RSI), a non-specific and controversial constellation of work-related hand, arm and neck symptoms, became epidemic in Australian industry in the early 1980s. Fifty-two women who worked in a telecommunications organisation and a chicken processing factory and had been diagnosed as having RSI were interviewed about their perceptions and experiences of the illness. Their accounts of the search for caring and treatment, including their encounter with health and medical practitioners, suggest that the need to be believed and to establish their integrity dominated their 'pilgrimage'. The failure of the dominant explanations of RSI to accommodate the psychosocial and political dimensions of the illness thwarted this quest and, it is argued, contributed to its chronicity.

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