Investigating the experiences of people with 'RSI: an internet based qualitative study
Watson, M. (2009) Investigating the experiences of people with 'RSI: an internet based qualitative study, no. 327.
This internet-based qualitative study aimed to explore the subjective experience of having Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) using an 'insider's perspective' (Schneider and Conrad, 1983). A purposive sample of RSI sufferers was recruited from an online support group covering diverse experiences across different age groups, gender, occupations, health care use and both clinically recognised RSI conditions and diffuse nonspecific RSI. Data triangulation involving documentary analysis of 468 archived email postings and 5 asynchronous online focus groups (n=57) was used to illuminate different aspects of RSI sufferers' experiences. Data from each method was thematically analysed and the findings integrated. Firstly, methodologically the internet medium was found to be a valuable additional tool for accessing illness experiences. Further, the essence of the RSI experience was conceptualised as a major life change and uncertainty affecting people's employment, social participation and ability to perform routine daily activities such as caring for themselves, family members and the home. Also changed were their identities, financial circumstances and relationships both in and outside of work. RSI was found in the study to bear the hallmarks of a chronic pain condition with attendant implications for management and diagnosis. The significance and meaning of a medical diagnosis was found to extend far beyond establishing 'what was wrong'; it became a quest for evidence to support the reality of their suffering and a means of defending threats to their integrity and identity. The implications of these findings are discussed in the context of current chronic pain management which places less emphasis on finding a diagnosis on the premise that regardless of aetiology, the problems encountered are similar across different chronic pain conditions, and it is more useful to restore functioning and reduce disability. However, this study shows that the significance of a diagnosis should not be under- estimated since for the individual with RSI, it carries multiple meanings and profound consequences for their daily lives.