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10/Feb/2022

“The secret of great style is to feel good in what you wear.” Ines de La Fressange

Hands up if you wake up some days and the thought of getting out of bed, let alone dressed, seems impossible?

Painful muscles and joints, fatigue, difficulty with buttons and zippers, not being able to reach behind your back or over your head, sensitive skin and continence issues can make getting dressed a challenge. However, because staying in your pajamas all day is rarely an option 😣, you need some practical strategies to take the stress out of getting ready for the day.

So how can you tackle getting dressed so that you feel comfortable and put together, even if you’re in pain and exhausted?

Make a plan

I know it’s not particularly glamorous or cool, but planning can be your best friend when you live with a chronic condition that can be so unpredictable.

Decide what clothes and accessories you want to wear the night before. Or be a super-planner and do this on the weekend, for the week ahead. Take into account your activities and the weather. Then have them arranged in your cupboard so you can simply reach for the items you need for the day.

Choose your clothes carefully

When buying new clothes, choose those with quality fabrics that are soft and stretchy.

Loose clothes are perfect on days when you’re in pain, or your skin is sensitive. If twisting or reaching behind you is difficult, buy clothes that fasten at the front or side. Or ones that have no fastenings at all.

Avoid clothes that require ironing if you can…unless you find ironing relaxing (I know that person 😉). But seriously, who can be bothered ironing when you’re already tired? For clothes that do crease in the wash, hang them up on a hanger as soon as you take them out of the wash so that most of the wrinkles drop out. You can also hang them in your bathroom while you shower so that the steam removes any stubborn wrinkles.

Buy clothes that you can dress up and dress down as the occasion warrants. For example, plain black t-shirts can be as casual as you want for hanging out at home with a pair of leggings/loose jeans and sneakers. But by simply adding a light jacket, some accessories, and changing your shoes to low wedges/loafers, you’re ready for lunch with friends. No muss, no fuss.

Add layers. Many people with chronic pain are sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. Because you can rarely control the temperature of the places you visit, layering your clothes can be a lifesaver. You can remove/add layers as needed.

Use dressing aids. If you have difficulties with fastenings (e.g. zippers, buttons, shoelaces) or putting clothes over your head or shoes on your feet, there are gadgets to make life easier. They include zipper hooks, dressing sticks, buttonhooks, shoehorns, elastic shoelaces, and so much more. Check out our online store for some of these items. An occupational therapist can also give you tips for getting dressed as well as other available aids that are available to help you.

Have a go-to outfit that makes you happy. We all need a pick-me-up now and again, and often what we wear can do that. Have a favourite outfit or two ready to go for when you need a boost or some extra confidence to face the world 😍.

Don’t forget your accessories

Shoes: When buying new shoes, make sure they fit your foot properly, including any bunions, hammertoes and other structural changes to your foot. Choose shoes with a good, supportive sole, and decent grip to avoid slips and trips. Avoid wearing high heels or very flat shoes every day. If you wear orthotics, ensure they’ll fit in your new shoes. And if you have painful feet and you’re having trouble managing, talk with a podiatrist. They can give you information to help you look after your feet, including advice on your footwear.

Bags and backpacks: We carry a lot of stuff with us every day – phones, purses/wallets, computers, medication, keys, masks, water, hand sanitiser, snacks, work/school gear – so bags and backpacks that can help you cart this around, without aggravating your condition, are a must. Bags with thick straps that spread the weight across a wider area, rather than bags with thin straps, will cause less pain and strain. Avoid large bags, where the temptation can be to throw everything in them. Instead, choose a bag that suits what you need to carry, and avoid adding anything that isn’t necessary for your outing. Have a couple of bags and backpacks that’ll accommodate what you need to carry, whether it’s a casual outing or work-related, and your outfit. That way, you can mix and match as necessary.

Hats and caps: Don’t forget your head! Hats and caps protect your head and face from the heat and UV rays, as well as the cold bite of winter. Again, have a couple you can choose from to suit your outing and the elements.

Now add bling: I find that even when I’m wearing my most casual, comfy outfit, I can dress it up, and by doing so, feel better, just by adding some earrings, a cool watch or another piece of jewellery. It may sound superficial, but personally, anything that lifts my mood when I’m feeling low or in pain is just as necessary to me as my medication or meditation 😊.

Be a thrifty shopper

Living with a chronic condition can be costly, so saving money where you can is important. Op shops, clothing exchanges and online noticeboards can help you save money when it comes to sourcing new clothes and accessories. I’m an avid op shopper, and I find many unique, good quality and fun items at great prices. I also feel better about recycling clothes rather than buying a cheap item from a chain store that won’t last the season. And don’t forget you can also sell or donate the quality clothes you no longer wear to these networks.

Develop your own style

Throw the season’s fashions out the window! Wear clothes that make you happy, comfortable and project your own personality and style. I’ve said it many times – the world would be incredibly dull if we were all the same. And that goes for what we wear. So embrace your inner fashionista and create a style that’s uniquely you.

“When you don’t dress like everybody else, you don’t have to think like everybody else.” – Iris Apfel

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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10/Feb/2022

It’s hard to believe that we’ll soon be into our 3rd year of this pandemic 😷. We’ve made sourdough bread, gotten ‘used’ to masks, embraced jigsaws and telehealth, changed the way we work, go to school and socialise. We’ve missed out on many important events – big and small – as our world changed so dramatically.

It’s been really hard, and it’s taken a toll on our physical, mental and emotional health.

One aspect of ourselves that has suffered is our resilience. Resilience is our ability to cope and adapt to changes and challenges that the world throws at us. As this pandemic continues, we’re constantly tired, anxious, and stressed, with no end in sight. And this is really testing our resilience. Add to this a chronic, painful musculoskeletal condition, and everything seems amplified 😫.

For example, this morning, I was driving to the chemist to buy more masks. Someone cut me off in traffic. In the past, I would’ve muttered to myself and continued on my way. But today, I flashed my lights, tooted my horn and yelled. I yelled! Madness 😣. And at that moment, I realised that the only person negatively impacted by the situation was me. The other driver was long gone, but I could feel my heart pumping and the adrenaline coursing through my veins. It’s clear that my resilience is at an all-time low at the moment. I’ve known this for some time but haven’t done anything about it. But it’s now time.

So if you’re like me and know that your resilience isn’t what it used to be, and that you’re not handling stress and challenges as well as you once did, what can you do about it? How can you rebuild your resilience in a world that’s still so topsy-turvy, and you have no idea what’s around the corner?

Accept that you’ll have to face change, stress and challenges. Our lives are messy. And nothing is ever smooth sailing. However, by accepting that change is always happening – both good and bad – you can mentally prepare yourself for it. You can learn from how you’ve reacted in the past and how situations have affected you. You can use this information to prepare for future events and challenges. But the first step is to accept that things will happen. Change is constant. You can choose to deal with it in a positive, proactive way, or you can choose to let it negatively affect you. Acceptance isn’t always easy and will take time and reflection, but it is possible. And if you need help, it’s available. Read our article on support for mental and emotional wellbeing for more info about the types of professionals who can help you.

Make time for your people and your relationships. It’s tempting when you’re feeling low, in pain or like you just can’t take any more drama, to disconnect from others. However, when you’re on your own, it’s easy for your mind to get stuck on a merry-go-round of negative thoughts. They go round and round as you think about different ways you could have handled past events or as you worry about the unknown future. Staying in touch with the people who care for you can distract you from this rumination and help you focus on what’s actually happening in the world around you. They can also be a supportive ear and listen as you explain what’s affecting you and how you’re dealing (or not) with these things. They can also be a valuable source of advice if you choose to ask for it.

Write it down. Putting pen to paper and writing down the things that are causing you stress, or to feel anxious or powerless, is a useful strategy to help you see the nuances of the problem. Take the time to think about all sides of the issue and how it affects you. You can then process it more clearly, allowing you to do some critical thinking and problem-solving. Read this article, ‘5 ways journaling can build your resilience’ for more info about journaling.

Keep up your self-care. Again, it’s easy to let things slide when we’re not feeling on top of things. You may stop exercising, go to bed later or sleep in more often, eat comfort foods that give you a quick rush but don’t give you the nutrition you need, or rely on alcohol and other drugs to pick you up. But these behaviours will negatively affect your physical and mental health if you don’t get on top of them. So it’s important that you make a conscious commitment to continue your self-care, especially because your resilience is low. Because self-care practices such as sticking to a daily routine, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting good quality sleep and getting out into nature, will make you feel healthier and more able to cope with life’s challenges. They’ll also help you deal with pain and other symptoms of your musculoskeletal condition.

Focus on what you can control, no matter how small. You can’t control what’s happening with the pandemic, apart from following the health advice you receive from the government and your healthcare team. This lack of control can sometimes make you feel powerless. But you can control things closer to you, like how often you access social media or how much ‘doomscrolling’ you’re doing. You can choose to give your mental health a break from negative news and socials. You’re giving yourself power – over your actions and the effect they have on you – which will help build your resilience.

Think about how you can positively deal with challenges you’re currently dealing with. For example, if you’re working from home and feel isolated from your colleagues and the world in general, how can you manage this? Or, if you’re feeling financial stress because you’re not getting as much work as you once did, what options are available to help you? By problem-solving and coming up with a range of potential solutions, you can start to feel more in control. And if it all seems to overwhelming, you can always break big challenges down into smaller actions. If we look at the financial stress example, the first step might be to read our information on financial support. The next step might be to list who you need to contact to get help – e.g. your bank, utility companies etc. The third step might be to contact them, and so on. The point is, by breaking it down, and moving through a series of steps, you’re dealing with whatever issue or obstacle is causing you stress. You’re taking control of the situation.

Think of the things that make you happy or grateful. Every day, before getting out of bed or before you go to sleep, think of three things that make you feel happy or grateful. It can be anything you like – the sound of your child laughing, the sight of dogs playing in the park, the scent of freshly mown lawn, the warmth of your partner’s hand as you go for an evening stroll etc. Taking time to think of these things will make you feel more optimistic because there’s so much good around us. We just have to take the time to be aware of it.

Learn from the past. What things have helped you through a hard time in the past? Can you use that strategy/behaviour/resource now? It’s important to remember that you’ve gotten through tough times before, and you will again. It can just be a little hard to see that when you’re still going through it. But as they say, this too shall pass.

Get help. Sometimes you can try really hard, but you just can’t seem to get on top of things by yourself. That’s ok. We’re living through very difficult times, and we all need help from time to time. Talk to trusted family or friends about how you’re feeling. They can help you work through many of the above strategies if you’re struggling. Or it may be time to speak with a mental health professional to get some support that’s specifically tailored to you and your own specific circumstances.

We’ve all been rocked by these extraordinary times, and many of us are finding it difficult to find our footing again. We feel out of control and powerless by so much of what’s going on around us. However, by building our resilience, we’re more able to cope with these challenges and feelings and bounce back more quickly. It takes time and commitment to build your resilience, but it can be done. One step at a time.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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09/Feb/2022

You don’t really notice your thumbs until something makes you take notice. You whack one with a hammer, jam it in a door, or you get arthritis.

You then realise how often you use your thumbs every day 😖.

Your thumbs are more flexible than the rest of your digits. They can rotate, flex and touch the tips of your fingers. This allows you to perform all sorts of simple and complex movements.

So when something happens that impacts your thumb’s ability to move smoothly and painlessly, it gets your attention very quickly.

Arthritis

Many types of arthritis can affect your thumbs; however, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common. OA occurs when the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in a joint becomes brittle and breaks down. Healthy cartilage acts like a slippery cushion that absorbs shock and helps your joints move easily. When it breaks down, bone rubs against bone, causing pain and restricted movement. Your body tries to repair this damage by creating extra bone, called bone spurs. They may also cause pain and limited joint movement.

Other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout and lupus can also affect your thumbs.

This article will focus specifically on OA and thumbs.

Who gets OA in the thumbs?

You’re more likely to develop OA in your thumbs if you:

  • are female
  • over the age of 40
  • have had trauma or damage to the joints in your thumb
  • are obese
  • do work or activities that put stress on the thumb joints.

Symptoms

The symptoms of OA in the thumbs are:

  • pain
  • stiffness or limited movement of your thumb
  • joint swelling (inflammation)
  • grinding, rubbing or crunching sensation (crepitus)
  • loss of thumb strength.

Diagnosis

If you’re experiencing pain in your thumb that’s affecting your ability to do everyday activities, it’s important that you discuss this with your doctor. Getting a diagnosis as soon as possible means that treatment can start quickly. Early treatment will give you the best possible outcomes.

Your doctor will:

  • take your medical history – this will include finding out about your symptoms, how long you’ve had them, what makes them better or worse
  • examine your thumb – this will include feeling for warmth, listening and feeling for grinding or crunching (crepitus), and moving your thumb through it’s range of movement.

Your doctor may also request x-rays of your thumb to get a better look inside the joint and check for bone spurs.

Treatment

There’s no cure for thumb OA, but it can be managed effectively using self-care, splints, medications, and in some cases, surgery.

Self-care

  • Exercise – as with all musculoskeletal conditions, exercise is one of the most important things you can do to manage your pain and keep your joints moving. A study published in the BMJ Open from researchers at The University of Sydney found that hand exercises, when used with pain relief, splints and education, increased hand function and decreased pain in people with thumb OA. In Appendix 2 of the article, you can access the exercises used in this study.  You can also see a hand therapist, a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist for exercises specifically tailored to you.
  • Heat and cold – cold packs/gels can help reduce inflammation, and heat packs/gels can loosen stiff muscles, both providing temporary pain relief.
  • Aids and equipment – such as jar openers, book holders, tap turners, button hook and zipper aids and easy-grip utensils can make tasks easier and more efficient by reducing the stress on your thumbs and eliminating tight grasps. You may need to speak with an occupational therapist about what equipment is best for you.
  • Avoid repetitive or repetitive activities that strain the thumb – e.g. hand sewing.

Hand therapy
A hand therapist is an occupational therapist or physiotherapist who has undergone advanced training to become experts in assessing, diagnosing, and treating upper limb problems (shoulder to hand). They can provide advice on joint protection and energy conservation (e.g. splints) as well as recommendations for adaptive devices/equipment to improve thumb and hand function. You can find a hand therapist via the Australian Hand Therapy Association website or talk with your doctor.

Splints
A splint can support your thumb, reduce your pain, protect your thumb while you do your everyday activities, and rest the joint. A hand therapist can give you advice on splints.

Medications
Your doctor may suggest medications such as analgesics (pain killers) and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) for temporary pain relief. Topical creams and gels are preferred over oral NSAIDs because less medication is absorbed into the bloodstream. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on the best medication to use for your specific health needs.

Your doctor may recommend a cortisone injection into the joint if other strategies such as medications, the use of a splint, and self-care activities haven’t reduced your pain. These injections can reduce pain and inflammation for several weeks to months. However, you can only have a limited number of injections into the same joint in the space of a year.

Surgery

If conservative treatments haven’t helped and arthritis in your thumb is causing significant pain and distress and impacting your quality of life, surgery may be an option. A referral to a specialist hand surgeon is usually required. https://msk.org.au/surgery/

The most common types of surgery for thumb OA are:

  • Joint fusion (arthrodesis) – involves fusing two or more bones together. This essentially turns them into one bone and relieves pain because the joint no longer moves. However, you do lose flexibility in the thumb.
  • Osteotomy – involves cutting, shaping and repositioning bone to help correct joint alignment.
  • Trapeziectomy – involves removing one of the bones in your thumb joint (trapezium) to relieve pain.
  • Joint replacement (arthroplasty) – all or part of the affected joint is removed and replaced with an artificial implant.

Osteoarthritis in the thumb can be a painful and distressing condition. But the good news is that there are many things you and your healthcare team can do to manage your pain and keep you doing the things you love to do. The important thing is that you seek treatment early and follow your treatment plan.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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19/Jan/2022

How to set an achievable goal for 2022

“Life is short, fragile and does not wait for anyone. There will never be a perfect time to pursue your dreams and goals. ” – Unknown.

Did you start 2022 with a goal? Eating more healthfully, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, learning a new skill, changing careers, buying a house?

If so, you’re not alone. Lots of us start a new year with lofty goals, wanting to start fresh. It’s like the first day of school when you’d open a brand new notebook, and it felt so bright and shiny with endless possibilities (aaah, new stationery 😉).

And we start on our path with gusto – we try new recipes, visit the Quit website, pull the walking shoes out of the cupboard. But then life interferes. A tough day at work leads to takeaway for dinner instead of cooking. You’re out with mates, and everyone’s smoking, so you do too. You wake up exhausted and toss your walking shoes back into the cupboard. The enthusiasm for achieving your goal wanes.

So why bother with goals? What’s the point if they can be hard to achieve?

Simply put, having goals gives us control in a world where so much is out of our control. They provide us with something to work towards, and give us the steps we need to get there.

So let’s look at some simple ways you can live your life and still achieve your goals.

First – let’s address the elephant in the room. It starts with ‘C’ and ends in ‘OVID’.

We’re living in a global pandemic, and we’re a little tired. Two years of pandemic fatigue, fear, stress, and worry mean our physical and mental energy levels are lower than they’ve ever been.

These feelings can’t be ignored or pushed aside in order to achieve your goals. They need to be acknowledged and factored into your goal setting.

Make your goals meaningful

When setting a goal, think of something important to you and not something you think you should do. You’re more likely to be successful if you aim to do something that makes you happy and has meaning. And you’ll be more likely to recover from stumbles or overcome obstacles if your goal is significant to you.

Start with small goals

When we set ourselves a goal we often begin with great excitement, but then something – pain, work, illness, family life, pandemic-life – gets in the way. However if we create small goals, we’re putting ourselves in a better position to succeed.

For example, say you want to read more books. Great! There are so many amazing books out there. But having the goal of reading a book a week may not be realistic (been there done that 😆).

A more feasible way to read more books is to read a chapter in the evening. Or read for 15 minutes in the morning. You’re still reading, but it’s a smaller, more realistic goal.

Be flexible

If you’re having difficulties achieving your goal, ask yourself why? If it has meaning for you and it’s realistic, what’s the barrier? If we use the reading example again, it could be that you can’t find the time to sit and read. Or your eyes are tired after staring at a computer screen all day.

A way to solve this problem could be to listen to audio books. You can do this while doing other things, and your tired eyes don’t have to focus on the words. You can access many titles free through your public library, or you can access a subscription service such as Audible.

The point is that if you’re flexible, there are ways you can still achieve your goal if the original plan didn’t work. Discuss it with family or friends if you can’t think of solutions. Talking through the issue can help you gain some clarity. And the support and advice from the people who care for us is invaluable.

Be kind

When working towards a goal, it’s realistic to expect that there’ll be some trips and stumbles along the way. When this happens, be kind to yourself. When things don’t go according to our plans, we can be very critical. So avoid berating yourself. Instead, look at the stumble as a chance to learn. What happened? Why did it happen? How can you avoid it happening again? Does your goal need some adjustment to make it more achievable?

Another thing to remember is that we’re all different. So don’t compare yourself with others. This can be tough when you’re surrounded by carefully curated, touched up and filtered images, stories and posts about people who seem to have it all together, while you feel like a red hot mess (hmm, that may be just me?). But comparing yourself to others won’t help you achieve your goal and can make you feel like you’re failing somehow. So avoid these comparisons, be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for doing your best.

Be SMART

A common acronym used for goal setting is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timeframe. It can help you create a goal that works for you and your life.

Be specific. What is it you’re aiming for? Ask yourself the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, why. What do you want to accomplish? Why? When and where will you do this? Who can help you?

Let’s use meditation as an example to create a SMART goal. You enjoy meditating. It helps you manage your pain and deal with anxiety. So in 12 months, you’d like to be meditating for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

You need to be able to measure your goal so that you know when/if you’ve achieved it. Meditating more often isn’t a measurable goal, but committing to meditating for a specific amount of time in a day is.

Next, your goal needs to be achievable for you. It should challenge you and stretch you a little but still be attainable, especially considering the uncertainties of the world we’re living in.

Planning to meditate for 60 minutes every day probably isn’t achievable, especially if you’re just starting out. But committing to meditate 10 minutes a day, twice a week is. You can increase the amount of time and the number of days you meditate as you progress.

You need to be realistic, and your goal needs to be doable – for you and your own circumstances. Meditating 10 minutes a day, twice a week is realistic because you enjoy it, and it helps you relax. You’ve discussed it with your family, and they understand that they can’t interrupt you during this time. You’ve organised a quiet space to meditate, and you’ve downloaded a meditation app that you like. You’re committed, and you’ve put in place the things you need to make your goal possible. That makes your goal realistic.

Finally, your goal should have a timeframe. In this example, your goal is to meditate for 30 minutes, 5 days a week in 12 months. You’ll be starting at 10 minutes a day, twice a week increasing this over the coming 12 months. A timeframe gives you motivation and an endpoint to work towards.

Sticking to it

Once you’ve decided on your goal, write it down, along with the steps you need to get there. Stick it on your fridge, bathroom mirror or somewhere you’ll see it often. Refer to it regularly. And remember, if you have any hiccups along the way, that’s okay. Just don’t give up. Learn from what happened and move on.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” —Neil Gaiman.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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19/Jan/2022

by Anne Lloyde, MSK Help Line Manager

We’re well and truly into summer, so we need to think about ways to stay safe, keep cool but still have fun in the warmer weather.

Taking care of your skin in the sun – it’s a balancing act

We all know the ‘slip, slop, slap, seek, slide‘ message and the importance of protecting ourselves from the summer sun. After all, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the primary cause of skin cancer, and Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. But sun exposure is essential for bone health. Sunlight is our best source of vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium for strong bones.

It’s important to expose your hands, face and arms to the sun every day. The amount of time you need to do this depends on where you live, the time of the year, and your skin’s complexion. Healthy Bones Australia has developed a chart to help you work this out.

It’s also important to be aware of the dangers of sun damage and how you can expose your skin to the sun safely. SunSmart has a free app to help you determine the safe times to expose your skin to the sun. You can find out more about the app and download it here.

Sun sensitivity can affect people with various musculoskeletal conditions, including lupus and dermatomyositis. For people with sun sensitivity, sun exposure can cause rashes and lesions, flares or aggravation of their condition.

Medications can also cause the skin to be sensitive to sunlight, including some antibiotics, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). For more information about medications that can increase your risk in the sun, read this article from The Conversation.

If you have issues with sun sensitivity and limit your time in the sun, you may be deficient in vitamin D, as the main source of vitamin D is sunlight. Talk with your doctor if you think this is an issue for you, as you may need vitamin D supplements.

How to take care of your skin:

  • Check daily UV levels by visiting the Bureau of Meteorology or the weather page in newspapers and online.
  • Use the Vitamin D and bone health map to guide you about the amount of time it’s safe for you to expose your skin to the sun.
  • Clothing, hats, sunscreen and shade are the best ways to protect your skin from UV light. You should use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher on skin that can’t be covered by clothing. Choose your clothing carefully as not all fabric provides the same sun protection. To block more of the sun’s rays, choose clothing that has a thick, dark material with a tight weave. The Cancer Council has some useful information to help you know what to look for in sun-protective clothing.
  • Keep a scarf or sun umbrella with you during the summer, just in case you’re out in the sun unexpectedly.
  • Wear a hat that shades your whole face, neck, ears and head. Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of at least 7.5 cm provide excellent protection.
  • Try to stay out of the sun between 10am and 2pm (or 11 am and 3 pm daylight saving time) when UV levels are at their highest. Avoid highly reflective surfaces such as sand or water.

For more information on protecting your skin, visit the Cancer Council website. They have lots of very helpful resources.

Staying active

One of the best ways to manage your musculoskeletal condition is to exercise regularly. But in the warmer weather, you need to consider the weather conditions. Your regular exercise program may not be appropriate for an Australian summer and may need to be adjusted. If you’re unsure where to start, talk with a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist for information and support.

Some general tips for exercising safely in summer:

  • Don’t eat before you exercise. Your body uses energy when it’s digesting food, creating more heat. That’s the last thing you want when you exercise, so give yourself plenty of time between eating a meal and exercising.
  • Drink plenty of water – before, during and after exercise. You sweat more when it’s hot and when you’re exercising, so you need to replenish the fluids you lose.
  • Wear loose-fitting, sun-protective clothing that allows you to move freely and for sweat to evaporate quickly.
  • Change the time you exercise. Avoid the hottest part of the day, so exercise earlier or later in the day. Or, if that’s not an option, change the way you exercise on very hot days. Exercise indoors using apps, online videos or DVDs. Or visit your local pool or beach and exercise in the water.
  • Recognise that there’ll be days when it’s not safe to exercise outdoors. And if you don’t have adequate cooling indoors, that applies to indoor exercise as well. Australia is a land of extreme temps, so on those really hot days, give yourself a break 😎.

Storing your medications in hot weather

You need to take special care with your medications in hot weather, and they need to be stored correctly in cool, dry places away from direct sunlight.

Avoid bathrooms, as they’re often humid. Avoid cupboards above the stove or oven as they can get hot.

People on certain biologic medications may need to store medications below 8ºC, and you may need a cool bag to keep them at the correct temperature when bringing them home from the pharmacy and when traveling on holidays. Pharmaceutical companies will often provide special travel packs. Talk to your pharmacist for more information.

Preparing meals in summer and for special occasions

We tend to gather more regularly in the summer to enjoy good company, good food and good weather. However, this can cause stress, especially if it’s a big event or if you put pressure on yourself for everything to be ‘perfect’. And when the temps are high, as they often are in summer, this can add to your fatigue and discomfort.

Here are some simple steps to help you create and enjoy meals in a way that saves you energy and frustration, leaving you with more time to enjoy your family and friends:

  • Separate your tasks into small steps so that you can plan ahead and prepare things over time rather than in a rush.
  • Consider ordering your food and groceries online and having them delivered. Check out the websites of your local traders for more information.
  • When buying groceries, consider the pre-cut or pre-packaged fruit and vegetables. This will save you time and effort when preparing meals.
  • A range of kitchen utensils is available, including knives and peelers with wide easy-grip handles that make things easier when you’re cooking. Check out our online shop to see some gadgets that can make life easier
  • Remember that vegetables are easier to chop after they’ve been cooked.
  • If you have difficulty carrying saucepans and draining the water when cooking pasta or veggies, use a metal colander or wire basket slightly smaller than the saucepan. Put the food into the colander and place it in the saucepan. Once the food’s cooked, simply lift the colander out of the saucepan. Or ask someone to do this for you.
  • Share the load and have people bring a plate. You don’t have to do everything. And it gives everyone a chance to bring their favourite new recipe 😊.
  • When you head to the park or the beach, be on the lookout for outdoor tables where you can comfortably sit to enjoy your picnic, rather than having to sit on the ground or carry portable chairs.

Medical cooling concessions and rebates

These concessions provide a discount on summer electricity costs for concession cardholders who have specific medical conditions that affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Visit your state/territory website to find out if you’re eligible for this concession:

Tips for surviving the summer from our volunteers

  • Exercise in the morning when it’s cooler.
  • In very hot weather, go for your daily walk in air-conditioned shopping centres, rather than outside in the heat.
  • Don’t forget to protect your feet. Put sunscreen on any exposed skin and wear supportive shoes.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep well hydrated.
  • Maintain a healthy diet with lots of light salads.
  • Prepare and pre-cook meals in the morning when you have more energy and when it’s a bit cooler. You can then reheat it in the evening.
  • Have your air conditioner serviced so that it’s more efficient.
  • Take ice packs when shopping to keep perishable goods cold.
  • Think about doing your shopping online and having it delivered.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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19/Jan/2022

Working with a musculoskeletal condition can be a real struggle. Some people find that no matter how many accommodations or adjustments they make in their job, they can no longer perform their work duties to the required level. Or the job has become too taxing on their body, causing constant pain, fatigue and stress.

This can be a devastating blow, especially if it’s a job that you love. It can also be an extremely scary time as you contemplate a new future, with a different job.

The good news is that there are resources and organisations to help you through this process.

Job Outlook

Job Outlook is a great website and a good place to start when contemplating your next career move. It has a range of very helpful tools including:

  • Skills match – this tool helps you find new jobs that use your existing skills. You simply add your previous jobs, including unpaid or volunteer work, and it’ll give you alternative jobs that use your skills.
  • Career quiz – this simple quiz gives you a range of work scenarios. You choose the ones that appeal to you the most. The quiz provides a range of career paths that may interest you based on your answers.
  • Explore careers – provides all the relevant information about different occupations including tasks associated with the job, salary, future growth, skills and knowledge required, and the work environment (including physical demands of the job).
  • Links to training courses, job vacancies and other useful resources.

JobAccess

JobAccess is the Australian Government’s one-stop shop for information and resources for people with disability, employers and service providers. The section for people with a disability has a wealth of resources, especially on the Available Support page including:

Australian Job Search

Australian Job Search is Australia’s largest free online jobs website. Lots of useful info and resources for job seekers.

Job Jumpstart

Job Jumpstart provides articles and tools to help you find jobs that suit your interests. Information is tailored to your stage of life:

Department of Education, Skills and Employment

The Australian Government, Department of Education, Skills and Employment, provides information and support to help you with training and learning new skills.

  • Career Transition Assistance – designed to help people over the age of 45 build their confidence and skills when it comes to finding a job, and becoming more competitive in their local labour market.
  • Help with the cost of training – find out if you’re eligible for free or subsidised training.
  • Skills and Training Incentive – for people aged 45-70 years of age, it provides up to $2,200 to jointly fund training to help you remain in the workforce longer.

My Skills

My Skills is the national directory of vocational education and training (VET) organisations and courses. It provides info on:

Careers counsellors

You can also get professional help making decisions about your career choice by talking to a careers counsellor. They provide information, advice and guidance to help you make realistic choices about work, including further training or upskilling. They can help you identify jobs that match your skills and interests, create a resume, provide info on where to look for jobs and more.

Visit Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA) to find a private career counsellor who can help you work out your best career options. Note – these services aren’t free. The CDAA advises that ‘all members are in business, they charge a fee for the services they provide. You are encouraged to contact 2-3 members and discuss your needs to make an informed decision about who could help you best.’

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.


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09/Dec/2021

Woo-hoo! The year is wrapping up – and what a crazy year it’s been! It’s time to enjoy some well-earned festive cheer with our loved ones.

But we also need to take care. In our excitement to fling off the shackles of 2021, there’s the very real chance we’ll end up in a painful heap.

So, we’ve put together some tips to help you get through the holidays intact. (And we’ve added a little holiday cheer to the headings so make sure you click on the links! ???).

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas: Brace yourself for the shopping madness

  • Plan around your pain and fatigue. Wear comfy shoes (including orthotics if you have/need them), grab your walking aid, your shopping list (a foggy brain makes remembering almost impossible) and your shopping buggy/bags. Be kind to yourself as you may feel exhausted for hours/days after your trip. If your battery was already low before you tackled this, it might take some time to recharge and feel yourself again.
  • Once you get to the stores, follow the COVID-safe guidelines that apply.
  • Use a trolley or a shopping buggy, even if you’re only getting a few things. It’ll do the heavy carrying for you, so you can avoid muscle and joint pain.
  • Use your assistive devices – walking aids, braces, orthotics. If you have them, use them. They make a big difference.
  • Take breaks. Shopping is exhausting and stressful, so take breaks when you need them. Don’t push yourself too hard, or you’ll end up paying for that over the coming hours/days.
  • Shop online. We’ve learned through life in lockdown that so many things can be purchased with a few quick clicks of your mouse. So visit your favourite stores online and save yourself some trips to shopping centre madness. Just be sure to check the shipping details to ensure your goods arrive in time.
  • Shop local. You don’t need to visit the big shopping centres to find unique gifts or fresh produce. Small, independent local stores often have most of what you need. And many of these businesses have been doing it tough. So share the love and shop local.
  • Be kind to others. Your fellow shopper isn’t the enemy. Be patient, give them space, and be tolerant. The retail staff also deserve our kindness and empathy – they’ve been on the frontline for a long time. And if you feel yourself getting a little hot under the collar, breathe and remember we’re all going a little crazy at the moment.

Dance of the sugar plum fairy: Festive feasting!

  • Rule #1 – don’t skip meals. It’s a common mistake to make. You’re anticipating a delicious lunch and/or dinner with all your favourite foods, so you skip meals to make space. But this can lead to overeating because you’re starving when you do sit down to eat. It’s also not a great idea to have an empty stomach when taking certain meds or drinking alcohol. So make sure you eat, even if it’s a small meal, to tide you over until you get to the main event.
  • Stay hydrated. The silly season is usually a hot time of the year and it’s easy to become dehydrated. Especially if you’re drinking alcohol and/or playing backyard cricket, so keep the water flowing.
  • Cook/bake things ahead of time. Many foods we enjoy at our holiday gatherings can be made days and sometimes weeks before the big day. That means you don’t have to work yourself into a cooking frenzy on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And you’re more likely to enjoy yourself on the day if everything’s prepped and ready to go.
  • If you’re hosting, ask your guests to bring a plate. This shares the work, the cost and ensures those with special dietary requirements can bring food that accommodates their needs.
  • Slow down – appreciate the food and the company you’re with. It’s been a really tough year, and we’re finally able to be together. Relax, eat your delicious food ? and enjoy catching up with the important people gathered around the table ?.

Santa baby: Buying gifts

  • Take a leaf out of the big guy’s book ? – write a list and check it twice. Knowing what gifts you’re looking for before you hit the shops will save you time, energy and money.
  • Consider spending less. It’s been a tight year for many of us, so it makes sense to be economical and save some dollars. You don’t want to head into 2022 with massive debts.
  • Make your own gifts. Embrace your inner creative guru and bake, paint, draw, build, knit or sew your presents. Another option is to make your own gift vouchers – e.g. 1 hour of babysitting or dog walking.
  • Embrace Kris Kringle or Secret Santa gift exchange. They’re popular for a reason ?. Save yourself time, stress and frustrating shopping expeditions. It’s perfect if you have a lot of people to buy for.
  • Give gift cards and vouchers. They’re an excellent idea for the person who’s hard to buy for or already has everything. And you can get a lot of them online – without the hassle of changing out of your pajamas or leaving the comfort of your couch ?.
  • Donate to charity. Instead of buying a gift for those who have everything they want or need, consider donating in their name to their favourite charity.
  • When it comes to wrapping your gifts, gift bags are easier on sore hands than cutting wrapping paper and using sticky tape. They’re also a lifesaver for those of us who are hopeless at wrapping ?. They’re also reusable ?.

Deck the halls: Decorating your home

  • Get the family involved. Put on some music and have fun with it. Decorating your home and your tree is all about the joy of the festive season, being together and the love of shiny tinsel ?.
  • Keep it simple. Remember, what you put up has to be packed away. So if that thought fills you with trepidation, choose the ‘less is more’ option.
  • Save your back when you’re decorating and put your baubles and tinsel on a table or bench. That way, you’re not constantly bending over to pick them up.
  • Use a step ladder rather than overstretching. And if you have any balance issues, ask someone else to do the high stuff.
  • Remember, things don’t have to be ‘perfect’. That’s too much pressure. Things should be happy and festive, so fling some tinsel over the banister, a wreath on the door, and presents under the tree. Job done! ?

Rockin’ around the Christmas tree: Hosting gatherings

  • Keep it COVID-safe. What you can do and how many people you can have over will depend on where you live. So visit your state/territory government health site for the latest info. Have plenty of soap and hand sanitiser available, and if you’re feeling unwell, get tested and stay home, or cancel your gathering. That last one will be incredibly tough, as we’re so used to soldiering on through our aches, pains and fatigue, but if you think there’s even the remotest chance you have COVID, get tested and keep everyone safe by isolating until you know you don’t have the virus. Use the Healthdirect symptom checker to find out if you need to be tested.
  • Keep it simple. As with decorating, keep your celebrations simple. Seriously after the year we’ve had, any celebration will be epic!
  • Take a seat. Make sure you take time to rest and get off your feet.
  • Be medicine-wise.
    • Over-the-counter and prescription medication may help you manage pain and inflammation so you can enjoy your day. If you’re not sure what will work best for you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
    • Watch the alcohol. Many medications don’t mix well with alcohol, so find out if it’s ok to have a drink with your meds.
  • Give yourself a break when it comes to cleaning and packing up. Get the family and your guests involved – even if it’s simple things like folding up chairs or bringing dishes to the kitchen. And ask yourself if you really need to do everything immediately? A lot can be done the next day after you’ve had a rest.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas: Taking care of you

  • Manage stress. Christmas and the holidays can be stressful, but you need to manage your stress as best you can or risk having a flare. So pull out your best stress management strategies and use them as often as you need to.
  • Pace yourself. When you’re hosting an event, it’s easy to get carried away and be constantly on the move. Gatherings can be a marathon, so pace yourself. You don’t want to run out of steam before the end. The same goes if you’re visiting others. Travelling to and from your home to theirs, being a witty conversationalist ? and just interacting with others after a year of lockdowns and isolation is exhausting.
  • Get some sleep, and rest when you need it. With so many events and gatherings happening at this time of year, it’s easy for our sleep to be disrupted. And we have enough problems with sleep at the best of times! Try as much as possible to stick to your sleep schedule and take rest breaks or naps when you need them.
  • Stay active. Regular exercise is essential all year round for managing a musculoskeletal condition and chronic pain. It’s also important to help offset some of the extra kilojoules you may be consuming at this time of year. And it will help you deal with excess stress and sleep issues.
  • Listen to some tunes. Music helps to reduce anxiety, fear, depression, pain-related distress and blood pressure. And it’s an easy, cost-effective and enjoyable way to get some relief from your pain.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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09/Dec/2021

Once considered edgy and a little dangerous, piercings and tattoos are now mainstream. It’s almost more difficult to find a person who hasn’t got one than someone who does. ?

Piercings and tattoos are the most common examples of body art; however, body art also includes branding, scarification, dermal anchors and three-dimensional art or body modifications.

Many of these practices can be dated back thousands of years, but in the last few decades, we’ve seen their popularity soar, especially for piercings and tattoos.

This article will focus on piercings and tattoos and what you need to consider before facing the pointy end of a needle if you have a musculoskeletal condition.

Musculoskeletal conditions, tattoos and piercings – what’s the big deal?

If you have any condition that affects your immune system, or you take medications that suppress your immune system, you’re at increased risk of developing an infection any time your skin is broken, like when you get a tattoo or piercing. These conditions and medications may also affect the time it takes you to heal.

For people with psoriatic arthritis and/or psoriasis, any damage or trauma to their skin – such as a tattoo or piercing – has the potential to cause lesions. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon. Find out more about it here.

Other things to be mindful of if you have a musculoskeletal condition, specifically when it comes to tattooing, are:

  • They take time. Depending on the tattoo’s size, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to many hours to complete the design. For big tattoos, this may be scheduled over several sessions. That’s a long time to sit still, sometimes in an uncomfortable position, if you have chronic pain and stiffness.
  • Tattoo placement. Avoid tattooing over joints. A tattoo could potentially make joint injections or joint surgery more complicated. Swollen joints will also affect the look of the tattoo, as can future surgery. So best to avoid the joints.
  • They’re painful. I know, I know, living with a musculoskeletal condition is painful, and we’re all warriors when it comes to battling that foe. However, this is a different type of pain. It feels hot and scratchy, as if someone’s stabbing you with high-speed needles over and over while injecting ink into your skin for hours. Oh, wait…?.

Things you can do to manage these issues

  • Talk with your doctor/specialist. This is #1. Before you go anywhere near a needle, discuss it with your doctor or specialist. Is it safe for you, at this current time, with your specific health condition? Is your condition well managed? What about your medications? Will they impact your current ability to get a tattoo or piercing? If you have meds delivered via injection or infusion, do you need to time your tattoo or piercing around them? And if so, what’s the best timing? Be frank and open about your desire to get a tatt or piercing, but also listen to their expert opinion about what they think is best for your health. And it may be that now isn’t the right time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t ever get tattooed or pierced.
  • Only use a professional, licensed/registered tattooist or piercer. The regulations around licensing/registration differ in each state and territory, but you can find information about what to look for on your government’s health website.
    Other things to look out for: When you visit the premises, they should be clean (as should the person who’s about to work on you). They should follow strict protocols to ensure all instruments and surfaces are disinfected and sanitary. They should wear gloves and use needles from a sealed pack. For more information, read The Australian Department of Health article, Healthy body art.
  • Take your time to find someone you’re comfortable with. They’re about to be up close and personal with you, whether it’s for a short time with a piercing or a long time with a tattooist. And they’re potentially going to see parts of your body that don’t often see the light of day. So you should feel relaxed and comfortable. You can also take someone with you for moral support (however, this may depend on COVID density limits: check with your tattooist or piercer).
  • Take your time choosing your tattoo design/s and placement. You’re going to live with them for a long time. What may have seemed like a great idea when you were in your 20s may not be as impressive when you’re 60. Our tastes and interests change over time, as does our body. So consider how the design will age with you and how your body will age with the tattoo.
  • Keep it clean. Follow the aftercare information you’re given for your tatt or piercing. That means cleaning them as directed, avoiding activities that will irritate the skin and the open wound. Because that’s what we’re dealing with here – an open wound that has the potential to become infected. Healthline has some general information about tattoos and piercing, including aftercare. The Australian Department of Health article, Healthy body art also has some helpful info on aftercare.
  • Be proactive in managing the pain. If you’re concerned about the pain factor, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about a topical anaesthetic you can use before getting a tattoo and whether it’s right for you.
  • Start small. If it’s your first tattoo, don’t dive straight in and go for a full sleeve ?. Start with a small design. That’ll give you the chance to see how you react to getting tattooed – from managing the pain and sitting still, to how quickly you heal. Tattoo artists aren’t going anywhere – so there’s always time to go back for more ?.
  • Avoid alcohol. We’ve all heard stories of people getting a tatt or piercing when they’re intoxicated. But you really, really want to avoid doing this. First – you’re likely to be turned away. Responsible practitioners won’t work on you if you’re visibly impaired. It’s just too risky. Second – your decision-making won’t be your best. I’m sure it seemed hilarious at the time to get a Winnie the Pooh tattoo (true story ?), but will you really want it after your head’s cleared? And finally – the blood. Drinking alcohol before your tattoo will increase the bleeding at the site. A little bleeding during and immediately after getting a tattoo is normal – it’s a wound after all. But alcohol will increase this. It can also slow down healing.

Infections

For most people, getting a tattoo or piercing is entirely safe if done by an experienced professional. However, sometimes things can go wrong, so it’s essential to know the signs of infection. They include:

  • increasing pain at the site
  • warmth and/or swelling at the site
  • pus and/or redness at the site
  • feeling hot or cold, or developing a fever.

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. Or call Healthdirect from anywhere in Australia on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse 24/7.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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09/Dec/2021

Did you know that 52% of Australians are putting off their healthcare due to concerns about COVID-19? (1)

This alarming figure has prompted the Continuity of Care Collaboration (CCC), a network of more than 35 peak bodies, industry and healthcare organisations, to create the #DontWaitMate campaign.

The campaign aims to reassure people that attending their GP, dentist, pharmacist, allied health professionals, and specialists is safe. That it’s safe to get blood tests, skin tests, scans and all other pathology tests.

It’s essential that anyone with chronic or complex health conditions, the elderly, vulnerable communities and people who are immunocompromised have continuity of care so that they’re able to live as well as possible. And that any changes in their health are picked up as soon as possible.

#DontWaitMate campaign also urges anyone who’s been putting off their tests or has noticed urgent and/or new symptoms to pick up the phone and make an appointment today.

Your health is the priority.

CCC explains that there are measures to help you feel safe to access health care needs remotely, e.g. through telehealth, e-prescribing of medicines and home delivery of medicines. If you need to go to a clinic or hospital, personal protective equipment, regular cleaning, and distancing measures are all in place.(2)

It’s all about keeping you safe while managing your ongoing healthcare.

So Don’t Wait Mate. If you’re like me and have a pathology form stuck on the side of your fridge or a poo test in your bathroom drawer, go and get it, pick up the phone, and make that call. Don’t let them expire like I did ?. It just adds to the time you’re waiting to ensure everything’s ok.

Or, if you’ve noticed some changes in your health or body that concern you, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss them.

Because your health is too important to neglect.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

Reference

(1-2) Continuity of Care Collaboration
https://continuityofcare.org/


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18/Nov/2021

Warning: This article mentions self-harm and may be triggering for some people.

I’ve recently had some tattoos added to my upper arms. I love them – dragons, books, peonies and symbols that commemorate my parents.

But before I got them, I had to come to terms with the fact that to show them off, people were going to see my arms. And that was a problem. You see, when I was much younger, I hated my body so much that I used to cut myself. So I have several scars on my left arm that I’m constantly covering up.

But I’m tired of hiding. It’s Australia, and it gets so bloody hot in the summer that I don’t want to wear long sleeves all the time. Plus, I wanted to get new tattoos, and my arms were the perfect canvas. So I had to accept that people might stare.

My story isn’t unique.

Sadly, many adults, teens, tweens and little kids 😥 have body image issues. And they cause us to do all kinds of things – from wearing baggy clothes, to excessive exercising, cosmetic surgery, unhealthy eating, comparing ourselves to others, becoming isolated, hurting ourselves – and everything in between.

So it’s time to love the bodies we’re in, and accept the diversity of bodies around us. Because they’re amazing, beautiful and wonderfully unique.

What is body image?

Basically, it’s how we see our bodies, and how we feel and think about them. It can be positive, negative or neutral. And it can fluctuate. One day you may feel really great about your body, and the next, really down on it.

Living with a musculoskeletal condition can affect the way we see our body. These conditions, the pain and fatigue they cause, as well as the medications we take to manage them, can affect the way we move, our joint structures, our weight, fitness, skin, hair and nails. And SARS-CoV-2 – the pesky virus that keeps on giving – hasn’t helped things. Over the past couple of years, many of us have experienced changes in our appearance that we may not be altogether thrilled with.

But we need to accept that our bodies change, and they’ve been changing since we took our very first breath. They change as we age, as we develop health conditions, as we take different meds, as we injure ourselves, as we exercise, lose or gain weight, get piercings or tattoos, go through puberty and menopause, as we change our hairstyle and our fashion sense…as we embrace change.

Not accepting these changes, and our bodies as they are, only leads to unhappiness. It can also cause low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, disordered eating, isolation and relationship issues.

“You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked.
Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Louise L Hay

Loving yourself

1. Be kind and accept your body as it is

This is a big one, and can be really, really difficult. Especially if you’ve had body image issues for some time. But consider this – if someone said that your bestie was ‘fat’ or ‘plain’ or ‘has horrible hands’ or ‘terrible skin’ – you’d immediately defend them. So why is it ok to say these things to yourself? Be your body’s friend and advocate, not its enemy.

“And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’
It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’” —Nayyirah Waheed

2. Practise every day

It takes time to change the way we see ourselves. When you wake up, and before you go to sleep, think about something you love about your body. It doesn’t have to be related to appearance – we’re so focused on that – but it could be your sick dance moves, or the way your body enables you to play a musical instrument, or walk the dog, or laugh out loud.

Write these onto post-it notes and put them on the fridge, the mirror, in the car. And read and repeat them when you need a little extra boost.

“Your self-esteem won’t come from body parts.
You need to step away from the mirror every once in a while and look for another reflection,
like the one in the eyes of the people who love you and admire you.” – Stacy London

3. Appreciate the differences

We’re all different, and that’s the way it should be. How boring would the world be if we all looked the same? Differences are beautiful.

“You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress,
simultaneously.” – Sophia Bush

4. Be a good role model

Kids pick up on our behaviours and attitudes, and they learn from them. So avoid criticising yourself or others in front of kids. Instead, say nice things about your body and how you appreciate what it can do.

“As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, ‘I love my body’.
Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’
So I make sure to say it to my daughter because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.” — Kate Winslett

5. Surround yourself with positive people

It’s easier to be kind to yourself and love your body when you’re with positive people. Those who also accept and value their bodies for how amazing they are, rather than how they look. People who are critical of themselves and others are tiring, and feed our negative self-talk. So if your friend or family member is constantly berating their looks or weight, gently explain to them that you’d prefer not to discuss appearances. And move the conversation on to other, more enjoyable topics.

“I say I love myself, and they’re like, ‘oh my gosh’, she’s so brave. She’s so political.
For what? All I said is ‘I love myself, bitch!’” — Lizzo

6. Ditch the influencers and body shamers

And any other online platforms or magazines that promote idealised and unattainable body images. They just exacerbate negative feelings. Instead, find media and socials that show diverse images, and appreciate the differences.

“We come in many different shapes and sizes, and we need to support each other and our differences.
Our beauty is in our differences.” – Carrie Otis

7. Replace the time you spend criticising your appearance with happier, more enjoyable activities

Being mean to yourself can be a major time-suck. And it’s exhausting! We have enough things making us tired without adding something as pointless as belittling ourselves. So whenever you feel like you’re about to go on a self-hating tirade, do something else:

  • walk in the park and listen to the birds
  • breathe deeply and be conscious of every breath
  • listen to some arse-thumping music and dance
  • call a friend
  • take down the Empire in Star Wars Battlefront
  • cook a yummy meal
  • get your hands dirty in the garden
  • have sex!

And make sure that while you’re doing these things, you’re in the moment, not in your head.

8. Don’t compare yourself to others

We’re all different and have different genes, lifestyles, health issues and backgrounds. These things all play a part in how we look. I’m from a family of relatively short people. The only way I’m going to be tall is with the addition of very high heels 😆. I also know that I’ll always wear glasses, have fine hair and be covered in tatts. It’s my make-up and lifestyle, and it’s part of what makes me, me. And that’s ok.

“Step away from the mean girls and say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks.
Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate?
Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others.” — Oprah

9. Remember that images on socials are the highlights

It’s rare for people to put up images of themselves when they’re looking their ‘worst’. How many pics have been taken before the ‘right’ image was selected, filtered, touched up and then posted? They’re carefully curated to make a person look a certain way. So don’t get sucked into the madness.

“Your body. Your diet. Your life. It isn’t perfect. It never will be. But it’s real. It’s honest.
It’s beautifully flawed. And totally magical.” ― Nicola Jane Hobbs

10. Nurture your body

Feed it healthy, tasty food that makes you happy and satisfied. Move it regularly and often. Refresh it with good quality sleep. Pamper it with massage, warm baths, lotions and potions and hugs.

“You can’t hate yourself happy. You can’t criticize yourself thin. You can’t shame yourself worthy.
Real change begins with self-love and self-care.” — Jessica Ortner

11. Get help

Sometimes we need help to change the way we think about ourselves. This could be from a really good friend who you can talk openly and honestly with. Or it could be a professional. Just know that help is available if you need it. You don’t have to feel bad about yourself. Read our article ‘Support for mental and emotional wellbeing’ for more info.

And if you want to change something like your weight or fitness level for health reasons, rather than trying to match up to society’s ideals, you can get help with that too. So you can lose/gain weight safely and become more active. Talk to your GP for information and support.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else
is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

12. Be patient

Changing the way you think and feel about your body will take time. So be patient with yourself. And acknowledge that there may be times when you’ll stumble and start thinking badly about yourself. But you can use any of these strategies to pick yourself up again. We’ve also included lots of great resources in the More to explore section for you to check out.

My scars, and the kick-ass tattoos nearby, are just outward representations of part of my journey. So even if people notice them and stare, I can feel proud that I’ve survived. And while I’m still very much a work in progress, I’ll continue to work on loving myself and striving to be a good role model to those people around me. At the end of the day, that’s something I can control, not other people’s perceptions of me or society’s ever-changing ideals of the ‘perfect body’.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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