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13/Oct/2022

We get asked this question a lot! But unfortunately, it’s not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

Arthritis is a general term used to describe over 150 different conditions. The more accurate name for them is musculoskeletal conditions, as they affect the muscles, bones and/or joints.

They include osteoarthritis, back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, gout, polymyalgia rheumatica, lupus, osteoporosis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Around 7 million Australians live with a musculoskeletal condition, including kids. So can you avoid becoming one of them?

Maybe? Not really? It depends? 🙄

Because there are many different types of musculoskeletal conditions, the answer depends on various factors.

For conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and lupus, we don’t really know their cause. Without knowing the cause, it’s hard to prevent something from occurring.

What we do know is that they’re autoimmune conditions. That means they occur due to a malfunctioning immune system. Instead of attacking germs and other foreign bodies, the immune system targets joints and healthy tissue, causing ongoing inflammation and pain. We don’t know why this happens, but scientists believe that a complex mix of genes and environmental factors is involved.

At this stage, we can’t change a person’s genetics to prevent them from developing an autoimmune type of arthritis, or conditions like osteoporosis and Paget’s disease, which are also linked to genetics. Many musculoskeletal conditions also become more common as you get older and are more common in women.

Other health issues, such as diabetes, kidney disease, coeliac disease, and even other musculoskeletal conditions 😫, can also increase your risk of developing a musculoskeletal condition. For example, chronic kidney disease can increase your chance of developing gout, and rheumatoid arthritis increases your risk of developing osteoporosis and fibromyalgia.

So that’s the bad news.

The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing a musculoskeletal condition. Or, if you develop one, reduce its impact and severity.

Maintain a healthy weight

Excess body weight puts more pressure on your joints and increases the stress on cartilage, especially in weight-bearing joints like your hips, knees, and back. For every kilo of excess weight you carry, an additional load of 4kgs is put on your knee joints.

In addition to putting added stress on joints, fat releases molecules that increase inflammation throughout your body, including your joints. Being at a healthy weight reduces this risk.

Being overweight or obese is strongly linked to developing osteoarthritis (OA), most often in the knees. Hand OA is also more common in people who are overweight.

Back pain and inflammatory conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis have also been linked to being overweight.

If you have a musculoskeletal condition, maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you’re overweight, can decrease your pain, allow you to become more active, and decrease your risk of developing other health problems like heart disease and diabetes.

Quit smoking

As well as the obvious links to cancer and lung disease, smoking’s linked to back pain, neck pain, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Smoking also causes fatigue and slower healing, which can make pain worse. And it can make some medications less effective.

So quitting smoking has many health benefits. Within weeks of quitting, you’ll breathe easier and have more energy, making it easier to exercise and do your day-to-day activities. Find out more about the impact of smoking and ways to quit for good.

Stay active and exercise regularly

Regular exercise is vital for overall good health and keeps you fit, independent and mobile. Being active helps keep your muscles, bones and joints strong so that you can keep moving. It reduces your risk of developing other conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. It boosts your mood, benefits your mental health, helps with weight control and improves sleep.

Having strong muscles is also essential to reduce your risk of falls.

Look after your mental health

Mental health conditions can increase the likelihood of developing some musculoskeletal conditions. For example, people with depression are at greater risk of developing chronic back pain. And living with a painful musculoskeletal condition can have a significant impact on mental health.

If you’re living with anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition and feel that you’re not coping well, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. This will ensure you don’t prolong your illness and worsen your symptoms. It becomes harder and harder to climb out of a depressive episode the longer you wait. Similarly, the longer you put off seeking help for anxiety, the more anxious you may become about taking that first step.

There are many different types of treatment options available for mental health conditions. The important thing is to find the right treatment and health professional that works for you. With the proper treatment and support, they can be managed effectively.

Get enough calcium and vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D are essential to building strong, dense bones when you’re young and keeping them strong and healthy as you age.

Getting enough calcium each day will reduce your risk of bone loss, low bone density, and osteoporosis.

Calcium is found in many foods, including dairy foods, sardines and salmon, almonds, tofu, baked beans, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin D is also essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health. The sun is the best natural source of vitamin D, but it can be found in some foods.
If you’re unable to get enough calcium or vitamin D through your diet or safe sun exposure, talk about calcium and/or vitamin D supplements with your doctor.

Protect your joints

Joint injuries increase your risk of getting OA. People who’ve injured a joint, perhaps while playing a sport, are more likely to eventually develop arthritis in that joint. So it’s important to protect against injury by:

  • maintaining good muscle strength
  • warming up and cooling down whenever you exercise or play sport
  • using larger, stronger joints or parts of the body for activities, for example, carrying heavy shopping bags on your forearms, rather than the small joints in your fingers
  • using proper technique when exercising, for example, when using weights at the gym or when playing sports, especially those that involve repetitive motions such as tennis or golf
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • avoiding staying in one position for extended periods
  • seeking medical care quickly if you injure a joint.

Drink alcohol in moderation

Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to bone loss and weakened bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. For people with gout, drinking too much alcohol, especially beer, can increase your risk of a painful attack.

It can also affect your sleep, interact with medicines, and affect your mental health. To find out more about the risks of drinking too much alcohol and how you can reduce your alcohol intake, read ‘Should I take a break from booze?’.

Manage stress

While stress on its own is unlikely to cause someone to develop a musculoskeletal condition, chronic stress or a stressful event may be a contributing factor, especially with conditions such as fibromyalgia and back pain.

It can also cause issues with sleep, mood, increase pain, and make you more prone to flares if you have a musculoskeletal condition. It can then become a cycle of stress, poor sleep, pain and more stress. And this can be a difficult cycle to break.

But there are things you can do to deal with stress. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and visualisation, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.

Talk to someone – whether it’s a family member, friend or mental health professional, about what’s stressing you out so you can deal with it.

Talk with your doctor

If you’ve been experiencing joint or muscle pain, it’s important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Getting a diagnosis as soon as possible means that treatment can start quickly, reducing the risk of joint damage and other complications.

Final word

While at this moment in time, we can’t absolutely 100% prevent ourselves from getting a musculoskeletal condition, the good news is that early diagnosis and treatment will give you the best outcomes.

Treatments for many of these conditions have come a long way in recent years, and most people live busy, active lives with musculoskeletal conditions. 😊

Call our Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issuestelehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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13/Oct/2022

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. And because of this, I think it’s often dismissed, and its effects underestimated.

I mean, how often have you heard people say, ‘it’s just wear and tear’, ‘we’ll all get it eventually’, or my personal favourite ‘it’s just a bit of arthritis’ 😤? These offhand comments trivialise the considerable pain and disability that osteoarthritis (OA) causes many Australians.

If you have OA or know someone who does, you know it can significantly impact every aspect of life. Symptoms such as persistent pain, fatigue, stiff and swollen joints, weakened muscles, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems can affect a person’s ability to be as involved in social, community and work activities as they might like.

So, no, it’s not ‘just’ arthritis.

Let’s look at what it is.

What is osteoarthritis?

As we know, OA is the most common form of arthritis. It’s most likely to develop in people over 45, but it can also occur in younger people. It frequently affects weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, hips, feet, and spine. The joints of the hands, including the thumbs, are also commonly affected.

While it was once thought to be an inevitable part of ageing, resulting from a lifetime of wear and tear on joints, we now know it’s a complex condition and may occur due to many factors.

Osteoarthritis and your joints osteoarthritis

To understand how OA affects your body, it’s helpful to know a little about your joints.

Joints are places where bones meet. Bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons work together so you can twist, bend and move about.

Covering the ends of your bones is a thin layer of tissue called cartilage. It provides a slippery cushion that absorbs shocks, helps your joints move smoothly and prevents bones from rubbing against each other.

Around most of your joints is a tough capsule that holds your bones in place. The inside of the capsule is lined with synovial membrane, which produces synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates and nourishes the cartilage and other structures in the joint.

With OA, the cartilage becomes brittle and breaks down. Some pieces of cartilage may even break away and float in the synovial fluid. Because the cartilage no longer has a smooth surface, the joint becomes stiff and painful to move.

Eventually, the cartilage can break down so much that it no longer cushions the two bones. Your body tries to repair this damage by creating extra bone. These are bone spurs (or osteophytes). Bone spurs don’t always cause symptoms but can sometimes cause pain and restrict joint movement.

OA causes and risk factors

Many things can increase your chances of developing OA, including:

  • your age – people over 45 are more at risk
  • being overweight or obese
  • your genetics – the genes you inherit can play a role in developing OA
  • other conditions – such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, can cause damage to your joints and lead to OA
  • gender – 3 in 5 people who have OA are women
  • repetitive movements associated with your job or occupation (e.g. constant kneeling, squatting, lifting heavy loads)
  • significant injury, surgery, damage or overuse of a joint.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of OA can vary from person to person. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • joint pain, stiffness and swelling (inflammation)
  • grinding, rubbing or crunching sensation (crepitus)
  • muscle weakness.

These symptoms can sometimes worsen, especially when you feel stressed, upset, overdo things, or don’t get enough sleep. This is called a flare or flare-up.

Diagnosing OA

If you’ve been experiencing joint pain, it’s essential you discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Getting a diagnosis as soon as possible means that treatment can start quickly. This will give you the best possible outcomes.

To diagnose your condition, your doctor will do some exams or tests. They may include:

  • Your medical history. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, family history and other health issues.
  • Physical examination. Your doctor will look for swelling in and around the joint and test your joint’s range of movement. They’ll also feel and listen for grinding, rubbing or creaking in the joint.

Imaging (e.g. x-rays, ultrasound or MRI) and blood tests aren’t routinely used to diagnose OA. However, they may sometimes be needed if there’s uncertainty around your diagnosis.

Treating OA

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis; however, your symptoms can be effectively managed with exercise, weight management, medicines, and self-care.

Exercise

Because of the old ‘wear and tear’ myth, many people are worried that exercising joints with OA will cause more joint damage. But regular exercise can actually help reduce some of your symptoms (e.g. pain, stiffness) and improve your joint mobility and strength. It will also move synovial fluid through the joint, providing essential nutrients and removing waste.

Exercises that move your joints through their range of movement will also help maintain joint flexibility; this is often lost due to OA. Strengthening the muscles around your joints is also important. The stronger they are, the more weight they can take. This will help support and protect your joints.

An exercise program that promotes muscle strength, joint flexibility, improved balance and coordination, and general fitness will give you the best results. Start exercising slowly and gradually increase the time and intensity of your exercise sessions over weeks and months. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can help you work out an exercise program that’s right for you.

Weight management

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing OA and the severity of your condition. The additional weight also increases pressure on your joints, especially your weight-bearing joints (e.g. hips, knees, feet), which is likely to cause further pain and damage.

The amount of overall fat you carry is also significant because fat releases molecules that contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your whole body. This, in turn, increases the level of inflammation in the joints affected by OA.

For these reasons, maintaining a healthy weight is essential if you have OA. Your doctor or dietitian can advise you on safe weight-loss strategies if you need to lose weight.

Weight loss can be a long process for many people. It’s challenging, especially when pain affects your ability to be as active as you’d like. But it’s good to know that any weight loss can reduce your pain and increase your ability to exercise. So making small, achievable changes to your eating and exercise habits can bring big results. It just takes time, commitment, and support.

Medicines

No medicines can affect the underlying disease process of OA, but combined with exercise, weight management, and self-care, medicines may provide temporary pain relief and help you stay active.

The most commonly used medicines for OA are:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines or NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen). These medicines are available over-the-counter and with a prescription, depending on their dosage and other ingredients. They come in tablet/capsule form (oral NSAIDs) or as a gel or rub applied directly to the skin (topical). It’s important to note that oral NSAIDs are designed to be taken at low doses for short periods. Always talk with your doctor before starting NSAIDs, as they can have side effects.
  • Paracetamol. Research has shown that paracetamol provides only low-level pain relief for osteoarthritis. However, some people report that it helps reduce their pain so they can be more active. For this reason, it’s worth discussing a trial of paracetamol with your GP to see if it‘s appropriate for you.
  • Corticosteroid (steroid) injections may be helpful for people who haven’t found relief from other treatments (e.g. exercise, weight loss) or other medicines. Corticosteroid injections into a joint can provide short-term pain relief; however, the number of injections you can have each year is limited due to potential harm.

Note: Opioids are powerful pain-relieving medicines that effectively reduce acute pain (or the pain resulting from an injury or surgery). In the past, they were prescribed to treat pain associated with conditions like osteoarthritis; however, there’s strong evidence that they have little effect on OA pain. Opioids also have many potentially serious side effects. That’s why they’re not recommended in the management of OA. Read the Choosing Wisely Australia resource ‘5 Questions to ask about using opioids for back pain or osteoarthritis’ for more info.

Self-care

There are many other things you can do to reduce the impact of your symptoms, including:

  • Learning about your condition. Understanding OA and how it affects you means you can make informed decisions about your healthcare and actively manage it.
  • Learning ways to manage your pain. Pain is the most common symptom of osteoarthritis, so it’s crucial to learn to manage it effectively. Read our A-Z guide for managing pain for more information.
  • Working closely with your healthcare team. The best way to live well with OA is by working closely with the people in your healthcare team (e.g. GP, physio) and keeping them informed about how you’re doing and alerting them to any changes.
  • Protecting your joints. Supports such as walking aids, specialised cooking utensils, ergonomic computer equipment and long-handled shoehorns can reduce joint strain and make life easier. An occupational therapist can advise you on aids, equipment and home modifications. You can also check out our range of aids in our online shop.
  • Taping, knee braces and orthotics may be helpful if you have OA in your knees or feet. A physiotherapist or podiatrist can advise you on these.
  • Improving sleep quality. Not getting enough quality sleep can worsen your symptoms; however, getting a good night’s sleep when you have osteoarthritis and chronic pain can be challenging. If you’re having problems sleeping, talk with your doctor about ways you can address this.
  • Managing stress. Stress can also aggravate your symptoms, so learning to deal with stress is extremely helpful. Things you can do to manage stress include planning your day and setting priorities, using relaxation techniques such as going for a walk, getting a massage or listening to music, and, where possible, avoiding people and situations that cause you stress.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet. While there’s no specific diet for OA, it’s important to have a healthy, balanced diet to maintain general health and prevent weight gain and other medical problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Surgery

In most cases, surgery isn’t required for people with osteoarthritis. However, surgery may be an option if all non-surgical treatment options have been unsuccessful and you’re still experiencing significant pain and loss of function.

The most common surgery for osteoarthritis is a joint replacement. When considering surgery, you should be informed about what it involves, the rehabilitation process, and its potential benefits and risks.

Note: An arthroscopy isn’t recommended to treat knee OA. Evidence shows it’s not effective in improving OA knee pain or function.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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20/Sep/2022

Tips to help you in the garden

Note: Apologies in advance. At the time of writing, I was in a pun-ey state of mind 😂. I’m a succa’ for a bad pun or dad joke. Hopefully, it ‘grows’ on you. 😣

With spring well and truly in the air, our gardens are coming alive 🌻🌼🌷. It’s the perfect excuse to get outside and dig in the dirt. Time to celery-brate!

Gardening’s a wonderful way to get some fresh air and vitamin D. It can also be extremely relaxing and a good workout. What’s not to love?

But sometimes your condition or pain may affect your ability to garden. Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage these issues. It just takes a little trowel and error. Here’s our sage advice.

Lettuce do our best: Pacing

It’s easy to get carried away and overdo things when you’re feeling good and having a great time in the garden. But you generally pay for it the next day (or three 😑) with increased pain and fatigue. That’s why it’s so important that you pace yourself.

Break your gardening projects into smaller jobs – for example, weed a small section of a garden bed rather than the entire thing. Or, mow the front lawn one day and the back lawn the next.

Not everything has to be done at once, though your inner perfectionist may want that. Don’t listen to that voice! Instead, make a realistic plan about how much you can do and stick to it.

And remember to take regular breaks. That’ll help you conserve your energy, and it’s also a good opportunity to drink some water while you sit back and admire your work, contemplate what to do next, and imagine future gardening projects 😊.

Just dill with it: Warming up is important

Gardening is physical, so get your body ready for it, just as you would before doing any form of exercise. Do some stretches, or go for a walk around your yard or the block, so your muscles warm up, and you feel looser. Then ease into the gardening.

Cactus makes perfect! Good posture and technique

Be aware of your posture and use good technique when lifting and carrying things. It’s easy, especially if you’ve been working all day and you’re tired, for poor technique to slip in. Remember to carry things close to your body (or use a wheelbarrow or cart), be careful when kneeling or squatting that you don’t overbalance and maintain the natural curve of your spine. Try not to stay in the same position or do lots of repetitive movements for long periods. Swap your activities to use a range of muscles and joints rather than overworking one part of the body. For example, if you’ve been digging and giving your back and shoulders a solid workout, take a break and sit at a garden bench while you pot some herbs or cuttings.

Do you have the thyme? Know your limits

Planning is essential to ensure you don’t become a slave to your garden and constant weeding, mowing and pruning. Ask yourself – ‘what can I realistically do?’ Consider the size of your garden, the amount of work required to maintain your garden, how much time you want to commit to it, and how your health may affect what you can do now and in the future. Once you’ve considered these factors, you can consciously plan a garden that works for you and not against you.

No need to grow big or go home: There’s beauty in small things

Love gardening but don’t have the time, space or inclination to commit to regular gardening? Then go small. Have a few indoor plants or small containers on your patio, deck or balcony. You can still enjoy gardening on a small scale that suits your lifestyle.

If bush comes to shove: Love local

Take some of the time, money, effort and excessive water use out of gardening and choose native plants that are indigenous to your local area. Because they’ve adapted to local environmental conditions, they generally require less maintenance and water. And they’re less likely than more high-maintenance plants to keel over and die on you, saving you the cost of replacing them. Plus, they attract native insects and birds to your yard. And let’s not forget the fact that they’re stunning!! Win, win, win! 🌿 For information and resources about using natives in your garden, visit the Australian Native Plants Society website.

Pot it like it’s hot: Contain your garden

Use pots and other containers for small, manageable gardens. This is perfect if you only have a small space, live in a rental property, or want the flexibility to change plants and plant locations regularly. You can use regular garden pots or containers, or be creative and use other things you have lying around – e.g. old wheelbarrows, teapots, colanders, tyres, and boots.

Check out Pinterest for some great ideas – just make sure you have plenty of time – Pinterest is a great place to lose track of time. You’ve been warned! 😂😂

What a re-leaf! Raised and vertical gardens

If you have a sore back, hips or knees, give them a break by using raised garden beds and vertical gardens. While these gardens can take a bit more planning and work, they allow you to access your garden with much less bending or kneeling. You can build your own – there are lots of videos and guides online to show you how to do this – or you can buy them in various shapes and sizes from gardening and hardware stores.

Say aloe to my little friend: Tools and gadgets

There’s a massive range of gardening tools and equipment to help you manage in the garden. They’ll help prevent injury, pain, and fatigue. Depending on the size of your garden and the amount of time you spend in it, some tools you may want to have on hand include:

  • Gardening gloves. It’s worth paying a bit more and getting a good quality pair (or two) that provide some padding, good grip and protect your skin.
  • Tools that do the work for you. This includes ratchet-style secateurs that allow you to cut branches with much less effort and long-handled tools that save you from bending down to weed or stretching overhead to reach branches.
  • Thicker handled garden tools. They’re perfect if you have sore hands or difficulty gripping. You can also buy thick rubber or foam tubing from the hardware store, cut it to length and fit it over the handles of your existing gardening tools.
  • Wheelbarrows or garden carts help you carry heavier items from one place to another or several smaller things in one go. Just be careful not to overload it or try to move more than you know you should. Listen to your body.
  • Cushioned knee supports. This includes knee pads, kneeling mats, or gardening stools that can help cushion and protect your knees and help you get up and down off the ground.

I’m very frond of you: Asking the crew to get involved

Get some help – from family, friends, a local handyman, or gardener – if you have some big jobs that need doing. For example, creating raised garden beds, pruning trees, and mowing lawns. You don’t have to do everything. Save the things you really enjoy for yourself and let someone else tackle the less enjoyable jobs. 😊

Water you doing today? Staying hydrated

Gardening can be hot, strenuous work, so don’t become dehydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated. Tuck a water bottle in your garden cart or have it on your porch ready for when you need it.

And speaking of water, use a lightweight watering can or a garden hose when watering your garden. And be careful you know where the hose is at all times to avoid tripping on it 😫.

Here comes the sun(flower): Protecting yourself from harmful rays

The warming spring weather and longer hours of sunlight give us many more opportunities to work and play in the garden. But you need to balance the desire to be outdoors with protecting yourself against sunburn, skin cancer, photosensitivity and flares. And ensuring you get your daily dose of vitamin D. But there are ways you can find the right balance – from using sunscreen, wearing a hat and appropriate clothing, seeking out shade and more. Find out how.

Time to turnip the heat: Loosen those tired muscles

After your exertions in the garden, have a warm shower. Even when you pace yourself and take it easy, muscles can become tight, especially if the weather is on the cooler side. Or, if it’s been warm while you’ve been gardening, a shower can loosen those muscles and cool you down. After you’ve showered, try not to sit down immediately if you can help it. Go for a short walk to continue to loosen things up. You’ll feel so much better for it in the long run.

Need some encourage-mint? See an OT

An occupational therapist can help you find ways to modify your activities to reduce joint pain and fatigue and save energy. They can also give you tips and ideas about different aids and equipment available to make gardening easier and more enjoyable.

Don’t moss around, get out there!

With the weather warming up, getting outdoors and playing in the garden is a lovely way to forget the worries of the world. It really can give you some inner peas.😊

So plant some bright flowers in pots or garden beds around the entrance to your house. Prune trees and shrubs and remove any dead winter growth. Add some mulch to the garden beds. Plant some vegies for summer salads. Then grab a cold drink, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours.

“We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course, it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.”
Jenny Uglow

 

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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20/Sep/2022

Is there anything better than pulling on your comfy trainers and heading outdoors for a walk? With the first breath of fresh air and the sun on your face, you feel better. Your muscles warm up, your joints loosen, and you settle into a comfortable stride. The rhythmic movement helps you relax and boosts your mood.

I love going for a walk. It’s such a great exercise.

It costs nothing, is suitable for most people, and gets you out of the house. You can walk at a leisurely pace or take it up a notch and increase the speed and intensity of your workout. Or do a combination of both for some interval walking.

If you don’t exercise much, it’s an ideal way to build up your activity levels. Be sure to talk with your doctor first to get the all-clear, especially if you’ve recently had surgery or have other health conditions. Then start slow and gradually increase your distances and times.

Try walking 30 minutes a day on most days of the week, and you’ll definitely notice the health benefits. Walking regularly can help you manage your pain, maintain a healthy weight, lift your mood, get a good night’s sleep, improve your muscle and joint health and increase heart and lung fitness.

If you can’t walk 30 minutes at a time, you can easily break the walking up over your day. You don’t have to do it all in one go to reap the benefits. So during your day, you can do three 10 minute walks, two 15 minutes walks or six 5 minute walks, whatever works for you. It all adds up 😊.

And if 30 minutes most days isn’t realistic for you at the moment, set yourself a goal so that it becomes achievable. Think about your daily commitments, your level of fitness, your pain/fatigue levels and all the other things that affect you daily. Now create a SMART goal. That’s a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Time-frame that works for you. It will help you set a practical plan for achieving your goal. Read our blog about goal setting for more info.

14 tips for better walking

Dress the part

Let’s start with the most important element of your walking outfit – your shoes. They need to be comfortable, fit properly, and support your feet. Look for light, flexible shoes with thick, non-slip soles. Avoid slip-on shoes, and if laces are difficult to fasten due to arthritis in your hands, Velcro or elastic laces might be an option.

Your clothes should be loose and/or stretchy enough to allow you to walk without restrictions. Make sure you wear a hat and sunglasses on sunny days. And grab any mobility aids you use before you head out.

Warm up and cool down to prevent injuries or pain

While you might be eager just to get out there, it’s important to take the time to let your muscles and joints warm up. So start your walk slowly, and gradually increase your pace. And when you’re close to finishing your walk, take the time to slow it down and give your body the chance to cool down. You can also incorporate some basic stretches to warm-up and cool down. Check out these stretches from the Arthritis Foundation (USA). 

Walk briskly

Did you know that 10 minutes of brisk walking is classified as cardio as long as you’re slightly out of breath? Brisk walking at a moderate intensity provides more health benefits than a simple stroll. How fast you need to walk for it to be moderate intensity will depend on your age and fitness level. So it differs from person to person. You can tell if you’re walking at a brisk, moderate-intensity pace if you’re breathing heavier than usual but can still have a conversation. But if you can walk and sing (which is a little unusual) 😉, you need to kick the intensity up a notch.

Make walking a part of your routine

To make walking a daily activity, you need to build it into your routine. Go at the same time each day – e.g. before/after work, before breakfast/after lunch. Whatever time suits you best and allows you the space to commit to it. Before long, when that time arrives each day, you’ll find yourself automatically reaching for your walking shoes. 👟👟

Listen to music, audiobooks, podcasts

Going for a walk by yourself gives you space for some alone time. Listen to something that interests or relaxes you as you exercise. There are many entertaining podcasts and audiobooks you can access free online. Or you can borrow audiobooks from your public library and download them to your phone.

You can also make yourself a walking playlist featuring your favourite music that starts slower (for your warm-up), gets faster (for your main workout) and slows down again towards the end of your walk (for a cool down).

Make it social

At other times, it’s nice to walk with others. It’s fun and will help keep you motivated. You can chat, shoot the breeze, catch up and just be social 😊. So walk with friends or your family. And if you have a dog, bring it along! They need the exercise too. And dog owners are always up for a chat 🐶!

Explore new places

As many of us discovered during past lockdowns, walking the same paths day after day can become a little tedious. Mixing it up will make your walks more enjoyable. So look at your maps and discover new walking trails, parklands and suburbs.

Or try a variation of this idea. Comedian and radio host Tony Martin and his partner have spent more than ten years exploring the streets of Melbourne, with the goal to walk every street! While you may not want to go that extreme, you could start smaller and check out different streets of your neighbourhood. Or pull out the old Melways or use your GPS to discover new and interesting places to walk.

Take a water bottle

Walking can be thirsty work, so you may need to take some water to remain hydrated. And depending on how far you’re walking, consider taking a small backpack for your water bottle and any other supplies you think you may need, such as snacks, sunscreen, a map, band-aids (just in case) and your phone.

Be mindful while you’re walking

Take time to be in the moment and experience the walk. How do your feet feel as they connect with the ground? What can you smell? How does the wind feel on your face? What can you see around you? Take the time and opportunity to really connect with what you’re doing and savour every moment.

Track your walking with a pedometer or fitness activity tracker

This’s a great way to see how you’ve progressed over time. And many of the walking apps allow you to challenge others, so if you can’t physically walk together, you can in spirit. And a little healthy competition can help you push yourself to achieve more 😉.

Increase the distance and intensity of your walks over time

To see the health benefits from your walking, you need to push yourself to go further and harder. Just be mindful that you don’t push too hard, too soon. Especially if you’ve been unwell, had surgery, or you’re having a flare. Listen to what your body is telling you. A physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or fitness instructor can provide tips and guidance if you need help.

Walk indoors

If it’s raining or just too hot or cold to take your walk outdoors, stay in! There are many ways you can walk indoors. For example, you can walk around your home if you have the space. Or you can follow an online video of walking exercises (there are many available to suit your specific needs and fitness level). Or you can take your walk to the shopping centre. They have lots of open areas to walk and places to rest and hydrate when you need to. Just try not to get distracted and slow down to shop! 😂 You can also take your walk to the local fitness centre or gym. Many have indoor walking tracks you can use for free if you’re a member or for a small fee if you’re not.

Be aware of walking surfaces

They’re not all equal. Natural surfaces such as grass, fine gravel, dirt and woodchip are softer and generally easier on your joints. However, they’re not always even surfaces, so you need to be aware of potential trip hazards. Manmade surfaces such as asphalt and concrete can be more jarring on sore joints. However, they’re generally smoother. So factor walking surfaces into your plans. If your hips, knees, ankles or feet are particularly sore, go for the softer, more natural surfaces. If you’re concerned about falling or bad weather, manmade surfaces may be your best option.

Join others

Consider joining a walking or bushwalking group. You’ll meet other people who love walking, explore new places together and get lots of tips and advice to make walking more enjoyable and challenging.

Another option is parkruns. They’re free, weekly community events with 5km walks and runs in parks and open spaces on Saturday mornings. Everyone is welcome, there are no time limits, and best of all, no one finishes last! 😊
——
So what are you waiting for? Pull on your walking shoes, grab a friend or your headphones, and as the INXS song goes, just keep walking!

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

Walks in your state or territory


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21/Jul/2022

Self-care is a trendy concept at the moment with many different definitions and uses.

You often see social media posts promoting self-care with pictures of day spas, yoga retreats and people exercising on the beach at sunset. All wonderful things, but when you live with a chronic condition, pain and sometimes-crippling exhaustion, life’s not always that glamorous!

So what is self-care?

The World Health Organisation defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker”.(1)

That’s a pretty dry definition, so for the everyday person with a musculoskeletal condition, we describe self-care as the things you consciously and deliberately do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

It includes everything from exercising regularly and staying active, eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, caring for your mental healthmanaging pain and fatigue, seeing your healthcare team regularly, learning about your musculoskeletal condition, and staying connected with family and friends. It also involves good hygiene, avoiding risky behaviours and actions, and using medicines and treatments appropriately.

The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed seven pillars of self-care. They aim to help people understand the breadth and importance of self-care, and provide information about the steps you can take to care for yourself better.

Let’s explore them.

Pillar 1. Knowledge and health literacy

Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power – so understanding your body, how it works, how it’s affected by your musculoskeletal condition/s, as well as any other health conditions you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions about your healthcare.

Health literacy refers to how we “understand information about health and health care, and how we apply that information to our lives, use it to make decisions and act on it”.(2)

Together, health literacy and knowledge give you the tools you need to actively manage your healthcare. By understanding your body and health, you can discuss your options with your health professionals, critically evaluate information from various sources, adjust your lifestyle and behaviours, understand risk factors, and the appropriate use of treatments and tests.

In fact, research shows that people who have high levels of knowledge and health literacy have much better health outcomes.

If you want to know more about your health and musculoskeletal condition/s, or you need help to improve your health literacy, there are many people who can help you.

Talk with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team. Contact the MSK Help Line and speak with our nurses. Visit authoritative websites (like ours).

And never be afraid to ask questions.

Pillar 2. Mental wellbeing, self-awareness and agency

Incorporating things you enjoy and that make you feel good into your daily/weekly routine – such as mindfulness, exercise, alone time, relaxation, massage, and staying connected with family and friends – is a simple thing you can do to look after your mental wellbeing and increase your resilience.

Self-awareness involves taking your health knowledge and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help, you can ensure you’re getting enough exercise each day. Or if you’re carrying more weight than you’d like, and this is causing increased knee pain and self-esteem issues, talk with your doctor about safe ways you can lose weight. Or if you have rheumatoid arthritis and a family history of osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about how you can look after your bone health.

Agency is the ability and intention to act on your knowledge and self-awareness.

Pillar 3. Physical activity

OK, so this one’s fairly self-explanatory since we talk about the importance of exercise and being physically active all the time 😊.

Regular exercise helps us manage our musculoskeletal condition/s, pain, sleep, mood, weight, and joint health – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! It keeps us moving, improves our posture and balance, helps us stay connected and helps prevent (or manage) other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Pillar 4. Healthy eating

This one’s also easy to understand, as along with exercise, healthy eating plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Being overweight or obese increases the load on joints, causing increased pain and joint damage, especially on weight-bearing joints like hips, knees, ankles and feet. The amount of overall fat you carry can contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your entire body, including the joints affected by your musculoskeletal condition, increasing the inflammation in these already painful, inflamed joints.

Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, poor sleep and depression.

Being underweight also causes health issues. It can affect your immune system (meaning you’re more at risk of getting sick or an infection), and you may feel more tired than usual. Feeling tired and run down will affect your ability to be active and do the things you want to do.

If you need help to eat more healthfully or manage your weight, talk with your doctor or dietitian.

Pillar 5. Risk avoidance or mitigation

This pillar has the sexiest and most user-friendly title 😜😝.

Simply put, this pillar is about taking responsibility for your actions and behaviours. In particular, those that increase your risk of injury, ill-health or death.

To avoid these risks, you can drink alcohol in moderation, drive carefully, wear a seatbelt, get vaccinated, protect yourself from the sun, quit smoking, wear a helmet when riding a bike, and practise safe sex.

Seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly is also important to stay on top of any changes to your health.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with self-care for people with musculoskeletal conditions living in Australia. After all, most Australians have access to clean water and clean living/working spaces.

However, the last few years have shown how vital good hygiene is for protecting all of us from bugs and germs. It’s even more important if your condition or meds have weakened your immune system.

Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections. So continue to regularly wash your hands, cough/sneeze into your elbow, stay home when sick, and keep your home/work environment clean. And although they’re not yet mandated in most places, wearing a mask is recommended and a really good idea when you’re indoors and can’t physically distance yourself from others.

All of these things will help maintain good health and avoid catching (or spreading) any nasties.

Pillar 7. Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines

Another fun one! 😁 Although the title doesn’t roll off the tongue, this is an important pillar.

ISF calls these self-care products and services the ‘tools’ of self‐care, as they support health awareness and healthy practices.

They include medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), health services (e.g. physiotherapy, massage therapy), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and complementary therapies.

ISF also says that the use of these tools should be ‘rational and responsible’. That means only using safe and effective products and services.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” – Unknown

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

(1) Self-care interventions for health, World Health Organization.
(2) Health literacy, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care


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21/Jul/2022

Looking for ways to put more ‘care’ into your self-care game? We’ve got 21 tips to help you!

1. There’s no perfect or right way to practise self-care

The first tip, and I can’t stress this enough, is there’s no perfect or right way to practise self-care. Sure, we can talk about the International Self-Care Foundation’s seven pillars, and we can push exercise, healthy eating and hand washing until the cows come home 🐄 🐄 🐄. But, if those things don’t resonate with you, or you have other pressing issues vying for your attention (e.g. dealing with a case of painsomnia), you’re not going to care about our messaging on those topics. Or, at least not at the moment.

2. Choose your own adventure

This leads us to tip number two. Self-care is like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. It’s unique to you, your life, your specific set of circumstances and your choices.

3. Create your toolbox

Knowing the basic elements or tools of self-care (see the seven pillars) means you can choose what you need to help you manage at specific times. It’s like having a trusty toolbox filled to the brim with info about exercise, smoking cessation, healthy recipes, pain management strategies, guided imagery scripts and massage oil. You can pick and choose what you want or need. The key is knowing what’s available and how they can help you.

So far, we’ve been talking broadly about self-care. Now let’s look at some more specific tips our consumers and staff recommend.

4. Drink water

It lubricates and cushions your joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps your temperature normal and helps maintain your blood pressure. The amount of water you need varies from person to person and from day to day. There’s no ‘one size fits all’, but “as a general rule, men need about 10 cups of fluids every day and women need about 8 cups (add another cup a day if you are pregnant or breastfeeding)”. (1)

5. Plan your menu

You can take a lot of the stress out of your day if you sit and plan your week’s meals and snacks. Check what ingredients you have in your pantry, fridge and freezer, work out what you need to buy, and write it all down. Then all you hopefully need is one trip to the shops, and you’re sorted! No more – ‘what’s for dinner’ angst. 😐 Eatforhealth.gov.au has some info on meal planning and sample plans for men, women and children.

6. Get excited about exercise

Mix up your exercise routine with something fun and enjoyable to get you out of your exercise rut. Try Zumba, cardio, low-impact exercises, tennis, dancing, skipping, cycling, or trampolining. Head to your local fitness centre or gym, try an online class or download an app like Get Active Victoria. There’s something for everyone!

7. Just breathe

Our breathing can become shallow when we feel stressed, anxious, upset or in pain. This, in turn, can elevate blood pressure and increase the heart rate. It can also cause more tension. When you notice this happening, take some time to decompress. Relax your body. Focus on your breathing. Slowly take a deep breath in. Fill your lungs to a capacity that’s comfortable for you. Then slowly release this breath. Don’t release it in a sudden exhale, but control it, so it’s slow and smooth. Continue this deep breathing, and you’ll feel your muscles relax, and your mind calm.

8. Write it down

Write about the things that make you happy and grateful. Write about the things that went well in your day.

And write about the bad things. Not so you’ll continue to obsess about them, but so you can process your feelings and actions. This reflection allows you to devise strategies to prevent the bad thing from happening again, or ways to handle it differently in the future.

9. Fill your home with plants

Bring the outdoors in and enjoy the health benefits. Having plants in your indoor spaces can help relieve stress, improve mood, lower blood pressure and improve air quality. Just be sure to check that they’re not toxic for you, your family or your furry housemates. 🌼

10. Have a regular date night

Whether with your significant other or a bestie, having a regular date night scheduled gives you something to look forward to. It also means there’s less chance that other commitments get in the way of you spending dedicated time with that person, which is essential for nurturing your relationship. 🧡💚💛

11. Say no

We all want to please others, so saying no can be challenging. But you need to weigh up everything you have going on and decide whether you can take on something else. If you can’t, then say no. And don’t feel you have to apologise for doing so.

12. Discover new places

Embrace your inner adventurer and explore new places. Far or near – it doesn’t matter. The point is to get out in the world and experience new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. Immerse yourself in new experiences.

13. Listen to music

Music is a powerful force we often don’t think about – or at least not too deeply. It’s always there, often in the background. But music can improve your mood, help you focus, get motivated and even ease your pain. Find out more about the power of music.

14. Pat your pets

Spending time with your pets is a wonderful tonic. It can decrease blood pressure, reduce feelings of loneliness, reduce stress, improve your mood and increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities. And they’re so much fun! 🐶😺

15. Get tidy and organised

Nothing can make you frazzled faster than not being able to find that ‘thing’ you’re looking for. So taking time to put things away in their place after you’ve used them, or reorganising your cupboard/pantry/child’s room, so that things are orderly and easy to find can bring a lot of calm to your life. The level of order you want to achieve is up to you. Although there are MANY social posts about the perfectly organised home, don’t fall down that rabbit hole. All you need to achieve is a space that makes you feel good and suits your lifestyle.

16. Eat mindfully

How often have you eaten dinner but can’t remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or wondered how on earth you ate a whole packet of potato chips while scrolling through Insta? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have tried mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating. It simply means that you focus on the moment and the activity without being distracted. So when you’re eating, really take time to focus on the textures, smells and flavours and how the food makes you feel.

17. Get your meds sorted

Medicines are an important part of our self-care, but it’s easy to miss doses, get them mixed up with others meds or take them at the wrong time. So have a chat with your pharmacist. Ask questions about your medicines and supplements, so you’re fully informed about each one.

Many pharmacies have apps you can download that alert you when you need a new script, or you can download the MedicineWise app from NPS. If you take lots of medicines, or you find it hard to keep track of whether you’ve taken them or not, consider using a pill dispenser. You can buy one and fill it yourself, or your pharmacist can do this for you.

18. Listen to your body

Living with a chronic condition means that you need to be self-aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re exhausted, rest. If your back’s stiff, move. If you’re feeling sluggish, get some fresh air. If you’re feeling full, stop eating. Whatever your body is telling you, listen and take action.

19. Treat yourself

Many self-care posts we see on socials are very much of the ‘treat yo’ self’ variety. Going to a day spa, enjoying decadent foods, doing some online shopping, getting a pedicure, binging a favourite TV series, or travelling to exotic places. And why not? Why not indulge in pleasurable things that make you happy every now and again? As long as you’re not overindulging, overspending or overeating. Find the right balance and treat yourself. 😍

20. Stand up

We spend so much of our time sitting. In the car, on the couch, at the office, in waiting rooms. But we know that too much sitting can be bad for our health. It increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. It also makes us feel tired, and our muscles and joints become stiff and sore from inactivity. So stand up and move regularly. Set alerts on your phone to remind you. Or download the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute Rise & Recharge app, which helps reduce sitting time and encourages regular movement.

21. Play

We loved to play when we were kids. Chasing each other, making up games, not overthinking things and just having fun. But as adults, we become too busy for play. Or we feel silly or self-conscious about how we might appear when we play. But playing is fun! It helps us forget about our work and commitments. It lets us be in the moment and let our inhibitions go. Play relieves stress and allows us to be creative and imaginative. So rediscover playing – with your kids, pets, partner, and friends. Let your inner child loose, play and have fun! Rediscover chasey (the dogs love that one), play hide and seek, build a blanket fort in your lounge, throw a Frisbee, play charades, the floor is lava, or a video game tournament. There are no rules – just have fun!

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

Reference

(1) Drinking water and your health, Healthdirect


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07/Jul/2022

Pilates, yoga, and tai chi

How’s your exercise routine going? Are you doing the amount of activity recommended in the Australian physical activity and exercise guidelines?

As a reminder, the guidelines say that adults should be active most days, preferably every day.

Each week, adults should do either:

  • 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity – e.g. a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming
  • 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity physical activity – e.g. jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer or netball
  • an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.(1)

I know I’m meeting these recommendations, but like me, are you finding that exercise has become a little dull? Has your exercise routine been reduced (because of COVID fears and restrictions 😷) to simply walking? Lots and lots of walking 🚶 🚶 🚶?

Although I love a good walk, it isn’t working my body as much as it needs to be worked for optimal health and wellbeing. So while I’ll continue doing it, it’s time to add something new … something that will also improve my fitness, stamina, balance and flexibility.

And now’s the perfect time. Even though it’s cold and wintery, many of these exercises can be done indoors, where it’s cosy and warm.

Before we go any further, what are low-impact cardio exercises?

Simply put, low-impact exercises or activities are easy on your joints. They put little or no impact on them – hence ‘low-impact’. Examples include swimming, cycling, tai chi and yoga. While doing these exercises, you’re putting minimal stress, weight, or pressure on your joints.

Compare these activities to more intense ones such as running, basketball or tennis. They aren’t low-impact because your joints are being jarred or impacted by the activity. For example, your hips, knees and feet feel the impact when you run, and your arm, shoulder and wrist feel the jarring as your return a tennis volley.

The ‘cardio’ aspect means that while you’re being kind to your joints, you’re still getting a workout. Cardio exercises increase your heart rate and improve the health of your heart and lungs (or your cardiovascular system).

What are the benefits of low-impact cardio exercises?

These exercises allow you to stretch and strengthen your muscles without putting your joints through too much stress. They’re also a great place to start if you’re a beginner, haven’t exercised in a while, or you’re recovering from an injury.

Low-impact exercises can also improve flexibility, mobility and help relieve joint pain and stiffness. Because you’re getting a solid workout, the exercise builds endurance and stamina, aids weight loss, helps reduce your risk of other health problems (e.g. diabetes) and can improve your sleep quality.

Regular exercise improves your mood and mental health. It also improves your balance and can reduce your risk of falls, which is essential if you have osteoporosis or are at risk of poor bone health.

Let’s look at a few low-impact exercises that will provide a good workout but, when performed correctly, won’t aggravate musculoskeletal conditions.

Tai chi

Tai chi is an ancient form of martial art originating in China. It’s evolved over centuries into what’s been called ‘moving meditation’ because it combines gentle, flowing movements with mindfulness and deep breathing.
It’s a low-impact, slow-motion exercise with specific controlled movements. When doing tai chi, your muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, and your joints aren’t fully extended or bent.

There are many forms of tai chi, and some have been modified to suit people with various health conditions, including arthritis and osteoporosis.

Tai chi promotes correct body posture and balance, improves flexibility and integrates the body and mind. It’s practised by people of all ages and fitness levels.

You can learn tai chi online or from books or DVDs, but most people find it easier to learn from a qualified instructor. They’ll ensure you’re performing the movements correctly and safely.

The Tai Chi for Health website has a search function to help you find a qualified tai chi instructor in your area.

Online recordings, books and DVDs are useful to help you practice between classes. Your instructor will be able to recommend some websites and titles.

Yoga

Like tai chi, yoga incorporates mind, body and breath. Yoga originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Since then, it’s become incredibly popular around the globe.

It’s so popular that it’s all over Insta, TikTok, Facebook and YouTube. But take what you see on these platforms with a grain of salt. They often show us the extremes of yoga – fit and flexible people bent and twisted into challenging poses. This can be a little off-putting 😮!

The good news is there are many different types of yoga to suit all needs and interests. There are even types of yoga that have been modified so that you can use a chair, a block or other aids to help you do the postures without straining your joints or aggravating your condition. So if you’re interested in trying yoga, you’re sure to find a type that suits you.

Search the Yoga Australia website for a qualified yoga teacher. When making contact with them, ask about the type of yoga they teach, whether it’s suitable for people with your condition (and any other health conditions you have) and if they’ve successfully taught people with your condition before.

Pilates

Pilates was developed in the 1920s by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates. It focuses on postural alignment, strengthening the trunk (your abdominals, hips, inner and outer thighs, and back), body awareness and breath control. Initially, it was dancers, athletes and soldiers who used Pilates to strengthen their bodies and recover from injury.

However, it didn’t take long for Pilates to become popular amongst the wider community. Pilates’ slow, controlled movements are suitable for people of all ages, fitness levels and abilities.

Pilates can be performed on a mat or using special equipment (e.g. the Reformer) in a Pilates studio. The difference is that mat Pilates uses only your body weight and gravity as resistance, whereas the equipment involves springs, ropes, and straps for added resistance. Depending on your needs and preferences, you can choose to do Pilates on a mat at home or in a class environment, or in a studio using equipment. Or you can do both, as Joseph Pilates intended.

Ensure you see a qualified instructor who can teach you how to perform each exercise correctly and safely.

You can find a Pilates instructor via the Pilates Alliance Australasia or the Australian Pilates Method Association.

Health insurance

In 2019, the Australian Government made changes to private health insurance. Many natural therapies are no longer covered by your extras, including Pilates*, tai chi, and yoga.

With no rebate available, this will affect your out-of-pocket costs, so when making inquiries about classes or sessions, ask for prices 💰.

*Note: Clinical Pilates, delivered by a physiotherapist, is covered under physiotherapy care as part of your extras cover without any changes.

Starting classes

If you decide to try Pilates, yoga and/or tai chi, there are a few things you should do:

  • Talk with your doctor about whether these exercises are suitable for you. Discuss any potential benefits and risks.
  • When inquiring about classes, ask if your instructor is qualified and if they’ve worked with people with musculoskeletal conditions.
  • Ask how much the classes/sessions cost and how often you need to attend.
  • Don’t rush through the warm-up and cool-down – they’re important for preventing injury and pain.
  • Focus on your movements and technique to ensure you’re exercising correctly and safely.
  • Listen to your body. Some pain is expected when you begin exercising your body in a new way, but it shouldn’t be severe. Stop the exercise and discuss it with your instructor if you feel unusual pain. You may be performing the exercise incorrectly, or need to modify it to suit you.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

Reference

(1) Physical activity and exercise guidelines for all Australians: For adults (18 to 64 years)
Australian Government, Department of Health and Aged Care


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13/Apr/2022

Do you get to the end of your busy, tiring day, drag yourself to bed and then have trouble falling asleep? Or staying asleep?

If so, you’re not alone. It’s a common problem, especially for people with musculoskeletal conditions or chronic pain. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that about two-thirds of Australians aged 18 and over with chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and mental health issues report at least 1 sleep difficulty or problem.(1)  And so while it’s probably no surprise to you that poor sleep affects your pain levels and quality of life, did you know it can put you at risk of developing other chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease? (2)

That’s why it’s important to develop a healthy and consistent bedtime routine that allows your body and mind time to wind down and relax so that you can sleep well.

What are the elements of a bedtime routine?

First, a good bedtime routine needs time. Rushing is counterproductive and can lead to more stress and anxiety right before you hop into bed. So give yourself enough time, at least 30 minutes each night. Also, allow time for your new routine to stick. We’re creatures of habit, but when we create new routines, we have to give them time to become second nature.

Next, your bedtime routine should involve things that you enjoy, help calm your body and mind, and let your body know it’s time for sleep.

Here are some suggestions for things you might include in your routine:

  • Set a time for going to bed, and stick to it as much as possible. When you have a consistent sleep schedule, your body naturally adjusts and begins to feel tired at the right time each day, making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Don’t use technology during your wind-down time. It’s easy to lose track of time while reading emails, checking social media or watching the latest TV series. The next thing you know, you’re still awake at midnight. So put the technology away.
  • Write it down and get it out of your head. Put pen to paper and write down your worries, concerns, and things you need to do the next day. Basically, anything playing on your mind and interfering with your ability to relax and sleep. Don’t do this right before you hop into bed, as they’ll still be on your mind. Instead, do it a few hours before bedtime, and then put it away.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and big meals close to bedtime. They can affect your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep. Instead, drink water, herbal tea or non-caffeinated drinks. And if you’re hungry, eat a light snack, for example, a piece of fruit, some yoghurt or a small handful of nuts.
  • Adjust the temperature. Your body’s core temperature needs to drop a few degrees for you to fall asleep. So for your bedroom temperature, it’s best to aim for cooler (but not cold) rather than warm. A helpful tip from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine is to think of your bedroom as a cave: it should be cool, quiet, and dark.
  • Have a warm shower or bath an hour or two before bed. This is also about achieving optimum body temperature for good sleep. The shower or bath will initially warm your body, but then as the water evaporates from your skin, you’ll quickly cool down. The warm water also stimulates blood flow from your core to your hands and feet, lowering your body temperature.
  • Don’t forget your teeth! While it doesn’t directly relate to sleep quality, it’s part of the winding down process at the end of your day.
  • Take your regular medicines (if required).
  • Avoid strenuous exercise before bedtime. It raises your temperature and heart rate, making it difficult to fall asleep. Instead, save these kinds of activities for your morning or afternoon.
  • Do something you enjoy – for example, read a book, listen to music, talk to your partner/kids/pet. These enjoyable activities create a feeling of calm. They can also improve your mood and help you manage stress and anxiety.
  • Try other ways to relax – such as gentle yoga, meditation, stretching, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Have sex! Research suggests that having sex improves sleep, whether you’re alone or with a partner. Orgasm releases several hormones, including oxytocin, which when elevated as a result of sexual intercourse improves sleep quality. Cuddling may also help you fall asleep, as it can make you feel calm and comforted.
  • Prep for the next day. Take the stress out of your morning routine by doing some prep the night before. Sort out your lunch, outfit, kid’s homework etc, so you can go to bed feeling confident your morning will start well.

These simple suggestions to help you wind down at the end of your day can help you relax and sleep better. And in the end, we all want to sleep well and feel as refreshed as possible when we wake up. So why not give some of these things a go? You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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Reference

(1-2) Sleep problems as a risk factor for chronic conditions 
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)


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24/Mar/2022

Do you get to the end of your day and wonder where all your time went? Between work, family commitments, random phone calls, catching up with friends, walking the dog, feeding the cat and endlessly scrolling through socials, your day has flown by, your to-do list has barely been touched, and you still need to scrounge up something for dinner?

If this sounds familiar, I’m right there with you 🙃. Adjusting to our ‘new normal’ is taking a bit of getting used to. Finding the right balance between work and home life, commuting to the office (or moving from my couch to my desk 😉) is challenging. And my routine, once the foundation of my day, is in tatters and needs some help.

Why do we need routine?

When so much is out of our control, developing a morning routine can help you gain some control so you can do the things you need to do in your day. This boosts your confidence, makes you feel more positive and reduces feelings of stress.

Having a morning routine allows you to plan and prioritise activities so that if things go pear-shaped – as they sometimes do – your most important activities have (hopefully) been accomplished. And having a regular routine means you’re less likely to forget something, which is especially helpful if you’re feeling a bit ‘foggy’.

So how can you create (or update) your morning routine?

First, let’s start with the foundation of your morning routine – getting a good night’s sleep. We all know what it’s like when we haven’t slept well. We drag ourselves through the day, bleary-eyed and unfocused. But we also know that getting a good night’s sleep can sometimes be tough when you live with a musculoskeletal condition and persistent pain. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to improve your sleep quality and quantity, and wake up feeling refreshed. Read our article on sleep for info and tips.

The next step is planning. For your morning routine to be effective and have a positive flow-on effect for the rest of your day, you need to be prepared and have a plan. This may include:

  • Getting things ready the night before. Do whatever you can at the end of your day so that your mornings are less hectic. For example, check the weather and decide what you want to wear the following day; prep healthy breakfasts/lunches/snacks so you can just grab them as you head out the door in the morning.
  • Make a list of the things you need to do in the day and prioritise them to know what absolutely needs to be done. Include appointments, exercise, work/school/family/social commitments and recreation.

Now it’s time to get moving.

  • When the alarm goes off, it’s tempting to hit the snooze button, but resist the urge! Endlessly hitting snooze will make you lose valuable time, and it could also affect your health. Find out how.
  • Build extra time into your morning routine in case you wake up feeling blah. The extra time will also make you feel less rushed and stressed.
  • Do some gentle stretches while in bed to warm up and loosen stiff muscles and joints.
  • Have a warm shower for the same reason. It’ll also help clear your head and wake you up fully.
  • Sit down and eat a healthy breakfast and drink some water.
  • Take your medications (if required).
  • Do some exercise. Take your dog for a walk, do some yoga, hit the gym, go for a swim. Whatever exercise you enjoy and you’re committed to doing, do it. Not only will it help you manage your condition and health overall, exercising in the morning improves your concentration, energy levels and mood.
  • Do something nice for yourself. Try mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, practising gratitude, listening to upbeat music, hug your partner/kids/pet. Choose something that makes you happy and puts a smile on your face as you start a new day.
  • Review your day ahead so you know what to expect, what you need to do, what things to take with you etc.
  • Set up alerts or alarms on your phone or computer to help you stay on track with your day.

Making your routine stick

Once you’ve established your routine, you need to be consistent and stick to it. That way, it’ll become second nature.

And be flexible. Sticking to your morning routine as often as possible is great, but you’ll also need to learn to be flexible if something unexpected happens.

When it’s all said and done, routines may sound boring, but they’re a great way to stay on top of your commitments and get to the end of the day feeling accomplished and relaxed. So if you struggle to achieve all of the things you set out to do each day, why not try a couple of these strategies to see if they can help? You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services, 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.

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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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