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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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26/Aug/2021

Have you noticed how much more fun and rewarding exercising is when you do it with others? Whether with family or friends, in a team or in a class, in person or online, exercising together has many benefits.

It motivates you.
It’s much easier to hit snooze and roll over in bed if you’d planned to go for an early morning walk on your own. But if you’re meeting a friend for a walk or a workout, knowing that they’re waiting for you can give you the push you need to get up and pull on your workout gear. If you’ve paid for a class or gym membership or you’re part of a team, the same goes. You don’t want to waste your money or let the team down.

It’s a way to connect with others.
Exercising together is a way to spend quality time with people who are important to us, or share our interests. It’s also a great way to meet new people. And this interaction often extends beyond the gym, sports field or walking trail with pre or post-exercise catch-ups.

It provides support and encouragement.
This is particularly important when feeling tired and sore, but we know exercise (at a reduced intensity) can help us manage these symptoms. Our exercise buddy can provide encouragement to start exercising or to keep going.

It can challenge you to push yourself harder.
When you’re exercising with others, especially if you’re similarly matched in terms of fitness levels, you’re more likely to push harder and spur each other to increase the intensity of your exercise or the distance you walk/run/cycle. This continual challenge provides the best health outcomes over time.

Fitness leaders provide structure and form.
Exercising with a qualified instructor – in person or online – ensures your workout has a proper structure. That includes a warmup, workout and cool down. The instructor can also make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly to get the most benefit and make sure you’re not going to injure yourself.

It’s fun and makes you feel good!
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. Combine that with the company of your bestie or your partner/kids/neighbour, and it can be a fun time for all ?.

Finding an exercise class, group or centre that suits you

OK, so you’re motivated and want to join an exercise group. How do you find one that suits you?

First – you need to be COVID safe and follow the specific rules in your state or territory.

If in-person classes aren’t possible at the moment, you have other options.

There are lots of free exercise apps, YouTube channels and websites with free online exercise programs. These can be especially helpful when you need or prefer to exercise from home. There’s a class or group to suit all fitness levels and tastes. Read our blog about online exercises for more info and links.

If you can exercise together in person, try these sources to find an exercise class, group or centre that suits you:

  • Neighbourhood houses and community centres are ideal starting points to find exercise options close to you. Visit the Australian Neighbourhood Houses and Centres Association Members page to find your state or territory’s website, where you can then search for local houses or centres and find exercise programs they offer.
  • Local councils are also a good source of information about exercise programs. Go to your local council’s website and search ‘exercise classes’ to see what they offer.
  • Some larger gyms and physio centres have heated indoor swimming pools where you can swim laps or join a warm water exercise class. You can also search online for classes held at community swimming centres.
  • Walking groups are a fun way to get active, meet new people and socialise. The Heart Foundation has over 1200 walking groups around Australia, you can search for one close to you here.
  • parkruns are free, weekly community events are held all around the world with 5km walks and runs in parks and open spaces on Saturday mornings. Everyone is welcome, there are no time limits, and no one finishes last!
  • Fitness Australia has an online directory of personal trainers and businesses. If you’re looking for an exercise class in your area, select Find a Business, click on Group exercise classes and type in your suburb. It’s that simple!

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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15/Jul/2021

Staying active in winter

I love the idea of winter… cosy evenings on the couch reading a book, lying in bed on a Sunday morning listening to the rain, hearty soups for lunch with scrummy bread. Love, love, love. The reality however…well, that kind of sucks at times.

Trying to stay warm without energy bills skyrocketing. Trying to maintain a healthy weight range when I’m cooking lots of comfort foods. And the big one – keeping up the momentum when it comes to exercising.

It can be tough when it’s cold, dark and wet to brave the elements for a walk. Or to head out to the gym when a perfectly good couch is sitting there all warm and snug.

But we need to exercise. It’s vital in the management of our musculoskeletal conditions, our pain levels and our weight. Being active every day helps us get better quality sleep, and it improves our mood. It also helps us manage our other health conditions. And it gets us out of the house so we can connect with others – our friends, teammates, gym buddies, and other people walking their dog in the park.

Knowing all of that doesn’t make it easy though, so here are some strategies to help you get out there:

Dress the part

Your warm-weather exercise gear may not cut it when it comes to exercising in winter. You need to think layers. The clothes closest to your skin should draw moisture away from the skin (known as wicking) so that your skin doesn’t stay damp. It should also dry quickly. Look on the labels for mention of wicking or polypropylene, not cotton.

Then add an insulating layer of fleece or wool to keep you warm. Finally, add a layer that will resist wind and rain. The beauty of layers is you can take them off and put them back on if/when you need to. Choose bright colours so you’ll be seen even on the dullest, greyest days, through the fog and rain.

Next, you need to wear appropriate socks and footwear for the activity you’re doing – hiking boots, running shoes, walking shoes, gym shoes – they’re often not interchangeable.

It’s preferable for shoes you’ll be wearing outdoors to be waterproof or dry quickly. And make sure they have good traction – it can get very slippery out there! If you’ve got old shoes from last winter, check the soles to ensure they’re still ok.

It’s also a good idea to wear sock liners when hiking to wick moisture away from the skin and prevent blisters.

Finally, protect your extremities. Wear gloves (this is a must if you have Raynaud’s), a hat that covers your ears, sunglasses and sunscreen. Even in winter, your skin can be damaged by the sun’s rays.

Oh – and depending on your activity – don’t forget to take a lightweight backpack or bag for your water bottle and to store any of the layers you remove.

And one last thing – have a warm shower and get changed out of wet, damp clothes as soon as you get home, so you don’t become chilled. This can very quickly cause tense muscles, leading to pain. And no one wants that!

Stretch it out

Don’t just rush out the door if you’re in a hurry to get your exercise over and done with. Take time to warm up your muscles, and loosen up. Especially if you’re already feeling stiff. This will help prevent muscle strain and pain. Read ‘Effective winter warm up exercises’ from Diabetes NSW for more info.

Be careful of surfaces

Slips, trips and falls are enemies of anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. So we need to take care out there. Uneven surfaces, wet leaves or mud on footpaths and trails, slick tiles at the shopping centre or gym – they can all be treacherous. So be aware of the surfaces you’re walking, running, skipping or jumping on, and take care.

Choose activities you enjoy

It’s much easier to be active – whatever the weather – if you’re doing something you enjoy.

And mix it up

Trying new activities is fun and challenging all at the same time. And who knows? You may discover a new activity that you love. There’s so much out there to try:

  • bushwalking
  • rock climbing
  • dancing
  • Frisbee/football in the park with the kids/dog/friends
  • kayaking
  • joining a sports team – e.g. basketball, netball, footy, calisthenics
  • golf
  • gardening
  • yoga
  • swimming/water aerobics
  • boxing
  • cycling
  • skiing
  • trampolining.

The sky’s the limit!

Check with the Bureau of Meteorology

Before you head out, check with BOM to find out the weather forecast. And don’t forget to check the rain radar. That’ll help you dress appropriately and may also affect your timing. If you like walking in the rain, you may decide to head out regardless. But if you’re not a fan, the radar will give you an idea of when to go (just don’t forget your umbrella – just in case ☔).

Exercise indoors

If you’re not a fan of exercising in cold and wet weather, there are lots of ways you can exercise indoors. Join a gym, follow exercise classes online in the comfort of your lounge, do laps around your shopping centre, dance in your lounge room, jump rope, use a hula hoop, chase the kids, hit the indoor swimming pool, clean the house. There are many options for being active indoors.

Play some tunes…

Or podcasts to keep you motivated. Listening to upbeat, fast-paced music will help you move at a quicker pace, giving you a better workout. And podcasts can capture your attention and help you keep going. Especially if you’re hooked, and you’re bingeing one! Then it’s a matter of making sure you don’t overdo it (speaking from experience on this one!).

Drink water

Even though you may not be sweating as much as you would be on a hot day, your body is still losing water through your sweat and breathing. Take a water bottle with you and drink when you need to.

Set yourself a goal

If you’re still finding it hard to get motivated, set yourself a goal. It may be something like losing a certain amount of weight, being able to walk a certain distance without being out of breath or taking part in an upcoming fun run/walk. Choose something that matters to you, and make sure it’s a SMART goal – that is, it’s Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Timeframe. Read more about goal setting.

Reward yourself

When you’ve committed to exercising, and you’re actually doing it, congratulate yourself. It’s no small thing! Especially when it’s not only cold and miserable out, but you live with a chronic, often painful condition. So treat yourself. Give yourself a massage (or better still, have someone else massage you), have a warm bath or soak your feet, see a movie you’ve been wanting to see. Choose something that makes you feel good, and be proud of your achievements.

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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03/Jun/2021

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” ― Bob Marley

This morning I was sitting at my computer in my makeshift home office, looking out at the bleak Melbourne weather and contemplating a week of a whole lot of nothing. Yep, at the time of writing Victoria was entering a seven-day circuit breaker lockdown.

I could hear the radio in the next room and noticed the station had brought back the Lockdown Countdown. This is a daily uplifting ‘blast from the past’ song to help us get through the latest lockdown. It’s not the bright pop of Tay-tay or Bieber, but ‘OMG, I LOVE THIS SONG, crank the volume and sing at the top of your lungs’ music. A new song is played each day. Today’s song was Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. 

And I realised I was smiling as I went through my emails, and I was singing aloud.

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 our mood, help us focus, get motivated and even ease our pain.

So let’s take a closer look at the power of music. And of course, this is a blatant opportunity to listen to great music and watch videos – all in the interests of research of course. ?

Everybody hurts (R.E.M): Music and pain

Numerous research studies have confirmed what many of us have long believed – listening to music or creating music can ease our pain. However we don’t really understand exactly how it works. We do know that listening to music releases dopamine, a chemical made in the brain. It’s often called the ‘feel-good hormone’ and is released when we experience something pleasurable, such as food, exercise, sex and music.

Music also distracts us. It has the power to shift our focus from our pain to something else, such as singing, humming, dancing, or remembering the first time we heard a piece of music. Depending on the level of our pain, music may be enough on its own to help distract us, or used with other pain management strategies such as exercise, medication, heat and cold packs, or massage to get through the worst of our pain.

But at the end of the day, it’s a pleasurable, low/no cost, treatment for pain.

I’m so tired (Kasabian): Music and sleep

Many of us struggle with getting a good night’s sleep – whether it’s falling asleep, staying asleep and/or getting enough quality sleep to wake up refreshed. https://msk.org.au/sleep/ Anxiety, pain, stress and an overactive mind can all have an effect on how well we sleep.

If this sounds familiar, try listening to some music.

We know it works – we’ve used lullabies for millennia to help put babies to sleep.

Listening to music as you fall asleep can slow your breathing and calm your mind. Adding music to your nightly routine can help you sleep better and reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep. It can also distract you from your pain, and counteract any outside noises that may interrupt your sleep, such as traffic or noisy neighbours.

Choose music that you enjoy and find soothing – nothing too fast or upbeat! – and create your own sleep playlist. Or there are many ready-made sleep playlists you can try on streaming apps such as Spotify or Apple Music.

Fake happy (Paramore): Music, stress and anxiety

Anxiety and depression are common in people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. The good news is that many treatment options can help you reduce their impact on your life. One of these treatments is music.

Listening to music can lower blood pressure and slow down the heart rate – both of which are heightened in times of stress and anxiety. Music can also make us cry – which is sometimes the outlet we need to deal with strong feelings.

To get the most out of the music, take the time to ‘actively listen’ to it. Put away all of your usual distractions (e.g. phone) and focus on the music – the lyrics, the tempo, the instruments and how it makes you feel.

Again, it’s important to choose music that makes you relax and is soothing to you. This is obviously a subjective thing – we all have different tastes in music and what we consider relaxing. Such as Garth on the commercial for health insurance de-stressing to heavy metal – which isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’.

Whatever music you choose, be mindful while listening to it, and it has the power to help you find your calm during stressful and anxious times.

Dance monkey (Tones and I): Music and exercise

It never fails. When you’re out for a stroll and some fast-paced music comes through your earbuds, your steps sync to the tempo of the music and you start walking faster. For me this morning, it was some Run DMC and Aerosmith action with ‘Walk this way’.

So music can help us increase the intensity of our exercise. It also motivates us to move. Listening to music with a great beat, that lifts our mood, is often all we need to encourage us to exercise and be more active. It makes you want to dance around the lounge, walk around the park, do some yoga or head to the gym.

Having a good playlist will also distract you. If you’re finding it hard to get in the exercise zone, uplifting tunes will help you get there by giving you something else to focus on.

Happy working song (Enchanted): Music and everyday activities

As with exercise, music can help make our everyday, mundane and sometimes stressful activities easier. Stuck in traffic? Put on some relaxing music. Cleaning the shower? Put on some fun, one-hit wonders. Preparing dinner for the starving hordes? Put on something that makes you feel creative and calm. This is the beauty of music – whatever the genre – there’s something for all tastes, occasions and feelings

ME! (Taylor Swift): Music and our sense of self

Our musical preferences are a big part of who we are. We’re all unique when it comes to what we listen to and when – what music soothes us, energises us, makes us emotional, transports us back in time. It’s magical. And unique to every person.

Count on me (Bruno Mars): Music connects us with others

Music also connects us with others. Think about the earliest time we encounter music – a parent singing a lullaby to their child. Apart from helping the baby fall asleep, it’s an important bonding time between parent and child.

Now think about attending church, a sporting event, or a concert. The shared moments when everyone sings a hymn, an anthem or a song can unify people from all walks of life, even if it’s for a short period.

Music also provides an opportunity to make new friends over a shared love of a particular band, style of music or artist. And with most of us having access to the internet and social media, these friendships are no longer confined to our own suburbs, states or even countries. Why is this important? Because being connected with others is vital for good physical and mental wellbeing. Social connections can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and improve our immune systems.

Happy (Pharrell): Music and emotions

Listening to music releases dopamine – which is one of the ‘feel good’ chemicals. This boosts your mood and makes you feel more optimistic. So playing upbeat, happy music first thing in the morning can help set you up for the day. Especially if you’re feeling a bit down or the morning news is too depressing to deal with.

On the flip side, listening to sad music can also be healthy. It can help you process feelings of sadness or other ‘negative’ feelings, by reflecting on them or crying. By doing so, you’re able to deal with them, rather than bottling them up.

Make a playlist for all occasions

Music is such a powerful tool we can use in many situations, and for many health benefits. So just like making a mixed tape for the person you had a crazy, mad crush on as a teenager, make yourself a bunch of mixed tapes. Well not literally, those things are impossible to find! But make yourself a series of playlists that you can use to exercise, boost your mood, help you sleep or manage your pain. Have them ready to go so all you have to do when you need them is to press a button.

Or check out the playlists online and find some that suit your tastes and needs.

And pump up the volume! 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

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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22/Apr/2021

13 strategies to get you through

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition sucks. It may only suck occasionally, or it may suck a lot of the time. But there’s no denying that living with pain, fatigue and uncertainty isn’t a fun day at the beach.

In our 2020 national survey, we asked people how their condition affected all aspects of their life. One thing that stood out dramatically was that of the more than 3,400 who took part, 52% said their condition affected their ability to enjoy life in general.

That’s enjoying life in general – not enjoying big life events or travel – but life in general. And that’s disturbing and very, very sad.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes for improving quality of life, or the enjoyment you get out of your day-to-day reality. Living with a musculoskeletal condition means that life isn’t always predictable. You can be going through a period of stability then suddenly – bam – you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. Or your emotions or mental health suddenly take a downward turn. Living with a chronic condition, or multiple conditions, is a tricky, complicated balancing act.

But there are some things you can do, if you feel you need something to help you get on top of the ‘blahs’ and hopefully start to feel more happy, optimistic and fulfilled. They’re the tried and true ones I use when life starts to feel a bit grey.

  1. Get on top of your condition and pain management (as much as possible)
    If your condition is affecting your ability to enjoy life in general, is it because it’s not well managed or you’re in constant pain? If so, it’s time to talk with your healthcare team about how you can get on top of this. Complete pain relief may not be an option for all people, but getting your pain to a level that you can cope with, and so it’s not severely impacting your ability to enjoy life is doable. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done. Talk with your doctor and healthcare team to develop a plan to get your condition and symptoms under control. And read our A-Z guide to managing pain for more info.
  2. Get some sleep
    One of the biggest factors that affects our mood and mental health is lack of sleep. It’s much more difficult to cope with every day stresses, family life, work/study, as well as managing your health, if you’re exhausted. After dealing with poor quality sleep for some months, I recently took time off work to try and get myself into a better sleep routine. I exercised, went to bed at a reasonable time, ensured I got up at the same time every day, and limited caffeine, alcohol and screen time for several hours before I went to bed. My sleep quality – while still not perfect – is much better. Taking time away from your responsibilities may not be an option for everyone, but there are other strategies you can try to improve your sleep quality. Find out more.
  3. Make time for you
    Ever had those days/weeks when you feel like your life is consumed by everyone else’s problems and issues, and yours keep getting pushed further and further back? If that’s the case – it’s time to take some time back for you. However much time you can carve out of your day, just do it. You deserve and need it. Take the time to rest/meditate/read/go for a walk/just breathe. You’ll feel much better for it and be more equipped to help others afterwards.
    “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
  4. Connect with your peeps
    It’s an easy trap to fall into. When you feel crappy, and everything seems too hard, staying at home in your safe and cosy cocoon feels like all you can bear to do. You don’t want to share your miserable mood, or let others see how you’re really feeling. But this can become a vicious cycle, and before you know it, you lose touch with family and friends, or miss out on fun times, and important events. If you don’t feel up to going out, call your people. Chat, catch up with each other over the phone or video. Share how you’re feeling (it’s up to you how much detail you go into), and just enjoy the connection. When you’re able to, even if it’s an effort, try to get out and see your peeps. They care about you, and you’ll feel happier for making the effort.
    “It’s not what we have in our life, but who we have in our life that counts.” – J.M. Laurence 
  5. Schedule time to relax
    It may seem crazy, but in this busy world we live in, if you don’t schedule time for relaxation, it often doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about the near comatose slouching on the couch at the end of the day, type of relaxing. But the things that actually refresh body, mind and spirit, and ease your stress and muscle tension. This includes meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, massage, a warm shower or bath, going for a walk or listening to music. So think about the things that relax and refresh you, and make time to do those things each week.
  6. Focus on self-care
    Take time to evaluate your self-care plan. Is it covering all aspects of your life, health and wellbeing? Not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well? Or do you need to create a self-care plan? For help to get you started, read our recent 7 pillars of self-care article. It has lots of info to help you understand self-care, as well as resources to help you create a self-care plan.
  7. Enjoy the small things
    One of the silver linings of the COVID lockdowns for me was that we were forced to live smaller, and as a result really take note and appreciate the little things in our lives. When we could only walk in our local area, I noticed amazing gardens and parks that I hadn’t known existed. It gave me the chance to enjoy the quiet as we worked on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle together. I read, I learned some yoga, I rode my bike. I talked with my young niece and nephew over the phone, and listened as they excitedly told me about their daily adventures. I enjoyed the breeze on my face when I went for a walk, the glow of the full moon, the smell in the air after a rainstorm. Taking a moment to enjoy, and be thankful for these little things, lifted my mood and made me smile. It’s simple, but so powerful. And perfectly segues into my next tip…
  8. Be grateful
    Sometimes we get so bogged down in what’s going on in our life – our problems and issues, family dramas, and the million things that need to be done at home and work – that we can’t see all the good things in our lives. The Resilience Project has a range of activities and resources exploring how we can feel grateful by “paying attention to the things that we have right now, and not worrying about what we don’t have”. Visit their website to find out more about being grateful in your everyday life.
  9. Write a wish list of the places you want to go
    I love to explore. Whether it’s overseas, interstate or my local area. And I subscribe to countless newsletters and alerts that provide info about interesting walks, galleries and exhibitions, cafes and restaurants, and upcoming markets and festivals. I add these to a burgeoning list on my phone, complete with links. This gives me a never-ending list of adventures. And nothing pulls me out of the doldrums like an adventure! Depending on what I’m doing, I do need to take into account my condition, how I feel that day etc. But a little planning, sharing the driving with others, and just being leisurely and not rushing, means that I get to enjoy some amazing things. Just seeing a list of opportunities is exciting, so I’d recommend giving it a go.
    “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss
  10. Be mindful
    How many times have you eaten dinner, but can’t really remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or gone for a walk but can’t remember much of what you saw, felt or experienced? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have heard of mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating or walking. It simply means that you focus your attention 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. Or when you’re walking, how does the ground feel under your feet, the sun on your face, the wind in your hair? Do you hear birds in the trees, are there dogs running in the park? Be aware and enjoy it all.
  11. Try something new
    From time to time we can get stuck in the rut of everyday life/work/study/home activities. And while having a daily routine is an important strategy for living with a chronic condition, sometimes we just need a little something extra, something new and exciting to get us out of the doldrums. What have you always wanted to do? What’s on your bucket list? Learning a language? Visiting a special place? Writing a book? There are lots of low and no cost online courses that can teach a range of skills from juggling, cooking, origami, geology, playing the guitar, speaking Klingon. And while we can’t travel to a lot of places – especially overseas at the moment – you can still travel virtually and whet your appetite for when the borders reopen. The point is, adding something new and interesting to your everyday life makes you feel more fulfilled and optimistic. Just head to your favourite search engine, and start searching!
    “Don’t be afraid to try new things. They aren’t all going to work, but when you find the one that does, you’re going to be so proud of yourself for trying.” – Anonymous
  12. Exercise
    I can’t get through an article without talking about exercise ?. It’s just so important, and can improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional wellbeing. I find it’s the perfect thing to do whenever I’m feeling at my lowest. It can be hard to get up and go, but even if it’s a short walk outside, or 10 minutes of stretching exercises, or some yoga – just making the effort and getting the blood moving, immediately lifts my mood, and distracts from my symptoms. That’s because when you exercise your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. So grab your walking shoes, or exercise mat, and let the endorphins flow!
  13. Seek help
    If you feel like your condition is significantly affecting your ability to enjoy life, and these basic strategies aren’t enough to change that, talk with your doctor. Be honest and open, and explain how you’re feeling. You may need to talk with a counsellor or psychologist so that you can explore some strategies, tailored specifically to you, to help you get through this rough patch.
    “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. 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.

More to explore


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22/Apr/2021

I know, I know…we talk about self-care A LOT. But understanding and practising self-care is such an important tool for living your best life and getting the best health outcomes when you have a chronic condition. That’s why we talk about it so much.

Based on the findings of our 2020 national consumer survey, we know people with musculoskeletal conditions are practising self-care by exercising, eating healthfully, appropriately using medications, working with their healthcare team, using mind-body techniques and seeking peer support.

But they also told us they needed support to do this.

So what is self-care?

Self-care is vital and covers all aspects of our health and wellbeing. Things like exercise, visiting your specialist, taking your medication, mindfulness, learning about your condition/s, talking with a friend and even relaxing in a bubble bath; are all part of self-care

To understand the breadth of self-care, and how you can incorporate it into your life in a meaningful way, the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed a framework for self-care around seven ‘pillars’ or ‘domains’.

Let’s explore each of these.

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 condition you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions and play an active role in the management of your healthcare.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care defines health literacy as the way 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”.

Together, health literacy and knowledge give us the tools we need to be empowered when it comes to our healthcare. By understanding our body and our health, we can discuss our options with our health professionals, we can critically evaluate information from a range of sources, make adjustments to our 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 lots of 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 don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how we all learn.

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 the knowledge you have about your condition and health in general, and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help with that, 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, as well as issues with your self-esteem, 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, bone 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
Taking responsibility for our actions and doing all we can to reduce or avoid actions and behaviours that increase our risk of injury or death, is good for our health.

This includes things such as driving carefully and wearing a seatbelt, drinking alcohol in moderation, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, getting your vaccinations, protecting yourself from the sun, quitting smoking and practising safe sex.

It also includes seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly so that you can stay on top of any changes to your musculoskeletal condition/s.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene
Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition/s are more susceptible to bugs, germs and other nasties in the environment than other people. Their immune system is weakened due to their health condition and/or the medications they’re required to take. Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections.

Good hygiene includes things such as regular and thorough hand washing, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, appropriate and safe preparation and storage of food, cleaning your teeth regularly, staying home when sick, and having a clean home/work environment.

They all help us maintain good health and avoid spreading disease.

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

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

These tools include medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), complementary therapies, monitoring equipment (e.g. blood pressure and blood glucose machines), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and health services (e.g. smoking cessation programmes, physiotherapy, massage therapy).

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

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So that’s it – the seven pillars of self-care. They provide a convenient, easy-to-understand description of self-care practises we can use to manage our health and musculoskeletal conditions.

“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

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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13/Jan/2021

We all know that when our muscles and joints are stiff or painful, it can be hard to move. But we also know that regular exercise is essential for managing musculoskeletal conditions. It helps reduce pain and stiffness, and improves joint mobility and strength. It can also improve balance, sleep quality, lower stress levels, improve mood and help us maintain a healthy weight. It’s practically magic!

But when you’re in pain, exercise can feel like the very last thing you want to do. So what to do?

Just add water!

There are so many benefits to exercising in warm water:

  • the warmth is soothing and helps relieve pain and stiffness
  • the buoyancy supports your body and lessens the strain on your joints
  • water resistance enables you to gradually build up flexibility, strength and stamina
  • anyone can do it – no matter your age or level of fitness.

What is water exercise?

A water exercise program is much more than just going for a swim. Swimming regularly is an excellent way to improve your heart and lung fitness without putting too much strain on your joints, but for a complete workout you need to do a range of exercises which move all your joints and work all your muscles. You can easily do this in a warm water pool.

There are different ways you can exercise in water

1. Water exercise classes
You can enjoy the fun, motivation and social interaction of exercising with others in a class that suits your capabilities and fitness level. In these classes all participants follow the same general exercises.

Many recreation and fitness centres run water exercise classes and cater to a wide range of abilities and fitness levels.

Contact your local centre and talk with an instructor to find out what’s available and to discuss your exercise goals. And ask if you can visit the centre and observe a class before you sign up so that you can be sure it’s the right fit for you.

2. Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is specialised exercise therapy run by a health professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist in a specially heated warm water pool. The exercises are tailored to you and your specific needs. You can do hydrotherapy on your own with the health professional or in a small group.

3. Going solo
You can do your own water exercises in a warm water pool at home or in recreation centres, fitness clubs, swimming schools and retirement villages.

Here are some tips for getting started with your own program:

  • If you’re not sure what exercises to do, talk with a qualified instructor or health professional. We’ve also included links to some general exercises in the More to explore section below.
  • Choose a time when the pool is fairly quiet so you can move safely and confidently around the pool area and you’re less likely to be knocked by enthusiastic swimmers and others enjoying more boisterous water activities.
  • Check the ease and safety of access into the centre, around the dressing area and into the pool.

Swimming is also a good form of water exercise you can do on your own. While it doesn’t work all of your muscles and joints through their range of movement, it’s excellent for your heart and lungs.

What if you can’t swim?

If you can’t swim, that’s ok. Water exercise classes take place in water that’s about chest height. So you can stand with your head above the water. You can also use flotation devices to give you the confidence to get moving in water if you’re feeling a bit apprehensive.

Tips for exercising in warm water

Whether you’re exercising at home or in a community pool, participating in a class or doing your own exercises, you’ll get the most benefit from your exercise session and ensure your safety and wellbeing by following these tips:

  • Don’t go into the water if you’re sick, have any wounds or skin irritations/infections.
  • Check out the venue to see if it’s suitable for you. For example, is the pool easy to access? Are the change rooms accessible and comfortable? Is the venue close enough for you to go to regularly? Do the class times and opening hours of the venue work for you?
  • Begin your exercise program with short sessions and gradually build up over time.
  • Perform each movement as gracefully and smoothly as you can.
  • Keep the body part you’re exercising under the water. This may require you to squat or bob down at times.
  • Come out of the water immediately if you feel light-headed, dizzy, drowsy, extremely fatigued or nauseous. These reactions are possible if you spend too long in very warm water. Drink some water and sit or lie down for a while.
  • Stop doing an exercise which causes severe pain or discomfort. Consult your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist if your joint symptoms increase significantly after an exercise session.
  • Ease up if you experience mild to moderate joint or muscle pain for more than a few hours after your exercise session. Some increased pain is normal after exercise, especially when you’re starting out, but if you’re in pain hours after your visit to the pool, you’ve likely overdone it. Reduce the intensity next time – but don’t stop.
  • If you’ve had a joint replacement, keep in mind the movements you were instructed to avoid by your surgeon or physiotherapist.
  • Consider wearing water shoes if you find you’re slipping and sliding in the pool. They’ll give you some grip to help you keep your balance.
  • Have a drink after a water exercise session to replace the fluid you’ve lost through perspiration.
  • Take care when moving in wet areas around the pool, including in change rooms, to avoid slipping and falls.
  • Rest afterwards if you feel tired. Exercising in warm water can be quite draining.

And as always, follow COVID-safe practises and abide by any rules that are in force in your state or territory.

So there you have it. Exercising in the water. It’s a great addition to your exercise routine that’s effective, fun and safe. Why not give it a go?

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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17/Dec/2020

With Christmas and the festive season just around the corner, and a tough year almost behind us, it’s the perfect time for a wellness challenge!

And before you roll your eyes, this challenge is fun, it’s easy and we‘ve tied it in with song The 12 days of Christmas… so it all begins on Christmas day.

So strap yourselves in, it’s a weird and wacky song! But we hope you’ll have some fun with the 12 days of wellness challenge.

Happy holidays, stay safe, and keep well!

25 December

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree…

While a partridge in a pear tree doesn’t sound like cause for celebration, the fact that we’ve made it to Christmas Day certainly is! So let’s celebrate!! Dance around your lounge room, sing carols, toast your family and friends because we made it! We’re with our loved ones – hopefully in person, but if not, virtually is good too. Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy this day.

26 December

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me, two turtles doves… 

Get outside and walk off some of the Christmas yumminess. See if you can spot some turtle doves (might be a tad tricky as they appear to be European).

Any-hoo, see if you can at least spot a pigeon while enjoying your walk. Enjoy the sunshine and vitamin D and breathe in the fresh air – how good does it feel without a mask?

27 December

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me, three French hens…

What’s with all the birds? Weird, but we can use the French vibe for our third day.

Catch up with friends and do something fun together. Channel your inner Parisian, grab some baguettes, cheese, wine and eclairs (yum), and have a picnic in the park. Or visit a café and enjoy a cafe au lait while you watch the people stroll by. Finish with a promenade along a river or visit a gallery for the perfect end to your day.

28 December

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, four calling birds…

More birds! But they’re on the right track as far as calling goes.

Today call or face time someone you haven’t spoken with for a while. Catch up on their lives and let them know how you’re doing. If this year has taught us nothing else, it’s that our connections are vital. We need them for our physical, mental and emotional health. So pick up the phone and call someone.

29 December

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, five gold rings… 

Now we’re talking! Only joking, I prefer silver.

Today the challenge is to take photos of three things that make you happy. The sky’s the limit – so it may be some gold rings, or your family, your dog, some flowers, a sunset, a meal, or the clouds in the sky. Whatever makes you happy – point and click. And save them so you can look at them whenever you’re feeling a bit down and need a boost.

30 December

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, six geese a-laying…

Come on, seriously? This true love was mad for birds!

Today, let’s hit the trails. Grab your bike, borrow one from a friend, or hire one…and let’s go for a ride. Riding is a low impact and fun exercise that’s suitable for most people. Read our blog for some tips to make your ride a fun, enjoyable outing without the pain.

As usual keep your eye out for birds – especially of the geese variety who may or may not be laying.

31 December

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, seven swans a-swimming… 

More birds – sigh. But the swimming part is a great idea! Nothing says summer like hitting the beach, pool, river or watering hole for a swim to cool down. And it’s a wonderful exercise for anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. Your body is supported by the water and the resistance provided by moving through water builds muscle strength and endurance.

And since it’s New Year’s Eve, while you’re floating around in the water, take some time to reflect on 2020 and three things you’re grateful for. It’s been a tough year, but there have been some highlights. What were yours?

1 January

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eight maids a-milking… 

Hello 2021! It’s a new year, and we often start a new year with some resolutions. Instead of doing the usual – lose weight, get more exercise, quit smoking (although we can still do these) – let’s use the new year to a set a goal to do that ‘one thing’ we’ve always wanted to do. And make a plan to achieve your goal.

So if you’ve always wanted to milk a cow, get those milk maids involved and find a cow.

But seriously, most of us have something that we’ve always wanted to try or accomplish. Write a novel, play an instrument, become conversant in another language, take up pottery, learn to cook…whatever it is, write it down, then work out the steps you need to achieve your goal. Check out our info on goal setting for tips and advice. And good luck!

2 January

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing… 

Today it’s all about unplugging and a digital detox. Put your phone aside for an hour, 2 hours, the whole day! Dance with nine ladies, or just by yourself, go for a walk, talk with your neighbor, do some yoga/tai chi/stretching, curl up on your couch with a book, de-stress with some guided imagery. Whatever you do, avoid using any tech or gadgets for the time you’ve put aside for your detox…and enjoy!

3 January

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, ten lords a-leaping…

This true love had some wacky gift ideas, but hats off for the creativity!

The tenth day challenge is to do some mindfulness meditation. With Christmas and New Year done and dusted, many of us will be feeling tired from all of our commitments and celebrations. This may have aggravated our pain and fatigue, and made us feel a little overwhelmed. So let’s do something that will help us focus and be mindful. Find yourself a comfy spot, read our info on mindfulness meditation and do the simple body scan we’ve provided.

Or if mindfulness isn’t your thing, what about some visualisation? It also uses the power of your mind to reduce pain and stress, but it’s free flowing and allows you to use your imagination. Remember the details of a past event, visualise a future event, or think of something completely out there…like 10 lords a-leaping.

4 January

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eleven pipers piping…

Today seems like a good day to go all out and make a meal that fills you with joy. Whether it’s something your mum or dad used to make for you when you were little, that brings back happy childhood memories, or a meal that you love but never make because it’s too complicated/decadent/full of calories…cook it! And take time to savour it. Really enjoy each mouthful. And then blow your own trumpet about how good it is (that’s the closest I could get to pipers!).

5 January

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, twelve drummers drumming… 

Drumroll please- let’s go out with a bang!

Today is the day to do whatever you want. So it’s not a hard challenge at all.

Put your favourite music on and sing, dance, do your best air guitar/air drums or just sit back and listen. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment – in a salon or at home. Read a book or magazine, put your feet up and relax. Go for a hike with friends. Pull out the Lego and let your imagination go wild. Build a fort in your lounge. Stay in your PJs all day. Explore a gallery/museum/library – in person or virtually. Go hot air-ballooning. Buy a drum kit and go crazy – like Animal from the Muppets playing with Dave Grohl, or the True Love’s twelve drummers.

Take this day to do something that makes you happy and fill you with joy. Life’s short – let’s make every moment count.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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05/Nov/2020

“I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike; I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride it where I like” Freddie Mercury, Queen, 1978

I’ve always liked riding my bike. The feel of the breeze on my face as I coast downhill, the sun on my back and the world passing by in a blur. It’s lovely. And yet for some reason my bike always ends up in the back of the garage and I forget about it for months at a time.

But the pandemic has seen many of us rediscovering the joy of riding a bike. With limited access to our usual exercise venues such as gyms and pools, cycling has boomed. Which is great for those of us with a musculoskeletal condition because riding is a low impact exercise suitable for most people.

But as with anything you haven’t done in a while, you need to ease into it. Don’t be like me and just drag your bike out, dust the cobwebs off and hit the road. And I mean literally. One spin around my small suburban street and I crashed.

It seems my ability to ride a bike, like most things you don’t do on a regular basis, has disappeared. But the saying “it’s as easy as riding a bike” must exist for a reason, right? So I persevered, and while I’m still a little wobbly, and hills are a challenge, I’m doing it!

So here are my tips for getting back on your bike.

Get a bike – obviously tip number 1 for riding a bike is to get one.

    • If you’re buying a new bike, get advice from people you know who ride regularly. Or find a good bike shop and talk with the staff. And check out this Choice article for some really useful info on what to look for in a bike: How to buy the best bike for your needs.
    • Borrow a bike from family, a friend or neighbour. That way you can give cycling a go before you spend any money on a new bike. Obviously keep in mind COVID safe hygiene practices.
    • Hire a bike. Many bike stores have bikes for hire. Keep in mind that it can become quite expensive if you’re doing it for more than a few days. But it does give you the chance to try before you buy.
    • If you already have a bike, go over it to make sure it’s in good condition. If you’re not sure what you need to do, the Bicycle Network has some great resources to help you.  Or you can take your bike to the local bike shop for a service.

Make sure your bike is fitted with all the necessary bits and pieces you’ll need. Much of this will depend where/when you plan to ride, so seek advice from other cyclists or from the bike shop. But some of the things you will need are: comfortable seat (vital), light, bell, basket/rack, water holder, lock, pump.

Find the perfect outfit for you. This doesn’t need to expensive, but does need to be comfortable and brightly coloured so others can see you, made out of fabric that breathes, and if you’re riding at night or when it’s getting dark, reflective. Oh, and padding in bike shorts can help protect you from some unpleasant pain in sensitive areas! You’ll also need a good helmet that fits you properly. Remember it’s compulsory in Australia to wear an approved helmet when riding a bike.

Consider your environment – this is important. You’re more likely to ride more regularly if you feel safe and you’re in a pleasant environment. So depending on where you live, riding around your local streets may not be the best option. Taking your bike to a park or local bike trails may be the best way for you to build your confidence. Make sure the paths are easy to navigate, wide enough for you and others to get by, not too steep (at least while you’re relearning to ride) and have places where you can stop for a breather, have a drink and enjoy the surrounds.

Listen to your body. Cycling is a great exercise for people with a musculoskeletal condition. But you need to listen to your body. While cycling is low impact, your legs are going around and around in a repetitive motion. This may cause some aches and pains if you’re not used to it. So don’t go too hard too fast. Take time to stretch before and after your ride, and if you have wobbly legs after your ride, walk around for a bit to get everything working again.

Start small. It’s easy to get swept up in the ride – the nature around you, the hypnotic effect of turning the wheels around and around – and then you realise you have to cycle back to where you started. So be aware of the distance you travel. Start slowly and build up the time and distance you ride gradually. Starting small also gives you the time and space to relearn riding your bike – how the brakes work, the gears, steering, not crashing!

Grab the family and friends – exercising is often more fun when you do it with others. And riding a bike is a great activity for people of all ages and levels of fitness. During the pandemic it seems like every sunny day groups of people are out walking and riding together. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?

Be a responsible rider. There are a lot more of us walking and cycling at the moment. So ding your bell if you’re coming up behind people on foot and slow down. People rarely walk in a straight line especially if they’re not paying attention. So to avoid nasty accidents, take care of those around you.

Drink water. You’re exercising, so you’ll be sweating and losing fluid. Take regular breaks to rehydrate.

Don’t be embarrassed if you have to walk your bike for a while – especially uphill. It means you’re listening to your body – whether it’s saying there’s pain or you need to breathe – and you’re giving it the break it needs. So walk that bike proudly! And get back on when you’re ready.

Check out the networks – both formal e.g. Bicycle Network and local, informal cycling groups. You’ll get information, support and advice, and you’ll meet new people.

Enjoy yourself! Cycling is a really enjoyable activity – so get out there, check out the countryside and have fun.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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

  • Bicycles
    Choice
  • The best bike paths and routes in Australia
    Australia.com
  • Your local council website for cycling groups, paths and other resources
  • Your state/territory government parks websites for information on riding safely in parks, maps and much more.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1896


self-care.jpg
21/Oct/2020

Or how to manage fatigue

We all get tired. We overdo things and feel physically exhausted. It happens to us all. Usually after a night or two of good quality sleep the tiredness goes away and we’re back to our old selves.

But fatigue is different.

It’s an almost overwhelming physical and/or mental tiredness. And it usually takes more than a night’s sleep to resolve. It generally requires multiple strategies, working together, to help you get it under control.

Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition struggle with fatigue. It may be caused by a chronic lack of sleep, your medications, depression, your actual condition (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia) or just the very fact that you live with persistent pain.

Fatigue can make everyday activities difficult, and can get in the way of you doing the things you enjoy. The good news is there are many things you can do to manage fatigue and get on with life.

Exercise and being active. While this may sound like the last thing you should do when you’re feeling fatigued, exercise can actually boost your energy levels, help you sleep better, improve your mood, and it can help you manage your pain. If you’re starting an exercise program, start slowly, listen to your body and seek advice from qualified professionals. Gradually increase the amount and intensity of activity over time.

Take time out for you. Relaxation – both physical and mental – can help you manage your fatigue. I’m not just talking about finishing work and plonking down in front of the TV – though that may be one way you relax and wind down. I’m specifically referring to the deliberate letting go of the tension in your muscles and mind. There are so many ways to relax including deep breathing, visualisation, gardening, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music, guided imagery, reading a book, taking a warm bubble bath, meditating, going for a walk. Choose whatever works for you. Now set aside a specific time every day to relax – and choose a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or distracted. Put it in your calendar – as you would any other important event – and practise, practise, practise. Surprisingly it takes time to become really good at relaxing, but it’s totally worth the effort. By using relaxation techniques, you can reduce stress and anxiety (which can make you feel fatigued), and feel more energised.

Eat a well-balanced diet. A healthy diet gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, protects you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system. Make sure you drink enough water, and try and limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume.

And take a note out of the Scout’s handbook and ‘be prepared’. Consider making some healthy meals that you can freeze for the days when you’re not feeling so hot. You’ll then have some healthy options you can quickly plate up to ensure you’re eating well without having to use a lot of energy.

Get a good night’s sleep. Good quality sleep makes such a difference when you live with pain and fatigue. It can sometimes be difficult to achieve, but there are many things you can do to sleep well, that will decrease your fatigue and make you feel human again. Check out our blog on painsomnia for more info and tips.

Pace yourself. It’s an easy trap to fall into. On the days you feel great you do as much as possible – you push on and on and overdo it. Other days you avoid doing stuff because fatigue has sapped away all of your energy. By pacing yourself you can do the things you want to do by finding the right balance between rest and activity. Some tips for pacing yourself: plan your day, prioritise your activities (not everything is super important or has to be done immediately), break your jobs into smaller tasks, alternate physical jobs with less active ones, and ask for help if you need it.

Write lists and create habits. When you’re fatigued, remembering what you need at the shops, where you left your keys, if you’ve taken your meds or what your name is, can be a challenge. And when you’re constantly forgetting stuff, it can make you stress and worry about all the things you can’t remember. Meh – it’s a terrible cycle. So write it down. Write down the things you need at the supermarket as soon as you think of it –a notepad on the fridge is a really easy way to do this. Create habits around your everyday tasks – for example always put your keys in a bowl by the door or straight into your bag, put your meds in a pill organiser.

Be kind to yourself. Managing fatigue and developing new ways to pace yourself is a challenge. Like any new behaviour it takes time, effort and lots of practice. So be kind to yourself and be patient. You’ll get there. It may take some time, and there may be some stumbles along the way, but you will become an expert at listening to your body, pacing yourself and managing fatigue.

Talk with your doctor. Sometimes fatigue may be caused by medications you’re taking to manage your musculoskeletal condition. If you think your medications are the issue, talk with your doctor about alternatives that may be available.

Fatigue may also be caused by another health condition – including anaemia (not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body), diabetes, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia and being overweight. If you’re not having any success getting your fatigue under control, your doctor may suggest looking into other potential causes.

So that’s fatigue…it can be difficult to live with, but there are lots of ways you can learn to manage it.

Tell us how you manage. We’d love to hear your top tips for dealing with fatigue.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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




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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