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16/Jun/2022

“Welcome, winter. Your late dawns and chilled breath make me lazy, but I love you nonetheless.” Terri Guillemets.

Winter is well and truly here ❄. And for many of us with conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and Raynauds’s phenomenon, we feel the cold more keenly with increased joint and muscle pain or lack of blood circulation to the extremities.

As much as I’d like to be writing this to you from a toasty warm room, with the heat cranked high, there’s just too much pressure on the household budget to be so careless. And I know I’m not alone in feeling anxious about rising costs – food, petrol, mortgage/rent – everything seems to be going up. Except for the temperature outside, that’s stuck in a downward spiral 😨.

So what can you do to stay warm and keep the costs down this winter? Here are some strategies to try.

Dress for success

Let’s start with the basics. You need to dress for the temperature and wear layers of clothing. It can sometimes feel cumbersome and bulky, but it’s one of our best defences against the cold. So put on the warm pants and jumper, embrace your inner Wiggle and wear a skivvy, pull on your thick socks and/or tights and appropriate footwear. When you head outdoors, add more layers– including hats, gloves, scarves and masks (if required/desired).

If you’re working from home and still feeling the cold, consider using a blanket over your legs as you sit at your desk. I can tell you from personal experience it’s very cosy. And my cats love it 😺. Just be careful you don’t trip on it.

Deal with draughts

Cover the bottom of your door with a door snake or add some door seals. Pull your curtains and blinds over the windows at night and during miserable days to keep the warmth inside. If you have floorboards, consider putting down rugs (just be careful they don’t become a trip hazard). And check out these handy DIY draught-proofing videos from the City of Port Phillip (Melbourne).

Turn down the temperature

While it’s tempting to crank the heat up, the most efficient temperature to set your heater to (if you can set the temp) is 18-20 degrees. While that may not sound particularly warm, we’re often outside during the warmer months wearing short sleeves when it’s 18-20 degrees. It’s just a matter of perspective.

And only heat the areas you’re using. If you’re able to turn the heating off in unused parts of your home, do it. Shut the doors and use a draught stopper to prevent the warm air from the rest of the house escaping into these areas.

Let the sun shine in

Open your curtains and blinds on sunny days to let the sun shine on your windows. Even if there’s a chilly wind, the sun will bring some wonderful warmth into your home. And remember to close them when the sun goes down.

Snuggle up

Get cosy on the couch with your partner, kids, pets. Grab a warm blanket or doona, share your body heat and just enjoy being together.

Install heavy curtains

Thick curtains made from heavyweight, tightly woven fabrics can prevent heat escaping from your home. For the best results, curtains should be fitted as close to the window frame as possible, extend below the sill and well over the sides of the window frame, and a pelmet fitted over the top. This acts to ‘seal’ the window from the rest of the room and prevent heat loss. Curtains will also keep the hot air outside in summer.

Turn it off at night

You sleep better when your body has a chance to cool down a little, so turn the heater off at night. It’s also safer to sleep with the heater off. You can remove the chill from your bed by using a hot water bottle or an electric blanket. Just don’t forget to turn your electric blanket off before you go to sleep.

Winter-proof your bed

There’s nothing like slipping into a deliciously warm bed on a cold night, especially if there’s soft flannelette involved! So swap out your lighter, everyday bedding for heavier winter ones. And add layers – a top sheet (if you don’t already use one) and extra blankets. Finally, if you have floorboards in your bedroom, adding a rug under your bed can prevent any draughts from making their way to your bed.

Get active

Go for a brisk walk outdoors – wearing appropriate clothing – and you’ll warm up in no time. Save on pricey petrol and instead of driving, walk to the shop/school/post office etc.

When you’re at home, exercise indoors using an online program, a DVD or an app. Play with the kids. Clean the house. Do anything that gets you moving and you’ll feel warmer than you would if you sit in one place for hours on end.

However, if you’re having a flare or experiencing a lot of pain, be as active as you can within your limits. And use your heat packs to help relieve muscular pain.

Shorten your shower, if you can

Many of us use our shower to warm up sore joints and muscles so we can get moving. However hot water uses a lot of energy, and even a few minutes extra will add to your bill. If you’re able to, shorten the amount of time you spend in the shower, even if it’s just a little.

Move clothes horses and other obstructions away from the heater

Anything that blocks a heater will prevent the warm air from flowing around the room uninterrupted. So move them away from the heat source. And to stay safe, fire authorities say you should keep clothing one metre from your heater.

Use heat packs and hot water bottles

If you’re feeling stiff and sore, heat packs or hot water bottles can help get you up and about and provide temporary pain relief. Always follow the instructions when using them. Don’t overheat or smother them under blankets or clothes, and let them cool down between use. It‘s also important to let your skin temperature return to normal before using them again. To avoid burns, wrap your hot water bottle in a cloth or use a cover, so it doesn’t come into contact with your skin. Always examine your hot water bottles and heat packs before use, and toss them out if you notice signs of wear or damage. Finally, check their temperature before use to make sure they’re not too hot.

Warm up from the inside out

Many delicious winter recipes bring comfort and warmth on the most miserable days. So crack open the cookbooks and get cooking! Or go online for inspiration for yummy, warming drinks, curries, soups and stews.

Choose energy-efficient heaters

If you’re in the market for a new heater, make sure you’re buying one that’s energy-efficient and best suits your needs. Read Canstar’s article ‘A guide to energy-efficient heaters in 2022’ for more info.

Working from home

If you run a home-based business, Energy.gov.au has some simple tips to reduce your energy costs. Many of these tips are also applicable if you work from home because of the pandemic and have changed your working arrangements.

Billing and payment help

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, Energy.gov.au also has some information about support for Australian households, including info on potential rebates that may be available for you.

We’ve also put together lots of info to help you if you’re struggling with financial stress.

Insulate

If your house isn’t adequately insulated, this is something you can do for long-term benefit. Obviously, there’s a substantial upfront outlay, but it may be an option for some households. Find out more about insulation, including the different types available and how to install it, from the Australian Government’s website ‘Your home’.

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


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01/Apr/2021

Not much has changed since ABBA sang in 1976 “All the things I could do, if I had a little money.” Money – or the lack of it – has been giving people headaches and causing stress since we first started using it.

In our report Making the invisible visible, 65% of respondents reported that they’d experienced financial stress due to having a musculoskeletal condition. The most common causes for this were:

  • cost of specialist appointments: 50%
  • cost of allied health appointments: 46%
  • cost of medications: 39%
  • cost of surgery: 19%.

Living with a musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditionscan be expensive. Medications, healthcare appointments, time off work (or not being able to work), exercise classes, complementary therapies, and aids and equipment, are costly on top of everyday expenses.

When you add a global pandemic into the mix, and the problems it has caused in terms of work for so many people, financial stress is almost inevitable.

Wow, that’s grim. But fortunately, there are things you can do if you’re in this situation. And it starts now.

Acknowledge the situation. This is the crucial first step. As much as we’d like to bury our head in the sand when we feel anxious or worried about anything, it won’t solve the problem. We need to look it in the eye, acknowledge it exists and start to deal with it – one step at a time.

Create a budget. This may sound daunting, but you need to know where your money is going. You need to be able to track what money is coming in, and what you’re spending it on. MoneySmart is an Australian Government website that has lots of tools and resources to help you manage your money. They have a section on budgeting to help you create a budget that works for you and your circumstances.

By understanding where your money’s going, you can start to see where you can make some savings or cut some costs. It will also put you in a better position when/if it comes time to talk with your bank, utility companies etc.

Know your rights. When you’re struggling and stressed it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But there are laws to help protect you if you’re suffering from financial hardship. The National Debt Helpline has information to help you understand your rights and protections.

Seek help. If you’re finding it challenging to create a budget, or find a way out of your financial problems, contact the National Debt Helpline and talk with a financial counsellor. They’re free, confidential, and independent. You can use the live chat function on their website or you can call them on 1800 007 007 weekdays 9.30am-4.30pm. They also have a huge range of other resources to help you if you’re struggling with debt or getting your finances under control.

Talk to your bank. If you’re having difficulties paying your mortgage, personal loans or credit card repayments, talk with your lender about your options, such as making smaller repayments over a longer period or pausing repayments.

The Australian Banking Association has some useful resources on their website, including information about your rights and what your bank can do to help you.

Talk to your utility companies. If you can’t afford to pay your water, gas, electricity and phone bills, contact your supplier. But first, check out this information from the National Debt Helpline about how to do this.

Be wary of buy now, pay later schemes, payday loans, and consumer leases. If you’re under financial stress, these options may seem like a convenient way to pay for things you need. However, they’re also an easy way to get into even more debt. Read this information from MoneySmart to find out more about the potential problems with payday loans, consumer leases, and buy now pay later schemes.

Talk with your doctor about GP management plans. Living with a chronic condition (or multiple conditions) can cost a lot of money. Discuss accessing a GP Management Plan and Team Care Arrangement with your doctor so that you can get coordinated care to manage your health condition. You may also be eligible for Medicare rebates for certain allied health services. You can find out more on the Department of Health website.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about safety nets. They exist to help lower the out of pocket medical costs for people who, due to their health condition/s, spend a lot of money on:

Your doctor and pharmacist can give you more information about these safety nets. You can also find out more by clicking on the links above.

Find out about government allowances and benefits. The Australian Government provides a wide range of allowances and benefits you may be eligible for including:

The Australian Government’s Services Australia website provides a lot of information about these payments (and others), including information about eligibility criteria.

You can also talk with our nurses on the MSK Help Line if you’re having trouble navigating your way through these social services schemes. Contact them on 1800 263 265 weekdays or email helpline@msk.org.au.

Find out about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS helps people under the age of 65 with permanent and significant disability get care and supports. It pays for reasonable and necessary supports that a person needs to live and enjoy their life. The NDIS also provides information and connections to local services to people who aren’t eligible for funding. Find out more about the NDIS.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re in debt or dealing with financial hardship, it can seem like there’s no way out. But there are a lot of organisations and services available to help you. This article has just scraped the surface of them. There are more for you to explore in the links below.

If you need help with debt, or if you just want to learn how to manage your money better, I would urge you to look at MoneySmart, National Debt Help Line and The Salvos. They really provide excellent, easy to understand resources on a wide range of issues relating to money.

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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25/Jun/2020

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition costs us physically, mentally and emotionally. But what many people don’t understand are the substantial financial costs associated with having chronic conditions. They’re expensive.

Healthcare costs

These are the most obvious. Medications, lots of trips to your doctor, your specialist/s, allied health professionals, tests, exercise classes, surgery, orthotics….they all add up. A lot!

People who don’t have a chronic condition may assume that a lot of this is covered by government subsidies, GP Management Plans, health insurance, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, with a little sprinkling of magical fairy dust to cover the rest. Depending on a person’s situation some of this may be covered. But much isn’t.

There’s significant cost in seeing allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, podiatrists, occupational therapists, hand therapists, dietitians and psychologists. While GP Management Plans assist with the cost, there’s mostly only five visits provided and these are used up very quickly. There may also be a gap payment over the Medicare Rebate. And there are also often considerable out of pocket expenses to see a specialist privately or longer waits when you see them publicly.

This can put a significant strain on a person’s finances.

Employment

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition is varied and episodic. That means you often don’t know how you’ll wake up. Your pain and stiffness may have been under control and manageable for some time, but then one day you wake up feeling crap. Your joints are swollen, it hurts to move, and you’re soooo exhausted. This makes it difficult to get up and move around, let alone get to work and put in a full day, as well as all the other things you have going on – family, friends, studying, chores, and a social life.

This may lead to time off work, and using up all your sick and personal leave. But if the situation (or workplace) becomes unmanageable it may result in someone having to permanently reduce their hours, change jobs, become unemployed or retire early.

Any of these things will obviously affect your everyday finances. However it can also affect your future finances as superannuation is impacted by reduced or lost income.

Wow. This became really depressing really quickly.

The good news is there are services to help you if you need to change careers, or need financial assistance while you re-evaluate what you can or can’t do. We’ve added a bunch of these to the More to Explore section below.

And while we know none of these services are perfect, they can provide you with many of the tools and resources to help you through this tough time.

Hidden costs

Lost employment and medical costs – check. They’re probably the most visible costs. But there are many hidden costs. We’ve listed just a few.

  • Home and car modifications – so that you can continue to do the things you want and need to do as easily and pain-free as possible you may need to make changes to your home and/or car. They may be simple and relatively inexpensive – e.g. adding a swivel seat to your car to help you get in and out, or more complicated and pricey – e.g. installing a chair lift to help you get up and down the stairs in your home. An occupational therapist can help you work out what modifications will assist you, and can also advise you of any available schemes or assistance programs you may be eligible for.
  • As well as changes to your home or car, you may also need to buy various gizmos and gadgets that: protect your joints (e.g. tap turners, pick-up reachers), help you manage your pain (e.g. heat packs) and generally make life a little easier (e.g ergonomic mouse for your computer, walking aids). Again these can range in price.
  • Getting out and about if you’re in pain, or dealing with serious brain fog, can be tricky if you don’t feel up to driving. It’s only made worse with the COVID pandemic, when many of us feel vulnerable catching public transport. So you might have to resort to catching a taxi or using a rideshare company. But over time this does add up. You may be eligible for a taxi subsidy – each state/territory has their own scheme – so it’s worth checking to see if you can access this.
  • Food, glorious food. Let’s face it there are many times you feel flattened by your condition and cooking is the last thing you want to do. And now with the convenience of delivery apps, you can get almost anything delivered to your door. Unless like me you live in an outer suburb in which case it’s fish n’ chips, pizza or burgers – yum, but not the healthiest options. These deliveries can be a lifesaver, but the cost can also very quickly add up.
  • Events and holidays. This’s a tough one. Because of the nature of chronic conditions and often not knowing how you’ll feel from day to day, you can pay for future events and then have to cancel or change at the last minute. Like tickets to a concert (remember those??) – you often buy them so far in advance and you’re excited for literally months! And then the night comes and you know you can’t go – you’re too tired, too sore, too whatever. So you have to forfeit your ticket, or give it away to a friend. Or you’re on holiday, but you end up having to pay to make changes because you’ve had a flare and you need an earlier flight home, or you need to catch more taxis than you’d planned to, or you need to buy a pillow because the one at your hotel is a rock. It’s the crazy, unpredictable stuff like this that’s hard to plan for and adds to financial stress.

Pandemic pain

And then came COVID.

Many of us are having to manage to do more on less, with fewer hours, less pay, or no pay. It’s the unpredictability of this pandemic that adds to financial stress, especially if things were already tight before COVID came along.

The best thing to do if you’re feeling anxious about your financial situation is to be proactive and sort it out ASAP. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, and may make the situation worse. Choice has written a useful article that provides lots of handy info and tips: Making the right financial moves during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

And check out the More to Explore section below for more resources to help you.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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/May/2020

For most of the country it’s starting to get really chilly. And if this was a normal year, that’d be fine. Just slip on the comfy tracky dacks, jumper, thick socks…oh wait. That’s my COVID-19 working from home outfit ?.

But seriously, it is getting quite cold. And because of iso, we’re all staying at home most of the time trying to keep warm. So how do we do this without getting an energy bill shock in the process?

And although we may not be spending as much on going out, or petrol, we are paying more on other things to keep us occupied at home, or equipment and furniture to make working/schooling from home easier. All of this at a time when we’re having to make do with less work hours (or no work at all) so less income. It’s scary.

But it is getting cold and we need to stay warm. People with musculoskeletal conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and back pain as well as people with Raynauds’s phenomenon, may feel the cold more keenly with increased joint and muscle pain, or lack of blood circulation to the extremities.

So what can we do to keep warm, but also keep the costs down as much as possible?

Dress for success. Let’s start with the basics. We need to dress for the temperature and wear layers of clothing. So put on the warm tracksuit pants and jumper, embrace your inner Wiggle and wear a skivvy, pull on your thick socks and tights. We need to do this when we’re indoors, and add more layers when we go outside – including hat, gloves and a scarf.

Stop up any draughts. Cover the bottom of your door with a door snake or add some door seals. Pull your curtains and blinds over the windows at night and during really miserable days to keep the warmth inside.

Turn down the temperature. While it’s tempting to crank the heat up, the most efficient temperature to set your heater to (if you can set the temp) is 18-20 degrees. While that may not sound all that warm, we’re often outside during the warmer months wearing short sleeves when the temp is 18-20 degrees. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Let the sun shine in. Open your curtains and blinds on sunny days to let the sun shine on your windows. Even if there’s a chilly wind, the sun will bring some wonderful warmth to your house. Don’t forget to close the blinds and curtains when the sun goes down

Cosy up. Snuggle up on the couch with your partner, kids, pets. And don’t forget the warm blanket or doona. Share your body heat and just enjoy being together.

Turn it off at night. You sleep better when your body has a chance to cool down a little, so turn the heater off at night. It’s also safer to sleep with the heater off. You can use a good old fashioned hot water bottle or an electric blanket to take the chill of your bed. Just don’t forget to turn your electric blanket off before you go to sleep.

Get active. Go for a brisk walk outdoors – wearing appropriate clothing – and you’ll soon warm up in no time. When you’re at home, exercise indoors using an online program, a DVD or an app. Play with the kids. Clean the house. Do anything that gets you moving and you’ll feel warmer than you would if you sit in one place for hours on end. However if you’re having a flare or you experiencing a lot of pain, be as active as you can within your limits. And use your heat packs to help relieve muscular pain.

Shorten your shower, if you can. Many of us use our shower to warm up sore joints and muscles so we can get moving. However hot water uses a lot of energy, and even a few minutes extra will add to your bill. If you’re able to, shorten the amount of time you spend in the shower, even if it’s just a little.

Move clothes horses and other obstructions away from the heater. Apart from being a potential fire hazard, anything that blocks a heater will prevent the warm air from flowing uninterrupted. So move them away from the heat source. And to stay safe, fire authorities say you should keep clothing one metre from your heater.

Use heat packs and hot water bottles. If you’re feeling stiff and sore, heat packs or hot water bottles can help get you up and about and provide temporary pain relief. Always follow the instructions when using them including: don’t overheat them, don’t smother them under blankets or clothes, and let them cool down between use. It‘s also important to let your skin temperature return to normal before using them again. Finally it’s very easy to burn yourself using heat packs and hot water bottles, so don’t place them directly onto your skin and check their temperature before use to make sure they’re not too hot.

If you’re working from home and/or home schooling Energy.gov.au has some simple tips to reduce your energy usage.

Billing and payment help. If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, Energy.gov.au also has some information to help you, including information about the Australian Energy Regulator’s expectations of energy companies to protect householders and small business customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Insulate. If your house isn’t adequately insulated, this is something you can do for long term benefit. Obviously there is a substantial upfront outlay, but it may be an option for some households.

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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