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25/May/2022

If you’ve been experiencing persistent joint or muscle pain, stiffness and/or inflammation that you can’t explain (e.g. from a fall or strenuous physical activity), you should discuss your symptoms with your general practitioner (GP).

Many conditions can cause these symptoms, so to work out what’s causing your symptoms, your GP will:

  • Take your medical history. They’ll ask you about your symptoms, when they started, how they affect you, your family medical history and other health issues you may have.
  • Do a physical examination. They’ll look for redness and swelling in and around the joint and test your joint’s range of movement. They may also look for rashes, check your eyes and throat, and take your temperature.
  • Order scans and other tests. Depending on the condition your GP thinks you might have, they may send you for tests to check for levels of inflammation in your blood or specific genetic markers. You may also have scans such as x-rays, ultrasound or CT (computed tomography) to get a clearer picture of what’s happening inside your body.

When your GP has gathered all of this information, they may refer you to a rheumatologist.

Rheumatologists are doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating problems with joints, muscles, bones and the immune system. You need a referral from your GP to see a rheumatologist, whether they’re in private practice or a public hospital outpatient clinic.

Your GP may refer you to a rheumatologist if:

  • they think you have, or they’ve diagnosed you with, an inflammatory type of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, so that treatment can be started as soon as possible
  • your symptoms improve with treatment but come back when you stop taking medicine
  • your symptoms don’t respond to treatment or get worse over time
  • you develop unexpected complications, such as a fever, rash, or fatigue
  • you have unusual test results.

Preparing for your first consultation

When you make an appointment to see a rheumatologist, you should ask them some questions so that you’re prepared. This may include:

  • What do I need to bring with me?
  • How much will my out-of-pocket expenses be?
  • How long will my appointment be?
  • Is there parking available, or accessible public transport?

Armed with this information, you can be proactive and prepare for your consultation.

It can be helpful to make notes about your symptoms – when you first noticed they appeared, how they affect you day-to-day – as well as other health conditions you have, medicines or supplements you take regularly and information about your family medical history.

It’s also helpful to write down questions you want to ask your rheumatologist. Put them in order of the most important first, in case you don’t get through your entire list.

Your consultation

Seeing a specialist can sometimes be overwhelming, especially if you’re feeling unwell or anxious. There can also be a lot of information to absorb. That’s why it can be helpful to bring a family member or a friend to your appointment. They can provide emotional support, help you ask questions or write down any important information. They can also be a second set of ears to hear what the specialist says and help you recall this information later. It can be hard to remember everything, especially when you’re feeling anxious.

Wear comfortable clothing that can be easily adjusted or removed if necessary, so that the rheumatologist can examine you.

And don’t forget your referral, x-rays, scans and other test results, your list of questions and any other bits and pieces you were asked to bring!

Your first consultation with your rheumatologist will be more thorough than your consultation with your GP. They’ll:

  • review your medical history
  • ask lots of questions about your symptoms, such as when you’re most stiff or sore, and how long you’ve had pain and symptoms
  • do a comprehensive examination of your joints, including counting the number of tender and swollen joints
  • refer you for further blood tests and imaging if required.

It’s important to know that there are many different types of musculoskeletal conditions, and many have similar symptoms. So it can take time to get a diagnosis. Your rheumatologist may provide you with a prescription for medicines and suggest some self-care options that you can do while you wait for your diagnosis.

Follow-up consultations

Once your diagnosis has been made, your rheumatologist will provide you with information about your condition and a treatment plan.

Your treatment plan will fit your specific symptoms, needs and preferences. However, it will usually involve a combination of:

Depending on your diagnosis, you may need regular consultations with your rheumatologist.

How often they occur will depend on your condition, how well it’s responding to treatment and the medicines you’re taking, as some specialised medicines can only be prescribed by a rheumatologist. Some people see a rheumatologist regularly, while others are mainly treated by their GP, with the rheumatologist on hand for specialist advice. Some consultations with a rheumatologist may be done via telehealth.

Follow-up consultations are generally shorter than your initial one. Your rheumatologist will talk with you about how you’ve been doing since you began treatment. They’ll assess how well you’re responding to treatment and if you need to change your medicines or add additional ones. They’ll also do a physical exam and order any further blood tests or imaging if required.

Your rheumatologist will also talk with you about your self-care and other things you can do to manage your condition.

It’s important to take an active role in these consultations. Ask questions, and if you don’t understand the answers, ask them to explain further or for more information. Talk with your rheumatologist about your goals for treatment – they may be things like reducing pain and fatigue, but also more personal goals such as getting back to playing golf regularly or planning an overseas trip. Together you can ensure your treatment plan supports your goals.

Ongoing care

The aim of treatment for musculoskeletal conditions is low or no disease activity. This is called remission. It doesn’t mean your condition has been cured, but your treatments keep it under control.

With the significant advancements we’ve had in medicines in the past few decades and targeted treatments for many types of musculoskeletal conditions, achieving remission can be a real possibility.

If you achieve remission, your rheumatologist may reduce the dosage and/or frequency of the medicines you’re taking. They’ll monitor you to see how you’re doing and make changes as required. And you won’t need to see them as often.

If you haven’t achieved remission, the aim will be to control your condition and its effects on your body and life as much as possible. This will determine how often you need to see your rheumatologist in the future.

Costs

The cost to see a rheumatologist varies. Part of the cost is subsidised by Medicare, but there is usually a gap payment that you’ll need to make. When making an appointment, ask about out-of-pocket costs.

If you have a Medicare card, you may be able to attend a rheumatology clinic at a public hospital if you cannot afford out-of-pocket expenses to see a rheumatologist privately. Talk with your GP about your options.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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25/May/2022

In March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Federal Government made telehealth available for all Australians. This enabled us to access our general practitioner (GP) and other healthcare providers from the comfort – and safety – of our homes.

As of 1 January 2022, many telehealth services became a permanent and ongoing part of Medicare.

Eligible patients will continue to have access to GP, specialist, nursing, mental health care, midwifery and allied health services via telehealth where the healthcare provider believes it’s appropriate.

It’s important to note that telehealth consultations will not take the place of face-to-face consultations. They’re just another option that may be convenient, and yet another example of the hybrid world we now live in 😉.

What is telehealth?

Simply put, telehealth enables you to consult with your healthcare provider over the phone or through a video platform (e.g. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime). Your healthcare provider may specify which platform you need to use.

Depending on your available technology and how comfortable you are using it, you might have a conversation over your phone with your doctor (like any other phone call), or interact face-to-face via the video platform.

If you’re only comfortable talking on your phone, that’s ok. You don’t have to download apps and learn how to use them, especially if this makes you anxious. You can choose to see your healthcare provider in person or consult over the phone if appropriate.

But if you’re interested, video platforms are easy to use. And they allow your healthcare provider to see you and assess you visually. This obviously gives them a lot more information about you and your health. The platforms and technology just take a little practice 😊.

However, a change that did come into place in January 2022 means that for initial and complex specialist consultations, face-to-face and video services are required. Telephone consultations are only available for subsequent and minor consultations. This is because you and your specialist will have a better quality consultation face-to-face or via video than you could over the phone. This is essential for your first consultation or if your situation is complex and can’t be managed effectively and safely over the phone.

Why would I choose telehealth over face-to-face consultations?

You may choose telehealth over face-to-face consultations if you’re feeling unwell or fatigued, and going in person would make you feel worse. Or, you may not be able to take time off work to go to an appointment, but you do have a quiet space at work where you can have a private telehealth consultation during a break. Or, you may live in regional or remote parts of the country and accessing a healthcare provider via telehealth is more convenient and timely.

It’s also your only option if you have COVID and you’re self-isolating. We still need to restrict the spread of the virus.

And remember, it’s not an either/or situation. Face-to-face and telehealth consultations will continue alongside each other – with both having their merits.

What are the costs?

During the initial phase of the COVID telehealth rollout, all telehealth consultations were bulk-billed. This was to keep us at home and reduce the spread of the virus.

However, with most of the population now vaccinated and living in ‘COVID-normal’ times, you can’t assume that telehealth consultations will be bulk-billed. So when you’re making your appointment, ask if it will be bulk-billed or if you have to pay a consultation fee.

The video platforms are free to download and use.

Eligibility

As with the rules when telehealth was first introduced in 2020, you still need to have an existing relationship with your GP to meet eligibility requirements. That means you must have had a face-to-face consultation with the same GP or another practitioner at the same practice in the 12-months before a telehealth consultation.

It’s not always easy

As many of us have discovered over the last couple of years, as we’ve been working, schooling and just trying to entertain ourselves at home, there are always teething issues. The two biggest issues are technology and time.

Technology – it can make our lives easier and more entertaining, but sometimes it seems like it just makes things more complicated. Like when you’re tired, anxious, frustrated, unwell or in pain, everything, including technology, seems against you, and nothing seems to work 😑. Often this is because we find it difficult to focus or concentrate; after all, we’re tired, anxious, frustrated, unwell or in pain. Other times it may be because there’s a big demand on the system. Everyone is trying to get online for one reason or another, which may cause slower internet speeds.

Time – as with any appointment, there can be issues with time. Your healthcare provider may be running late because of tech issues, other patients have needed more time, there’s been a medical emergency, or because they’re human and have lives and families too, and things can get in the way. Or you may be running late for similar reasons. We all need to be patient and give people a little leeway as we navigate this new ‘normal’ we find ourselves in.

But we can make it easier

We’ve identified these potential issues not to freak you out but to prepare you. Honestly, they may not happen at all. But there are things you can do to prepare for your telehealth consultation that will make things easier for everyone.

Be patient – if your doctor is running late, if your internet is slow, if your appointment is rescheduled due to an emergency, be patient. This can be hard to do when you’re unwell or in pain. But becoming impatient won’t change the situation and will only make you feel worse – physically and emotionally. Make a cuppa, read a book, do a crossword puzzle, talk with your partner/cat/dog/kids – distract yourself while you wait.

However, if you have chest pain, difficulty breathing, or a medical emergency, call 000 immediately. Don’t wait for your telehealth appointment.

Be prepared – before your appointment, make a list of the things you want to discuss with your doctor. Put them in order from the most important to the least. That way, you won’t finish your consultation and then kick yourself for not asking X. Also – be aware that your appointment may end earlier than you anticipate if there’s a tech issue or an emergency. So lead with your most pressing questions or concerns, and if you have time, follow with the less important ones.

Be kind – Our healthcare providers are doing the best they can, often under stressful, trying circumstances. During this crisis, they’re our frontline, so please be kind to them. And be kind to yourself. You’re learning new technology or new ways to do things and just trying to stay sane during an insane time – recognise that you’re also doing the best you can. So hang in there.

Talk with someone who cares

Call the National MSK Help Line – our nurses are available weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 1800 263 265, or you can email helpline@msk.org.au. They can help you with info and support about musculoskeletal conditions, managing pain, treatments, accessing services, and much more.

More to explore


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09/Dec/2021

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

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

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

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

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

Your health is the priority.

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

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

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

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

Because your health is too important to neglect.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

Reference

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


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18/Nov/2021

Ever notice how much governments love acronyms?? Unfortunately, this article is full of them, but we’ll explain what they mean and try to clear up the murky area of chronic disease management (CDM) plans, formerly called Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) plans.

Note: The primary sources for this article is the Australian Government, Department of Health’s chronic disease management resources. Unfortunately this information has not been updated since 2014. Please treat this as general information only, and discuss your specific needs with your GP.

What are CDM plans?

In a nutshell, these plans are a proactive way for you and your general practitioner (GP) to manage your chronic, complex or terminal medical condition/s. The Department of Health defines a chronic condition as ‘one that has been (or is likely to be) present for six months or longer’.

Chronic musculoskeletal conditions fit under this definition.

These plans are prepared by a GP to help eligible people manage their condition/s. The plans set goals to help people manage and hopefully improve their health and wellbeing.

There are two types of CDM plans:

  • GP Management Plans (GPMP) and
  • Team Care Arrangements (TCAs).

GP Management Plans (GPMP)

A GPMP can help people with musculoskeletal conditions by providing an organised approach to their care. It’s a plan that you’ve worked out with your GP that:

  • identifies your health and care needs
  • sets out the services to be provided by your GP
  • lists any other health care and community services you may need
  • lists the actions you can take to help manage your condition.

For example, if you have osteoarthritis in your knees that’s causing you lots of pain, and you’re no longer able to comfortably play tennis or go bushwalking, you and your doctor might decide that losing some weight will improve this situation. However, rather than just agreeing that weight loss is a good idea, a GPMP is an action plan that sets out your clear aims and objectives.

Once this plan has been developed, you should receive a copy to take with you.

Team Care Arrangements (TCAs)

If you need help from other healthcare providers to achieve your goals, your GP may also suggest a TCA.

TCA’s include 5 visits per calendar year to other health care providers. These 5 visits can be to one healthcare provider or spread between several providers.

On the first of January you become eligible for 5 new visits. You’ll need to see your GP about this.

You should also receive a copy of this plan.

Eligibility

This is one of the areas that’s a little complicated, so if you think you might be eligible, it’s best to speak with your GP directly. When you call to make an appointment, let the receptionist know that you’d like to discuss a chronic disease management plan. You’ll need a longer appointment for this.

The Department of Health states that while there’s ‘no list of eligible conditions…these items are designed for patients who require a structured approach and to enable GPs to plan and coordinate the care of patients with complex conditions requiring ongoing care from a multidisciplinary care team. Your GP will determine whether a plan is appropriate for you’. (1)

Costs

Also a tricky area. If a healthcare provider (e.g. dietitian) accepts the Medicare benefit as full payment for the service, you’ll be bulk billed and there’ll be no out-of-pocket costs. However if they don’t, you’ll have to pay the difference between the fee charged and the Medicare rebate. This is often called the ‘gap’.

When you’re making an appointment, be sure to ask what your out-of-pocket costs will be. If the cost isn’t something you can afford, discuss your options with your doctor.

Reviewing your plan

Your plan will need to be reviewed regularly. These reviews allow you to see how much progress you’ve made. If you’re meeting your goals – e.g. losing weight, increasing your fitness – that’s great. If you’re not getting there or having difficulties, a review will allow you to discuss this with your GP and work on solutions or adjust your goals.

Help!

It can seem overwhelming, but your GP and the practice nurse are there to support you on this journey.

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

Reference

(1) Chronic Disease Management Patient Information, Australian Government, Department of Health, 2014.


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28/Oct/2021

When you live with persistent or ongoing pain, it can sometimes feel like it’s taking over your life. And the usual things you do to manage your pain don’t seem to have the same effect.

This can significantly impact your ability to do your daily tasks, work, be social, and be active. It can also affect your sleep quality, your emotions and mental health. This can then exacerbate your pain and become a vicious cycle.

The good news is that there’s lots of support available to help you break this cycle.

Breaking the pain cycle

There is a range of different health professionals who can work with you to manage your persistent pain. You may see them on an ongoing basis, or you may visit them from time to time as needed.

Your general practitioner (GP) is central to your care and will help you access other health professionals and services. Make sure you have a doctor who knows you, at a practice that can see you when you need to be seen. Having the same doctor, rather than moving from one doctor to another, means that your care will be consistent and organised. This will lead to the best possible outcomes for you.

Physiotherapists (or physios) use a variety of techniques (e.g. exercise, massage, heat and cold) as well as education and advice to reduce pain to allow you to gradually increase your activity levels. They can also show you how to increase mobility, strength and functioning by developing an exercise program for you. Find a physio.

Exercise physiologists can help you improve your health and fitness through clinical exercise programs tailored to your specific needs and support to live a healthy lifestyle. Find an Accredited EP.

Occupational therapists (or OTs) help you learn better ways to do everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, working or driving. They can also provide information on aids and equipment to make daily activities easier. Find an OT.

Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals can help you work through your feelings, particularly if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. They can also assist you with goal setting, prioritising activities and coping strategies.

Pharmacists can help you with information and advice about medications – both prescription and over-the-counter.

Pain specialists are doctors who’ve undergone additional training to diagnose and treat pain. They come from a variety of different medical specialties such as psychiatry, anaesthetics and general practice. They often work with a team of other health professionals to treat all aspects of your pain, from the physical, to the mental and emotional aspects

Pain management services and multidisciplinary pain clinics provide a holistic and coordinated approach to managing pain. Their programs are designed to specifically address the range of factors affecting your recovery, including:

  • physical factors
  • psychological issues, including your mood, stress or poor sleep
  • social factors including how you manage your activities at home and how you can return to work safely.

You’ll learn from health professionals such as doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists and nurses how to manage your pain more effectively with the least side effects.

Talk with your doctor about whether a pain management program would be helpful for your situation. And check out the National Pain Services Directory by Pain Australia. It provides more information about the different types of pain services and a handy search function to find a service near you.

Family and friends can be a great source of support and encouragement, so keep them involved. How much or how little you tell them about your pain issues is up to you, but just knowing they’re there if you need them can be a great source of comfort.

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/Sep/2021

This is the third in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

What is a specialist in healthcare?

A specialist is exactly what it sounds like. A person – in this case, a medical doctor – who has undergone additional training to become a ‘specialist’ or an expert in a specific area of medicine.

Specialists work in clinics and in hospitals, both in the private and public health systems. To see a specialist, you’ll need a letter of referral from your general practitioner (GP) or another specialist doctor.

As far as musculoskeletal conditions go, the most common specialist that people will see is a rheumatologist. But many other specialists help people manage their condition. Let’s explore each of them.

Whether you see any of these specialists will depend on your condition, symptoms, and their effect on your overall health and wellbeing.

Seeing a specialist

To see a specialist, you’ll need a referral letter from your GP or another specialist doctor. This will include information about your symptoms and test results.

You can visit a specialist in a clinic or a hospital. Depending on various factors such as where you live, the number of specialists available, the urgency of your situation, and if there’s a waiting list, you may see a specialist quickly, or you may have to wait.

Talk with your GP about the costs involved when discussing your referral. Medicare will cover part of the fee to see a specialist but not all of it. Specialist fees can be high, and depending on your circumstances and eligibility, this may influence whether you see a specialist at a bulk-billing hospital or in a private clinic. If you have private health insurance, this may also cover some of your costs. However, it’s essential to ask about fees and your choices before seeing a specialist.

The Better Health Channel suggests asking the following.

Does the specialist:

  • work within the public or private health system?
  • bulk-bill via the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS)?
  • require gap payments?
  • have a payment plan?
  • accept my private health cover?

Before your first appointment

When making your appointment, ask what information or test results you need to bring with you. The specialist may already have access to all or some of this information via your health records, but it’s a good idea to double-check.

You can also be proactive and create a file containing all of your results, records, medications and other treatments. Take it with you when you visit the specialist. That way there’ll be no potential delay in your assessment and treatment if your specialist can’t access some of your information. And make sure you include your referral letter.

Write down a list of questions about the things you want to know. This may be about diagnosis, treatment options, the benefits and risks of different treatments, costs, things you can do to manage better etc. Put them in order, with the most important questions at the top of the list. That way, if you run out of time, they’ll have been answered first.

Make sure you have an up-to-date list of your meds to take with you. This can be extremely helpful if your specialist hasn’t been able to access this information through online channels. You may want to use an app to keep track of your medicines so you always have this information with you. The MedicineWise app from the National Prescribing Service is free to download. You can create a list of your medicines by scanning their barcodes, set reminders for when to take medicines, store your test results and much more.

Consider taking a family member or friend with you. Healthcare appointments can be stressful, and having an extra set of eyes and ears can help you take it all in. They can also provide emotional support before, during and after your appointment.

During your appointment

The specialist will ask you about your symptoms and examine you.

Be open and honest when answering their questions. The specialist needs all the relevant information about you and your health to have an accurate idea of what’s happening and how best to treat you. They’ll need information about your medical history, other health conditions, treatments (both conventional and complementary) and lifestyle factors (e.g., how often you exercise, if you smoke, your diet etc.).

You may have one or more visits to your specialist before they have all the information they need. They may also send you for further tests. Once they have all the necessary information, they’ll explain your condition to you and what treatment they think you should have.

If you don’t understand what they’re suggesting, or you need more information, ask the specialist to explain further. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for this. Musculoskeletal conditions and treatments are complicated, so the more you understand, the better. And don’t be afraid to ask them to write things down for you.

After your appointment

Follow the treatment plan that you and your specialist have agreed upon. If they’ve requested you have further tests or book more appointments, make sure you do this as soon as possible.

If you’ve been prescribed medication, take it as instructed. If you can’t remember, or you’re not sure how to take it, talk with your pharmacist or call your specialist.

And for information and support between visits to your healthcare team, call our national Help Line on 1800 263 265 weekdays.

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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15/Sep/2021

Guest blog written by: Polly Bongiorno and Mathew Richardson

Have you heard people talking about myotherapy but don’t know what it is?

You’re not alone. Myotherapy is a relatively new treatment method for pain which has been rapidly growing in popularity in recent years.

What is myotherapy?

Myotherapy is a health care profession that focuses on assessing, treating and managing pain associated with musculoskeletal conditions.

Myotherapists are known for being hands-on with their treatments, and one of their great strengths is their soft tissue skills.

The treatment skills of a myotherapist can be classified broadly as either ‘active’ or ‘passive’.

Passive treatments are those that are ‘done to you’, providing short-term relief of pain to restore preferred movements. These can be incredibly helpful when working to change protective muscle spasms, movement patterns, fears and stress.

Active treatments are longer lasting, and involve you changing behaviours that will lead to long-term health benefits. These include exercise, education, lifestyle modifications and exploring the many different contributors to your pain.

In essence, myotherapy helps people in pain move better and live their best life. A myotherapist will foster a relationship of respect, care and trust with you to form a unique plan to get you back to doing the things you love.

So, what sets myotherapy apart from the rest?

Myotherapy treatment sessions are often longer than those of other allied health providers. This gives the therapist time to develop and implement a comprehensive, individualised plan for care and recovery and still have ample time for strong hands-on therapy and exercise rehabilitation. It also allows time to nurture the relationship with you.

Myotherapists are uniquely placed to offer a wide range of personalised treatments that can help to reduce pain and get you moving again. Myotherapists understand that no two people are the same, and so no two people should be treated the same when it comes to pain.

What does a typical session with a myotherapist look like?

One of the greatest benefits of a myotherapy session is longer treatment time. Time that is essential to ensuring your myotherapist will listen to you and your personal pain story. The myotherapist will ask you lots of questions to get a complete picture of your medical history and to understand your expectations and treatment goals.

They’ll listen carefully to understand the nature of your problem and its impact on your life. This will include all aspects affected by your pain. These can be:

  • physical – e.g., work, exercise, lifestyle
  • psychological – e.g., anxiety, stress, beliefs
  • social – e.g., access to health care, support system, family relationships.

The myotherapist will then assess your body – muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments, joints – and movements, to rule out serious conditions that may require referral to another healthcare professional, before moving ahead with treatment.

They’ll use a range of interventions, tailored to you and your goals. This may include soft tissue therapy to calm an over-protective nervous system, as well as exploring lifestyle and stress reduction strategies, exercise and movement interventions. They’ll also help you find ways of getting back to doing the things in life, that pain may have disrupted or affected.

Finally, they’ll help you make sense of why you hurt, and what to expect on your journey of recovery. Understanding what’s happening to you and why, can be a powerful pain reliever.

How is myotherapy different from physio or osteo?

By definition there isn’t a lot of difference between musculoskeletal health professionals. Myotherapists use many of the same orthopaedic assessment techniques as physiotherapists and osteopaths, and many of the same treatment techniques. Apart from minor differences in approach, the differences mainly lie in the scope of practice, rather than the quality of treatment.

For example myotherapists commonly treat general musculoskeletal pain and movement dysfunction, whereas physiotherapists also extend their treatment to cardiovascular and serious neurological pathologies.

Accessing a myotherapist

You don’t need a letter of referral from your doctor to see a myotherapist.

They typically work in settings such as private clinics, sporting clubs or community health services.

Myotherapists may work closely with other allied health professionals, general practitioners and specialists to get the best outcomes for people living with pain, regardless of the complexity of their problems.

Cost

The cost to see a myotherapist may vary, so ask about costs when you’re making enquiries about booking an appointment. You may be able to claim your treatment through your private health insurance. Check with your health fund to find out if myotherapy is covered, and if so, how much of the treatment is covered and how many sessions you can claim.

In summary

Myotherapy treatment aims to help you become confident that you can return to moving your body in ways that best support your lifestyle and what you value. It’s all about you.

Consider myotherapy the next time you’re in pain. Myotherapists are health professionals with a deep understanding of the human body and can help you on your journey to wellness and vitality. If you’re in pain and want to try myotherapy, contact your local myotherapist or visit www.myotherapy.org.au to experience the difference.

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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26/Aug/2021

This is the second in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

Mental and emotional support professionals

Being diagnosed with a musculoskeletal condition can be overwhelming. You may feel a range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress, loss, worry and anger.

And living with a condition that causes ongoing pain and fatigue, and has the potential to change the way your body moves and functions can cause you to feel an array of emotions too.

If you feel these ups and downs, you’re not alone. Many people living with musculoskeletal conditions find that their emotional and mental health is affected from time to time. In fact, anxiety and depression are more common in people with musculoskeletal conditions than in the general population.

It’s important to recognise signs of these conditions and seek help as early as possible. Together with your healthcare team, you can develop a treatment plan that fits your needs physically, emotionally and mentally.

Your support team

Depending on your needs and whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, or you’re seeking support to help manage your emotions, you may see one (or more) of the following professionals:

Your general practitioner (GP) – is usually the first person you see when you have a health issue. As well as helping you manage your musculoskeletal condition, they coordinate your care and help you access other health professionals and services. If you require specific support for your mental health, they’ll work with you to create a mental health treatment plan. This plan entitles you to Medicare rebates for certain mental health professionals and care via the Better Access initiative.

A psychologist – can help you work through your feelings, particularly if you’re feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. They can also help you set goals and work through any problems that may be preventing you from achieving your goals.

A psychiatrist – is a medical doctor who’s undergone further study to specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They tend to treat severe and complex illnesses. They’re able to prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants, if appropriate.

A mental health nurse – is a registered nurse who’s undertaken additional training to care for people with mental health issues. They work in the community and hospital settings to support people in managing their mental health and treatment.

A mental health occupational therapist (OT) – OTs help people learn better ways to do everyday occupations (or activities). Those working in mental health help people lessen the impact their condition has on their quality of life and their ability to do their everyday activities.

An accredited mental health social worker – specialises in assessing, treating, and preventing mental health conditions. They help people manage their condition and its impact on their family, friends, work, and education.

A counsellor – is someone you can talk through your problems with. They can help you find clarity and solutions. A trained counsellor has usually spent three or more years studying counselling; however, there’s no requirement in Australia that counsellors have any qualifications or experience.

Wow, that’s a lot of support! How do you choose who to see?

Several factors will influence your decision:

Your mental health issues/condition. It can be challenging to know what to do or where to go when you’re struggling with mental health issues. This is where your GP comes in. They’re trained to help people with their mental health issues. By talking with you about your situation, they’ll be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist to get the care you need. They can also assess whether you’re eligible for a mental health treatment plan.

Your history. Have you seen a mental health professional before? Do you have a good relationship with them? Have you experienced good outcomes from your sessions with them? If so, you may decide to go back to them. If not, discuss your options with your GP.

Cost. If you’re able to access subsidised treatment via the Better Access initiative, you’ll be able to see a mental health professional at a reduced cost. However, health professionals set their own fees, so be sure to ask about out-of-pocket costs when you’re booking your appointment. If these costs are an issue for you, even with Medicare rebates, talk with your GP.

Access. If you live in a rural or remote area, you may not be able to see a mental health professional in person. In this case, you may be able to access them via telehealth. Telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp) on your smartphone, tablet or computer. You can choose phone or video consultations, depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it.

Treatments

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when treating mental and emotional health issues. Treatment will be tailored to your unique situation and the goals you have. But treatment will commonly include:

Lifestyle factors – regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good quality sleep, managing your stress and limiting your use of alcohol and drugs are practical things you can do to improve your physical, emotional and mental health.

Psychological therapies – also called psychotherapy or talk therapies – explore the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are distressing you, and work towards changing them. It can be used by people with mental health conditions and people who want to understand themselves better.* There are many different forms of psychological therapies, including:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this helps people learn to identify and change negative or unhelpful thoughts that have a harmful effect on behaviour and emotions, and replace them with more objective, realistic thoughts. People learn practical coping strategies such as goal setting and problem-solving that they can use in the current situation and in the future.
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy — combines cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness strategies.
  • acceptance and commitment therapy – focuses on acceptance to deal with negative thoughts, feelings, symptoms, or circumstances. It also encourages a commitment to positive, healthy attitudes.

Medication. For some conditions, such as moderate to severe depression, you may be prescribed anti-depressant medication. This will work alongside treatments such as lifestyle changes and psychological therapies. Find out more about anti-depressant medications.

Other support is available

  • Your family and/or close friends can be a great source of support and understanding.
  • Peer support groups, or people in similar situations, can also be a valuable resource. Talking with someone who really understands what you’re going through and has lived experience and practical info is priceless. Groups meet in person and online. For specific mental health groups, check out this list by the Black Dog Institute. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/support-groups/
  • Mental health organisations provide a considerable amount of information and support to help you manage your mental and emotional health. See the list below for details of these groups.
  • Online therapy. There’s also a lot of information online that you can access whenever and wherever you want. Healthdirect has some information to help you find out more about eTherapy, including links to useful sites.

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

Mental health organisations and resources

Reference

* Psychotherapy, healthdirect, September 2019.


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05/Aug/2021

This is the first of a series of blogs that will explore the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition. For ease of reading, we’ll be referring to them all as practitioners.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

Physical or manual therapies

These therapies provide a hands-on approach to help relieve your pain and stiffness and improve your mobility, movement and joint function.

They’re often referred to as physical, manual, manipulative or hands-on therapies. The most common are:

  • Chiropractic – this involves manipulation and manual adjustment of your spine. It’s based on the premise that if your body, especially the spine, is out of alignment, it can affect the health and function of other parts of your body.
  • Massage – involves rubbing and manipulating the soft tissues of your body, especially your muscles. Massage can improve blood circulation, ease muscle tension and help you feel more relaxed. There are a variety of different types of massage available.
  • Myotherapy – involves assessing, treating, and managing the pain associated with soft tissue injury and restricted joint movement caused by problems with your muscles and the tissue surrounding your muscles (the fascia).
  • Occupational therapy – helps you learn better ways to do everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, cooking, working, eating or driving. An occupational therapist can also provide information on aids and equipment to make everyday jobs easier.
  • Osteopathy – is based on the premise that your body’s wellbeing depends on your bones, muscles and other soft tissues functioning smoothly together and correctly aligned. It uses physical manipulation, massage and stretching.
  • Physiotherapy – uses physical means (e.g., exercise, massage, heat and cold) as well as education and advice to help keep you moving and functioning as well as possible. Physiotherapists can also show you pain relief techniques and design an individual exercise program for you.
  • Reflexology – involves pressure applied to specific points of your feet or hands. These points are believed to match up with other parts of your body.

All of these therapies will provide additional support apart from the hands-on treatment. This may include specific exercises for you to do at home, relaxation techniques and pain management strategies. Some practitioners (e.g., chiropractors, physiotherapists and myotherapists) may also use medical devices such as ultrasound, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or dry needling alongside their hands-on treatment.

Talk with your GP and/or specialist

Before seeing any new practitioner, it’s best to discuss the treatment with your GP and/or specialist (e.g. rheumatologist). They may have some cautions about a treatment as it relates to your specific health condition/s. For example, they may recommend that you not get a treatment if you’re going through a flare or have active inflammation. Or, if you have fused joints or osteoporosis, they will likely advise against treatments that manipulate or adjust your joints or spine.

On the flip side, they may also provide you with recommendations of practitioners they’ve worked with or who have a particular interest in your condition.

Do your research

When making enquiries about a potential practitioner, ask lots of questions. For example:

  • How does the treatment work?
  • What are the possible side effects or risks?
  • Have you treated other people with my condition or health issues?
  • Do you need to see any of my recent medical tests (e.g., x-rays)?
  • How long does it take for this treatment to work?
  • How will I know if it’s working?
  • What can I expect during a treatment session?
  • How often will I need to see you?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Can I claim this treatment on my private health insurance?
  • What are your qualifications?
  • Do you receive regular training and updates?
  • Are you a member of the professional association for this treatment/practice?

You can also contact the professional association and check their list of members to ensure the practitioner is registered. Or visit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency website and search for the practitioner.

What to expect at your first appointment

Regardless of the type of practitioner, you can expect to have a detailed discussion about your musculoskeletal condition and medical history, symptoms and what you hope to get out of the treatment.

Be wary of any practitioner that doesn’t give you this time and attention to understand your situation and your needs. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to healthcare.

Keep track of your progress

It can be helpful to keep a daily diary tracking your symptoms so you can see if the therapy is working for you. Write down any changes in your pain levels, fatigue and other symptoms for a period (e.g., a month). Also include any changes to your medications, exercise routine, the amount of sleep you’re getting and anything else that could affect your symptoms. After a month of tracking, you’ll have a clearer picture of whether or not the therapy is working.

And keep your GP and/or specialist informed about how you’re going with the physical therapy.

Be careful

All treatments – from hands-on physical therapies to medications and vaccines – have benefits and risks. You need to weigh these up to make an informed decision as to whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks for you.

And if you have conditions such as osteoporosis or inflammatory arthritis, you should avoid manipulative treatments such as chiropractic and osteopathy.

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

Professional associations


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17/Dec/2020

…when it comes to complementary, alternative and ‘natural’ treatments

Many Australians use complementary or alternative treatments to manage their health condition (e.g. arthritis, anxiety) or to improve their overall health and wellbeing. But what are these treatments and what do you need to consider before trying them?

Complementary and alternative treatments include a wide range of therapies, medicines, products or practices that aren’t currently considered to be a conventional or mainstream medical treatment. They include acupuncture, meditation, massage, herbal treatments, yoga, aromatherapy and naturopathy.

The word complementary usually refers to treatments that are used alongside conventional medicine, whereas alternative usually means the treatment is used instead of conventional medicine.

To make things easier (and less wordy), we’ll use the term complementary treatment when referring to all types of complementary or alternative treatments in this article.

Why do we use complementary treatments?

People are attracted to these treatments because they often have a more holistic approach and treat the entire person, rather than just their condition or symptoms. They also appear to be more natural and safer than conventional medicine.

But it’s important to understand that as with any treatment, complementary treatments may cause harm and make you unwell if they’re not taken correctly, if they interact with one of your other medications, or if the practitioner you see isn’t properly trained or qualified. That’s why you should discuss your use, or intended use, or any complementary treatments with your doctor.

Do they work for musculoskeletal conditions?

While many people feel that using complementary treatments has been beneficial for their health and wellbeing, there isn’t as much evidence to support its use for musculoskeletal conditions as there is for conventional medicines.

For many complementary treatments there just aren’t enough well-designed randomised controlled trials to show whether or not these therapies are effective. And if they are effective, for which conditions or symptoms.

However some types of complementary treatments show promise and may be helpful for managing your condition. More and more research is now focusing on these treatments. But at the moment the evidence is still lacking so it’s best to take your time, do your research and make sure the treatment is right for you.

Tips for starting a new complementary treatment

Let your doctor know what you’re doing. Keep them informed about any things you’re taking or considering taking (e.g. supplements, homeopathic treatments, herbal medicines) as well as any other therapies you’re trying or considering trying (e.g. acupuncture, yoga).

Continue taking your medications as prescribed. Don’t stop taking any medications without first discussing it with your doctor. Some medications need to be gradually reduced, rather than simply stopped, to avoid side effects.

Think about what you want to get out of the treatment. Are you hoping to control symptoms like pain or fatigue? Sleep better? Reduce or stop taking certain medications? Manage your anxiety? When you have a clear goal from the beginning of your treatment, you can monitor your progress and see if there are any improvements. After starting a new treatment, write down any changes you notice for a month – remember to include any medication changes, changes in your exercise program, the amount of sleep you’re getting and anything else that could affect your symptoms. At the end of the month, you’ll have a clearer picture of whether or not the treatment is working. If it’s not, it may be time to look for an alternative.

Do your research and ask lots of questions. Some treatments may help you manage your condition or symptoms, while others will have no effect. Visit websites such as MedlinePlus and The Cochrane Library to learn more about the treatment. And talk with your doctor and the therapist. Find out if:

  • there’s any current evidence that the treatment is effective and safe for people with your condition?
  • the treatment’s been shown to be effective in repeated scientific studies with large numbers of people?
  • the research used a control group? A control group is a group of people who don’t have a particular treatment compared with a group of similar people who do. This helps to show that any results are due to the treatment and not some other factor.
  • potential risks, side effects and interactions with other treatments are clearly identified?
  • you can continue to use your current effective treatments, as well as the complementary treatment?
  • the treatment’s something you can afford and can access easily?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you should be wary of the treatment. Discuss it with your doctor or specialist before you go any further.

Check the qualifications of the person providing the treatment.

  • Do they receive regular training and updates?
  • Have they treated other people with your condition or health issues?
  • Are they a member of their peak body?
  • Are they accredited?

Buy Australian. Australian complementary medicines are subject to strict safety and quality regulations. This may not be the case in other countries. In Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) ensures the safety of medicines and other therapeutic treatments.

Call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). As well as information on your prescription and over-the-counter medicines, they can also help you find out more about herbal medicine, vitamins and minerals.

After doing your research, if you have any doubts about the treatment, don’t use it.

Talk with your doctor or contact our MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 helpline@msk.org.au for information about other treatment options.

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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