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road-trip.jpg
16/Nov/2022

“Roadtripophobia (n.) The fear of not having any road trips currently booked.“

With the weather improving (finally), many of us are looking out our windows and dreaming about road trips to anywhere but here. We’ve been stuck in one place for too long, and it’s time to explore new places! 😎

However, living with arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal conditions can sometimes affect your ability to drive. Pain, fatigue, joint and muscular pain, and brain fog can make driving and sitting for long periods difficult.

That really sucks when your road trip playlist is ready to go, and a bag of kool mints is waiting in your console!

But we’ve got some tips to help you get your motor runnin’… so you can head out on the highway and look for adventure.

“Never underestimate the therapeutic power of driving
and listening to very loud music.” – Unknown

1. Talk with your doctor before you hit the road

If your condition sometimes affects your driving ability, talk with your doctor. Depending on the problems you’re experiencing, your doctor may suggest a range of self-management strategies to help ease muscle tension, reduce pain, prevent you from stiffening up too much, and allow you to move more freely. You can use these strategies in the weeks leading up to your trip and as you travel all over the countryside.

For example, simple things like regular exercise, pain management techniques, aids and devices, and supportive cushions can be a great help on a road trip.

Your doctor may also review your medicines to ensure they’re managing your condition as effectively as possible, with as few side effects (e.g. drowsiness) as possible.

This brings us to the next tip…

2. Know how your medicines affect you

Do your medicines affect your concentration? Do they make you sleepy? Or affect your coordination or reaction time? If so, talk with your doctor about whether there’s another medicine you can use that won’t have this effect on you.

Understanding the effect medicines can have and whether or not they’ll affect your ability to drive safely is extremely important. If you’re unsure, chat with your doctor or pharmacist.

Remember to pack any medicines you may need on your trip, whether you’re gone for an hour or days. Pain and flares can appear unexpectedly, so take a leaf out of the Scout guidebook and ‘be prepared’.

3. Wear comfy clothes

There’s nothing worse than driving for a while and realising you’re wearing the absolute worst clothes for the trip. Your shoes are restrictive, your top doesn’t breathe, and your jeans are giving you an atomic wedgie! 😫

Road trips are fun, so you should feel relaxed and comfortable in the clothes you wear. Choose clothes with some give that allow you to stretch and move around easily, and are appropriate for the weather.

If you want to look more put together at the end of your trip, take a change of clothes and get changed at a rest stop close to your destination.

And don’t forget to pack a raincoat, sunhat and sunscreen – it’s Australia, after all. We can have all the seasons in one day! 🌞☔🌈⚡

4. Plan your trip

Planning and prepping will make you more confident during the drive and reduce the risk of stressful surprises. It also helps to build anticipation for the journey ahead.

  • Make sure your car is ready for the trip. Book it in from a service to ensure tyres, fluids, brakes etc., are up for the drive.
  • Print your maps or enter the route into your GPS. Plan your rest stops, fuel stops, and places you want to visit along the way.
  • If you’re making a long trip, stop every hour, get out of your car and stretch. Give yourself plenty of time; you don’t want to feel tense or rushed. Tension and stress can make your muscles tight and increase your pain levels. So take time to go slow and enjoy the ride. 😊
  • Be aware of changing road conditions. Much of Australia has had extensive rain and floods. This has caused many potholes to form, making driving stressful and potentially damaging to your car. Hitting a pothole can also cause significant jarring, increasing your muscle and joint pain. Read the RACV article: Stay alert, slow down, don’t swerve for info on how to safely navigate potholes.
  • As far as flooding goes, the information is clear – avoid flooded areas, and never drive through floodwaters. If you’re not sure about the state of the roads on your route or where floodwaters are, visit the website of your local roads authority and state emergency services.

“There is nowhere to go but everywhere,
so just keep on rolling under the stars.”- Jack Kerouac

5. Get comfortable in the car

Before you hit play on your playlist and set off, carefully adjust your seat and mirrors. If your feet and ankles are stiff, move your seat forward to push the pedals with your entire foot, not just your toes. Make sure your seat’s height lets you control the pedals without being uncomfortable. You should be able to reach and operate all of the controls, pedals, steering wheel etc., and have good visibility through your windows and mirrors.

If you have pain in your hips or legs, consider using a cushion that supports the lumbar spine, hips and buttocks. You can find these at chemists, auto shops, and any store that sells aids and equipment. Or you can see an occupational therapist for info and advice. Just be sure to do all of this before your trip, so you can try out the cushion to ensure it helps and doesn’t aggravate your condition.

Remember to empty your pockets of keys, wallet, small change and other bits and pieces. They can cause irritation and pain – especially if you have a long drive ahead.

6. Take breaks and notice the world around you

Don’t drive for more than an hour without a break. Stop, get out of your car, and stretch or massage tight muscles. Walk around. Drink some water. Check out what’s nearby – a coffee shop, a historical marker, or a breathtaking view. It’s incredible how much you can discover when you stop and look around. And the break will help you feel better and more relaxed at your destination than if you’d driven straight through.

Build these breaks into your overall trip time so that you have plenty of time to get from point A to point B safely and comfortably.

“Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination.
It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.” – Emma Chase

7. Stay hydrated and eat well

Water lubricates and cushions your joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps your temperature normal and helps maintain your blood pressure. When you’re not getting enough water, your body can’t work as well as it should. So make sure you fill your water bottles before you set out and take time to drink from them.

Pack healthy snacks like unsalted nuts, pre-cut fruit and veg, trail mix, or cheese and crackers. Check the nutrition panel to ensure they’re not high in fat, sugar or salt.

Alongside the healthy snacks, you may decide to add a road trip treat (because you’re only human 😉). For my family, that’s always been kool mints or snakes. Yum! 😛

8. Manage your fatigue

You may experience fatigue or intense tiredness due to your condition, the effects of some medicines, or lack of sleep. So plan around your fatigue. For example, if you’re generally fatigued most days around 3pm, plan to do your driving before this.

Your driving ability is compromised when you get tired, or your pain worsens. So don’t drive when you’re feeling foggy or sleepy. Share the driving with others. When you’re not the driver, you can keep the music playing, be the navigator, quiz master, or lolly dispenser. Or just put your head back and rest.

“You can pack for every occasion, but a good friend
will always be the best thing you could bring.”- Unknown

9. Check out aids and gadgets

There are many aids available to help make driving more comfortable, including:

  • A swivel seat cushion to help you get in and out of the car. You pop it on top of your car seat, sit on it with your body facing out and then swivel your body and legs aroundto face the dashboard.
  • A lumbar back support or a rolled-up towel to support your lower back.
  • A steering wheel cover can help make your steering wheel easier to grip if you have stiff, sore hands.
  • If you find it difficult to twist the petrol cap on or off, try using a petrol cap turner. It’ll make twisting the cap easier.
  • Grab handles and bars can be added to your car to help you get in and out of your car more easily.
  • A seat belt reacher can help reduce arm and shoulder strain when reaching for your seat belt and pulling it across your body.
  • Reversing cameras and parking sensors are available in most new cars and can be added to older ones. They can make parking and reversing easier if you have problems twisting, turning your neck or looking over your shoulder.

Talk with an occupational therapist for information and advice about what aids or gadgets may be helpful for you.

10. Use heat and cold treatments

Applying heat or cold to painful areas before you head out in your car can help relieve your pain. Generally speaking, heat can ease muscle spasms and tension, and cold can reduce swelling. Heat and cold treatments are available in a wide range (e.g. packs, rubs, gels, patches). Some are portable and can be left in your glovebox or bag, so you have them on hand when you need them. Always read the instructions carefully before using them.

11. And have fun!

Heading out on a road trip is a time-honoured tradition because it’s fun, gets us out of our bubbles, and leads to new and exciting adventures. So take some time to plan and prepare, and enjoy the journey! 🚗

“It doesn’t matter how old you get, buying snacks for a road trip should
always look like an unsupervised 9 year old was given $100.”- Unknown 😁😂

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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13/Oct/2022

Tips to help you sweep away winter

Spring is such a wonderful time of year 😊🌼. The mornings are becoming lighter, the weather’s improving, and the smell of spring blossoms is in the air. So take a moment to breathe it in – you’ll definitely feel a lift in your mood (unless you have allergies – sorry about that 🤧).

It’s also the perfect time to do a bit of spring cleaning; of your home, office, garden or garage. Especially if, like me, you open the blinds on a sunny day and the sunlight highlights every dust bunny, dirty surface, and pet hair tumbleweed 😮.

But cleaning and reorganising can take a toll when you live with a musculoskeletal condition, chronic pain, and fatigue. So we’ve got some tips to help you clean without overdoing it.

Planning, prioritising and pacing

First, make a plan. You can’t do everything at once. So write down all of the things you want to do.

Now prioritise the jobs. What’s most important? And when you consider this, remember your home doesn’t need to be a glossy magazine or Pinterest version of ‘perfect’. That takes a lot of styling, filters, and constant effort. It just needs to be your version of ‘perfect’ – comfortable and cosy for you and whoever you live with.

And finally, pacing. Take your time when you tackle your cleaning. Break it into smaller tasks. For example, don’t try to organise and clean your entire bedroom cupboard in one go. Go small. Deal with your shoes one day; the next day, you can focus on the things stored on shelves, and so on. Make it achievable and realistic for you and how you’re feeling.

Take breaks

We’re often tempted to get as much done as possible while we’re feeling good or motivated. But you need to take breaks so that you don’t overdo it. Otherwise, before you know it, your back’s sore, you can’t move your neck, and exhaustion hits you like a sledgehammer.

Set an alert on your phone to prevent this from happening. Give yourself a specific time to work and take a break when the alert chimes. Do some stretches, drink water, go outside for some air and vitamin D, or have a healthy snack if you’re hungry.

And if you find yourself getting tired, or starting to ache before the alert goes off, listen to your body readjust your timing, and take an earlier break.

Taking regular breaks, rather than pushing through, will leave you feeling much better at the end of your cleaning session.

Get the right tools for the jobs

Lightweight brooms, mops and vacuums make life much easier, especially if you have stairs or a large space to clean. Upright or robotic vacuums can be helpful as you don’t need to bend over a lot, especially when compared with barrel vacs. Just be aware of where the robots are so you don’t trip over them 😐!

Use an upright dustpan to sweep up crumbs, fluff and other debris from the floor. They require minimal bending, which is great if you have a sore back or get dizzy when you bend over.

Long-handled dusters can help you reach high places, especially if stretching or reaching your arms above your head is painful. If you don’t have one, you can attach your duster to a piece of dowel or a ruler to give you the extra length. Or even better, get someone else to do the dusting!

And don’t forget to use your reacher, grabber or other pick-up tools if you have one. They’re not just handy for retrieving something you’ve dropped but also for cleaning. You can pick up stray toys, socks and other items from the floor and retrieve light objects from high shelves.

Choose your battles

If you need to vacuum but aren’t up to doing your entire home, don’t. Just do the high-traffic areas. Or a high-traffic area. If your bathroom needs cleaning, do the high-use areas. Your shower screen doesn’t need to sparkle, but you do need clean towels and a clean sink.

Let the cleaning products do the hard work

Have you ever read the instructions on your cleaning products? Or do you just spray and wipe away? I’m definitely guilty of that! But many cleaning products need time to work on the grunge and grime. Then you can wipe it and the dirt away with far less effort. It’s also good to know that you don’t need separate multipurpose, kitchen and bathroom sprays. Choice has tested many of these products and found that they basically work the same. So you can save your money and cupboard space and just buy one.

Beware of dust and toxic smells

Many people with musculoskeletal and other chronic conditions are sensitive to chemicals, strong smells and/or dust. Some alternatives to the usual cleaning products include bi-carb soda, vinegar, tea tree oil, lemon juice and water. Many websites provide details for making your own cleaning products. There’s also a large range of more natural and plant-based cleaning products you can buy online and from the supermarket.

As far as dust goes, dusters often just move it from your surfaces to the air around you. Use a slightly damp cloth over surfaces to remove dust, and rinse it frequently. Or use an electrostatic duster that attracts and holds onto the dust.

Recycle old socks

I’ve recently discovered that old socks are perfect for many cleaning jobs around the house. You can put one on your hand and wipe down furniture, clean skirting boards, shutters, blinds, ceiling fans and even your indoor plants. When you’ve finished, you can remove the sock from your hand by pulling it off inside-out, and the dust and grime stay off your hand.

You can also put some potpourri or lavender into a sock, tie or sew the end shut, and stick it in the back of your closet, drawers, and other closed-up spaces you want to freshen up. 😊🌸🌻🌼🌷

Use your dishwasher for more than dishes

Did you know you can clean plastic toys, thongs, metal keys, exhaust covers, scrubbing brushes, and even dog toys in your dishwasher? Check out this article: Can you wash it in the dishwasher? The big list of things you can and can’t wash in the dishwasher from Choice for more info.

Consider reorganising your pantry, laundry or kitchen

These are the areas we use a lot. And they often have heavy things we use regularly – e.g. packets of rice, canned goods, pots and pans, detergents and cleaning products. Put these heavy items at waist level (if you have the space) so you aren’t constantly bending or stretching to access them. Check out Pinterest for ideas and inspo.

Get some wheels

A basket of wet washing or a bucket full of water can be really heavy. Instead, use a laundry trolley or a mop bucket with wheels.

Repackage it

We often buy cleaning products in bulk as it tends to be cheaper. But that can end up being several kilos or litres. So when you buy a big box or bottle of cleaning products, put a quantity into smaller, easier-to-use containers. You can top them up when you need to. And make sure you label the new containers clearly.

Alternate your cleaning activities

If you’ve spent some time doing physically tiring cleaning, take a break and do something more passive, like sitting at your desk and cleaning out your email inbox or reviewing receipts for your tax return. Or take a break and read a book or do some guided imagery. Then when/if you feel up to more physical work, you can go back to it. The important thing is you’ve given your body a chance to rest.

Get the family involved

This is obvious, but often such a drama that many of us just end up doing the chores ourselves 😑. But that’s not sustainable. Also, as everyone contributes to the mess, everyone needs to contribute to the cleaning. Read ‘How to divide chores around the home and get kids involved’ from RACV for some tips.

De-clutter

When we have a build-up of clutter and everyday things invading our space, they can become a trip hazard. Here are some ways to tackle the mess.

  • Make a plan and start small.
  • Organise the clutter by putting ‘like’ things together. For example, in your linen cupboard, put all your towels together in one group, bedsheets in another etc.
  • Decide what you want to keep and what’s just taking up valuable space. Then you need to decide what to do with the things you no longer want. So donate, give away, sell, and repurpose what you can. Or if it’s damaged/worn out/soiled/beyond repair, recycle or throw it away.

Hire someone

This isn’t an option for everyone or for every time, but there might be occasions you decide it’s worth the cost. Consider hiring a local handyperson/business to help with your lawns/gardening or cleaning your carpets, curtains or blinds.

Distract yourself with music, podcasts and audiobooks

This can make the cleaning more enjoyable. Just be mindful of the passing time, so you don’t get distracted and overdo things 😉.

Give your medicine cabinet a spring clean too

Get rid of out-of-date or unnecessary items. But don’t throw medications in the bin – take them to your local pharmacy for disposal.

Things don’t have to be perfect…

So give yourself a break. As a clean freak, I constantly struggle with this. But listening to your body and doing things that are realistic for you is more important than some idea of perfection that’s unsustainable (or unattainable). Accept that and just enjoy being in your home 😊.

Call our Help Line

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

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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.

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13/Apr/2022

We talk about inflammation a lot. But what is it? What’s happening in your body when you have inflammation?

Acute and chronic inflammation

There are two types of inflammation – acute and chronic.

Acute inflammation

Acute inflammation is your body’s reaction to things such as an infection (e.g. a cold or infected wound) or an injury (e.g. a sprained ankle or bee sting).

Symptoms associated with acute inflammation are:

  • pain
  • redness
  • swelling
  • heat
  • loss of function (e.g. difficulty moving a swollen ankle after spraining it or difficulty breathing through your nose when you have a cold).

What’s happening in your body with acute inflammation?

When you sprain your ankle, or get an infection, your immune system automatically springs into action.

Cells close to the source of the injury or infection release chemicals known as inflammatory mediators (e.g. histamine). They increase blood flow to the area, widening blood vessels and allowing more blood to reach the injured tissue. As a result, the area becomes red and feels hot.

The extra blood to the area enables more immune cells to reach the injured tissue. This includes white blood cells, or leukocytes, whose role it is to defend your body against infections and disease and start the healing process.

Depending on the cause, acute inflammation can occur quickly and generally goes away quickly.

Chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation is persistent, low-level inflammation that lasts for months or years. With chronic inflammation, the inflammatory process often begins when there’s no injury or illness present; and it doesn’t end when it should. When this happens, white blood cells may target and damage nearby healthy tissues and organs.

We don’t really know why chronic inflammation occurs. It doesn’t seem to serve a protective purpose as acute inflammation does.

However researchers have identified factors that increase your risk of developing chronic inflammation, including:

  • chronic infections
  • physical inactivity
  • poor diet
  • obesity
  • imbalance of gut bacteria
  • disturbed sleep
  • smoking
  • stress
  • ageing.

Many people don’t know they have chronic inflammation, but they may feel symptoms such as:

  • body and joint pain
  • fatigue and insomnia
  • weight gain or loss
  • frequent infections
  • depression, anxiety and mood disorders
  • digestive problems (e.g. constipation, diarrhoea, acid reflux)
  • skin rashes.

Chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

If you’re concerned about chronic inflammation and have symptoms like those above that have been troubling you for some time, see your doctor . They’ll talk with you about your symptoms, do a physical exam, and may decide that blood tests are necessary to look for signs of inflammation.

The blood test will look for elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), which rises in response to inflammation.

Inflammation is helpful until it’s not

It’s important to remember that inflammation isn’t inherently bad. Acute inflammation serves a vital role in our health and survival. It helps us recover from injury and infection. However, when it’s chronic, it can negatively affect our health.

Always talk with your doctor if you have symptoms that are distressing you or making you feel unwell.

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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03/Mar/2022

Neck pain is a common problem many of us will experience at least once in our lives. The good news is that most cases of neck pain get better within a few days.

So what is neck pain? What causes it, and how can you manage it and get on with life?

Let’s start with a look at your spine

It helps to know how your spine works to understand some of the potential causes of neck pain.

Your spine (or backbone) is made up of bones called vertebrae, stacked on top of each other to form a loose ‘S’-shaped column.

Your spinal cord transports messages to and from your brain and the rest of your body. It passes through a hole in each of the vertebrae, where it’s protected from damage. It runs through the length of your spinal column.

Each vertebra is cushioned by spongy tissue called intervertebral discs. These discs act as shock absorbers. Vertebrae are joined together by small joints (facet joints), which allow the vertebrae to slide against each other, enabling you to twist and turn. Tough, flexible bands of soft tissue (ligaments) also hold the spine in position.

Layers of muscle provide structural support and help you move. They’re joined to bone by strong tissue (tendons).

Your spine is divided into five sections: 7 cervical or neck vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, 5 lumbar vertebrae, 5 fused vertebrae in your sacrum and 4 fused vertebrae in your tailbone (or coccyx) at the base of your spine.

So what’s causing the pain?

It’s important to know that most people with neck pain don’t have any significant damage to their spine. The pain they’re experiencing often comes from the soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments.

Some common causes of neck pain are:

  • muscle strain or tension – caused by things such as poor posture for long periods (e.g. hunching over while using a computer/smartphone or while reading), poor neck support while sleeping, jerking or straining your neck during exercise or work activities, anxiety and stress.
  • cervical spondylosis – this arthritis of the neck is related to ageing. As you age, your intervertebral discs lose moisture and some of their cushioning effect. The space between your vertebrae becomes narrower, and your vertebrae may begin to rub together. Your body tries to repair this damage by creating bony growths (bone spurs). Most people with this condition don’t have any symptoms; however, when they do occur, the most common symptoms are neck pain and stiffness. Some people may experience other symptoms such as tingling or numbness in their arms and legs if bone spurs press against nerves. There can also be a narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis).
  • other musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis.
  • herniated disc (also called a slipped or ruptured disc). This occurs when the tough outside layer of a disc tears or ruptures, and the soft jelly-like inside bulges out and presses on the nerves in your spine.
  • whiplash – this is a form of neck sprain caused when the neck is suddenly whipped backward and then forward. This stretches the neck muscles and ligaments more than normal, causing a sprain. Whiplash most commonly occurs following a car accident and may occur days after the accident.

Symptoms

The symptoms you experience will depend on what’s causing your neck pain but may include:

  • pain and/or stiffness in the neck and shoulders
  • pain when moving
  • difficulty turning your head
  • headache.

In most cases, neck pain goes away in a few days. But if your pain doesn’t get better, or you develop other symptoms, you should see your doctor.

Or you can answer a few questions in the neck pain and stiffness symptom checker by healthdirect to find out if you need medical care. Simply click on ‘N’ and select ‘neck pain and stiffness’.

Seeing your doctor

If you need to see your doctor because of your neck pain, you can expect a discussion about potential causes or triggers of your pain, whether you’ve had neck pain before, things that make your pain worse, things that make it better. Your doctor will also conduct a thorough physical exam.

This discussion and examination by your doctor will decide whether more investigations (e.g. x-rays, CT or MRI scans) are appropriate for you. However, these tests are generally unhelpful to find a cause of the pain unless there’s an obvious injury or problem (e.g. following an accident or fall). It‘s also important to know that many investigations show ‘changes’ to your spine that represent the normal passage of time, not damage to your spine.

Often it’s not possible to find a cause for neck pain. However, it’s good to know that you can still treat it effectively without knowing the cause.

For more information about questions to ask your doctor before getting any test, treatment or procedure, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Dealing with neck pain

Most cases of neck pain will get better within a few days without you needing to see your doctor. During this time, try to keep active and carry on with your normal activities as much as possible.

The following may help relieve your symptoms and speed up your recovery:

Use heat or coldthey can help relieve pain and stiffness. Some people prefer heat (e.g. heat packs, heat rubs, warm shower, hot water bottle), others prefer cold (e.g. ice packs, a bag of frozen peas, cold gels). Always wrap them in a towel or cloth to help protect your skin from burns and tissue damage. Don’t use for longer than 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and wait for your skin temperature to return to normal before reapplying.

Rest (temporarily) and then move. When you first develop neck pain, you might find it helps to rest your neck, but don’t rest it for too long. Too much rest can stiffen your neck muscles and make your pain last longer. Try gentle exercises and stretches to loosen the muscles and ligaments as soon as possible. If in doubt, talk with your doctor.

Sleep on a low, firm pillow – too many pillows will cause your neck to bend unnaturally, and pillows that are too soft won’t provide your neck with adequate support.

Be aware of your posture – poor posture for extended periods, for example, bent over your smartphone, can cause neck pain or worsen existing pain. This puts stress on your neck muscles and makes them work harder than they need to. So whether you’re standing or sitting, make a conscious effort to be aware of your posture and adjust it if necessary, or do some gentle stretches.

Massage your pain awaymassage can help you deal with your physical pain, and it also helps relieve stress and muscle tension. You can give yourself a massage, see a qualified therapist or ask a family member or friend to give you a gentle massage.

Take time to relax – try some relaxation exercises (e.g. mindfulness, visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation) to help reduce muscle tension in your neck and shoulders.

Try an anti-inflammatory or analgesic cream or gel – they may provide temporary pain relief. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Use medication for temporary pain relief – always follow the instructions and talk to your doctor about alternatives if you find they don’t help.

Treating ongoing neck pain

Sometimes neck pain lasts longer than a few days, and you may have ongoing neck pain. There are things you can do to manage this:

  • See your doctor if the pain is worse or if you have other symptoms in addition to your neck pain such as numbness, pins and needles, fever or any difficulty with your bladder or bowel.
  • See a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist – they can provide you with stretching and strengthening exercises to help relieve your neck pain and stiffness.
  • Injections – some people with persistent neck pain may benefit from a long-acting steroid injection into the affected area. Talk with your doctor about whether this is right for you.
  • Surgery – is rarely needed for neck pain. However, it may be required in cases where severe pain interferes with daily activities, or the spinal cord or nerves are affected.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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09/Feb/2022

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

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

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

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

Arthritis

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

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

This article will focus specifically on OA and thumbs.

Who gets OA in the thumbs?

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

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

Symptoms

The symptoms of OA in the thumbs are:

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

Diagnosis

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

Your doctor will:

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

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

Treatment

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

Self-care

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

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

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

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

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

Surgery

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

The most common types of surgery for thumb OA are:

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

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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09/Dec/2021

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

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

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

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

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

Dance of the sugar plum fairy: Festive feasting!

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

Santa baby: Buying gifts

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

Deck the halls: Decorating your home

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

Rockin’ around the Christmas tree: Hosting gatherings

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

Have yourself a merry little Christmas: Taking care of you

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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28/Oct/2021

Photo by AUSVEG

Caitlin, a fifth-generation farmer from the northwest coast of Tasmania and Australian Apprentice of the Year 2020, shares her story about living with arthritis.

I was diagnosed with arthritis when I was 12, turning 13, and in grade 7.

I remember my first attack very well. We were on the Spirit of Tasmania heading over to Werribee for the 2011 Interschool Nationals (Equestrian) and on the boat I had a really sore hip. By the following night, the pain had become unbearable, so mum took me to the hospital. The staff took x-rays but couldn’t find what was causing my pain.

I was then transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where I spent the next three days. After a series of ultrasounds and an MRI, they found a heap of fluid on my hip and diagnosed post-viral arthritis. Even with this diagnosis, I went on to compete and hobble around on crutches at Nationals!

When I got home to Tasmania, I went to my GP and was referred to a rheumatologist. It was then I was diagnosed with severe idiopathic rheumatoid arthritis. Then the journey began…???

Has your condition or living with pain impacted your social life, work, friends etc?

It had a huge impact on the rest of my high school years. I took prednisone daily for two or so years, which made me extremely puffy in the face. The people who knew what was going on were kind, but there were also some unkind people. It affected my confidence, I became depressed, moody and I didn’t even want to ride my ponies for a while.

Also, because I usually competed every weekend and rode a lot, I never really felt that I belonged with a particular group at school. And so, towards the end of school, I was quite happy to do homework in the art rooms at recess and lunch. I had some friends, but none who understood what it was like for me, or my lifestyle with the horses and farm, except for my best friend, who lived an hour away.

Since grade 12, life has been on the up and up. I’ve found my ‘people’ by developing greater friendships through horses, joining Rural Youth and getting involved with local agricultural networks where I fit in with like-minded people. Sometimes I’m exhausted and not up to some activities, but I know how to balance my life to keep myself healthy (most of the time! ?) and to be honest with how I’m feeling and when I need to take a break.

Work-wise, working for myself and my family is very handy as I can be more flexible around workload and how I do things. My family is super supportive and will help me in any way they can if I get sick, have an attack or need to go to appointments.

What’s life like living with arthritis?

Every day is different! When I was younger and trialling a lot of different medications, it was a rollercoaster to say the least! I would be nauseous all the time if I was on methotrexate, and tired to the point where I would fall asleep not long after getting home from school. Touch wood, it seems to be somewhat under control now.

I’ve found Actemra (tocilizumab) to be the best medication for me so far. I have an infusion at the hospital once a month. However, I’m starting a new medication next week due to the worldwide shortage of Actemra as they’ve been using it to treat people with COVID. So we’ll see how that goes, as it requires me to go back on to methotrexate.

I could’ve opted for a different medication, such as a daily tablet or self-injection, but I wasn’t a fan of those options. I self-injected twice weekly for a few years, and in the end, I couldn’t mentally do it anymore. I’d get worked up about having to do it, and I found the medication wasn’t working as well. With my busy lifestyle, sitting down in the hospital for a couple of hours once a month actually suits me quite well!

How does your condition impact working and running a farm?

Hydraulics were invented for a reason! Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very physical job, but I enjoy it as it helps me stay fit and active.

When I’m fitter, I find I don’t get as sore, or I’m at least able to handle more exercise. I also find it helps me with my mental health too. I’m lucky to be able to run two of my own businesses. One through coaching dressage and beginner riders and creating freestyle music. The other is the farm with my partner that we lease from my grandparents. I find that long days in the tractor and very repetitive movements make me stiff and sore, but I’m sure many others find that as well.

Does horse riding help?

It helps in the fact that it takes my mind off the pain while I’m riding. I do feel it afterwards though! On the days I’m in so much pain that I struggle to walk, I can ride, and the horse can become my legs for an hour. When I was younger, I was graded as a para-athlete due to the effects of my arthritis. This wasn’t a bad thing as it allowed me to make so many connections with other para-athletes. I realised that I didn’t have it bad at all, and those I felt had it worse than me were often more determined and more able than some able-bodied riders I know! The only barrier is our mind and what we think we can do. So that really allowed me to push myself to be a better rider and then pass that on when teaching children or adults with learning or physical disabilities.

How important are strong connections – e.g. family, friends, partner – when you have arthritis and chronic pain?

Having a supportive team around you is essential. I’m lucky to have a very supportive family, and my partner Owen is amazing.

There can be days when I need help with basic things like getting undressed, getting into the shower and putting my hair up or the like. For the most part, I’m totally independent, but I know that when I am going through an attack, it won’t be pleasant, and I’ll need to rely on that support.

I also have Hashimoto’s disease and fibromyalgia, so it all hits my immune system hard. From restless legs to feeling pain for the smallest of things, it can be really frustrating. So to have people to comfort you when it gets too much is really important. Sometimes we all need a hug and to be told it’s all ok to get us through the day. ?

My best friend for the last 10 years has seen me go through everything, from being really sick to the healthiest I’ve been and everything in between. We’ve travelled overseas and look forward to more adventures, hopefully soon.

I first told my story publicly on Landline earlier this year. I had messages from people from all over thanking me for sharing my story and inspiring them to go for their dreams too. So to know that my story has helped others makes me so happy!

Do you have any tips for other people who have arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions?

The biggest piece of advice that I can give is finding what makes you happy. When I’m focused, the rest seems to blur out. Get to know your body and what you can handle, find people in similar situations and ask them as many questions as you can, and then be that person for someone else. We are all in this together and shouldn’t feel alone! There’s no reason we can’t do the things we wish to do most in today’s world.

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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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

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.

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

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