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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.

More to explore


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03/Jun/2021

As people, we’re complex, multi-faceted and messy. And just as exercise, pain management, medications, and eating well are essential for good health, so too are the more nebulous aspects of wellbeing – happiness, satisfaction, comfort, social connections, a sense of purpose. When you’re managing your health, it’s important that we don’t neglect these other aspects of life.

So let’s look at some of the other things you can do to look after yourself when you live with a painful musculoskeletal condition.

Accept your pain

Acknowledging that your condition causes you persistent pain is an important step to managing it more effectively. You’re putting your energy into finding positive and practical ways to deal with it, rather than ignoring it or hoping it’ll just go away.

And research shows that people who worked on accepting pain reported lower pain intensity and better function than others.

Sounds so simple, right? Well, not always. It can be challenging to accept pain may be a constant in your life. It can be frustrating, and it may be a struggle at times. You may also go through periods where your pain does dominate your thinking and makes you anxious or sad.

That’s okay. Accept that this can happen. It’s completely normal when living with persistent pain to have these ups and downs.

Speaking with someone – a friend or family member, your GP, a pain specialist, a mental health therapist – can help you work through this so you can get back on track.

Writing it all down in a journal or pain diary is another option. The important thing is to keep working on it.

Stay connected

Living with persistent pain can be a lonely experience. Fear of aggravating their pain can sometimes stop people from doing the things they’ve always enjoyed – catching up with friends, playing sport and socialising. No longer having these connections can lead to people becoming isolated.

We’re now recognising that loneliness can cause a whole range of health issues – from depression to poorer cardiovascular health. In fact, research suggests it may pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking or obesity. When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, feeling lonely can make you feel upset and distressed, which can increase pain and muscle tension. Any increased muscle tension has the potential to aggravate existing pain.

So how can you deal with loneliness?

  • Get in contact with friends and family. Catch up with them. Call them on the phone. Connect with them via social media. Just reach out and make the connection. Start small and gradually build up the amount of contact you have.
  • Join a walking group. As you know, exercise is an effective way to manage pain. So why not join a local walking group? You’ll meet people, and get some exercise as well. Contact your local neighbourhood house or search online for a group near you.
  • Adopt a pet. Pets are a wonderful comfort. They’re cute, they’re fun, they don’t judge you if you decide to stay in your pajamas all day. Having a pet has many health benefits, including decreasing cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reducing stress, improving your mood and importantly – reduced feelings of loneliness.
  • Join a knitting group/book club/art class/family history short course…whatever takes your fancy. Explore a new hobby or interest, and meet new people at the same time. Visit your local council website for details of what’s on in your area.
  • Join a support group. They bring together people with similar experiences in a supportive environment. Musculoskeletal Australia has many support groups that meet in person and online. Find a group today.
  • Volunteer. There are many opportunities to do volunteer work in Australia. Think of a cause near and dear to your heart – and explore local charities or organisations that need help. You’ll meet other people, make friends and connections, and support a cause that’s important to you. Check out the GoVolunteer website for volunteer opportunities.
  • Get help. If you feel like loneliness has become a big issue for you, and that the thought of doing any of these things is overwhelming, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for support. And don’t forget there are services that can provide you with support when you need it, no matter the time of day.
    • Lifeline Australia (13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention)
    • beyondblue (1300 224 636 for 24 hour support).

Listen to your favourite tunes

There’s plenty of evidence to support the use of music for managing pain. It’s been shown to reduce anxiety, fear, depression, pain-related distress and blood pressure. We also know that when we listen to our preferred style of music, there’s a positive effect on pain tolerance and perception, anxiety and feelings of control over pain. It’s not exactly clear how or why music can have such an effect on pain, but we do know that enjoyable music triggers the release of dopamine, which is a ‘feel-good’ hormone. Or it may be that music distracts your mind from focusing on your pain. Whatever the reason, it’s an easy, cost-effective way to get some relief from your pain. So create a special ‘pain playlist’, and load up your phone or music player of choice with your favourite tunes. And check out our recent blog on the power of music.

Create a care package

Anyone who lives with a musculoskeletal condition knows how unpredictable they can be. You can be managing really well and doing all the right things when suddenly a flare hits. Something you can do to look after yourself at this time is to open a care package.

It’s a simple act of self-care that can provide a much-needed boost to your mood.

When you’re feeling healthy and pain-free, gather together the things that make you happy and give you comfort when you’re feeling down or unwell. Put them together in a box or a basket so that you can access them easily when pain strikes.

While it won’t make pain miraculously go away, it can provide a distraction and give your spirits a lift.

What you put in your care package it entirely up to you. It may be a guilty pleasure magazine that you enjoy reading every now and again, or some of your favourite quality chocolate, your pain playlist, photos from a wonderful holiday, mementos from your childhood…or all/none of the above. Whatever you put in there is purely for you. So get creative!

Remain working as long as you can

Working is good for our health and wellbeing – it gives us confidence, builds self-esteem, makes us happy and shapes our identity.

Working has many other benefits, including financial security, meeting and interacting with other people, learning new skills and challenging yourself. Ensuring you can stay in the workforce for as long as you want/need is vital for many reasons – including managing your health.

However there are times when your condition may interfere with your work.

The good news is there are many things you can do to help you stay at work, such as pain management techniques (e.g. mindfulness), medication, modifying your workspace, using aids and equipment (e.g. modified mouse and keyboard, lumbar supports) and having some flexibility with the hours worked. Talk with your doctor and an occupational therapist for information and advice about staying in the workforce. And consider talking with your employer about potential modifications to your workspace and/or role that may help when your condition flares.

Be in the moment

Mindfulness meditation focuses your mind on the present moment. It trains your mind to be alert and pay attention to the thoughts and the sensations you feel and accept them without judgement.

Regularly practising mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve mood, relieve stress, improve sleep, improve mental health and reduce pain.

The beauty of mindfulness is that you can do it walking, standing, sitting or even lying down. And the more you do it, the more benefits you’ll experience. The practice of mindfulness also translates to being more mindful in your everyday life.

To practise mindfulness meditation you can join a class, listen to a CD, learn a script from a book or play an online video or DVD. There are many different techniques. Here are just a few:

  • body scan – a simple technique to give you a taste of mindfulness meditation is a body scan. It helps you become aware of your body in the present moment.
  • focusing on your breath – pay attention to the way air moves in and out of your nose or mouth, and how it feels.
  • mantra meditation – involves chanting inaudibly or very softly to yourself a word or phrase that resonates with you.
  • sound meditation – focus your attention on a sound. This can be music or your surroundings (e.g. the wind in the trees, the sound of rain on your roof).
  • movement meditation – this is usually done as walking meditation, but you can practise it while moving in any way; for example tai chi and yoga are forms of moving meditation. Try and do this out in nature for maximum effect.

When you start meditating, be realistic. It involves regular practise and patience. Start with five minutes a day and gradually increase to 10 minutes and then more over a period of weeks and months.

Obviously the more often and the longer you do it, the more benefit you’ll get. However, even five minutes a day will be beneficial. You’ll notice changes in your consciousness very quickly as well as reduced pain, improved sleep, acceptance of situations, improved sense of wellbeing and better physical and social functioning.

“To ensure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.” – William Londen

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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03/Dec/2020

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Anne Lamott

There’s no denying that going digital has helped most of us this year. As our worlds became smaller due to iso and lockdowns, technology enabled us to work and learn from home, meet with colleagues via Zoom, binge EVERYTHING on our streaming service, video chat with the friends and family we couldn’t see in person, travel virtually to the Louvre, listen to podcasts while we walked endlessly around our neighbourhoods and shop online (So. Much. Shopping).

But I think many of us are feeling the effects of too much of a good thing. It may be time for a digital detox. And as we come to the end of a very stressful and trying year, now’s the perfect time.

Why detox?

Our devices and being connected to the wider world are part of everyday life. But the constant pings, dings, beeps and notifications can get in the way of our being present in the moment. When we’ve got our heads down over the phone, scrolling through emails and social media, we miss out on so much. The world around us, conversations with loved ones, delicious meals – all the things that make our lives so rich and colourful.

This constant connectivity can be stressful. The 24/7 news cycle is frequently filled with sensationalised and grim stories. Our feeds are full of posts from people whose lives appear to be perfect – making us hyper-critical of our own lives. And we often feel pressured to respond quickly to work emails, texts and other contacts.

This constant barrage leaves little room for quiet reflection and time out. It can also affect the quality and quantity of our sleep.

So taking time to disconnect from the digital world can be a good idea every now and again. But how do you go about it?

Your digital detox plan

There are lots of books – and somewhat ironically – websites, apps and podcasts – to help you detox. But you might want to start by keeping it simple, realistic and achievable for you.

Think about how often you use your devices – all of them. Our phones are the one that we tend to blame the most – they’re with us all the time and we can do so much with them. But TVs, computers, gaming consoles, tablets, watches – we spend a lot of time on them too. How do you use these devices? Are you using them for work, connecting with family/friends, playing games, or just passing time? Only you can tell if you’re using them in a way that’s stressful or unhealthy.

So ask yourself:

  • Do I feel anxious when I don’t have my phone with me?
  • Do I miss parts of conversations because I’m checking my phone? Do I have to ask people to repeat themselves?
  • Are the things I’m scrolling through and reading enriching my life or bringing me joy?
  • Do I feel compelled to check my apps, socials or emails before I get out of bed? Or before I turn the light off at night?
  • Do I find myself looking at an empty plate and wondering where my dinner went?
  • Do I feel like I’ll miss out on things if I don’t keep checking in?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, maybe a detox is just what you need.

Be realistic. Some people are able to put their phones and devices away for a month, with little impact on their work and home life. While others need to be connected to some degree most days.

So think about what’s realistic for you:

  • If you need to be connected for work, set boundaries on when you’ll respond to work emails and chats – preferably during your usual working hours. Then turn off or ignore any notifications until your next working day.
  • If you love being connected via your socials, that’s great. But again, think about setting limits. Avoid constantly checking your phone, or picking it up every time you hear a notification. Set yourself times when you’ll look, and then put your phone aside.
  • Consider picking one day a week that you’ll go completely device free. Plan to do this with other members of your household or friends and use that day to have an adventure together – go to the zoo, hike in the hills, go on a scavenger hunt, hit the beach, play a round of golf or mini golf. Do something that doesn’t involve technology.
  • Limit your time on a specific app, site, game that really drains your time. For me that’s Pinterest. Wow, what a rabbit hole! You can lose hours there! So I make the conscious decision to only access it for a set amount of time – enough to make me feel connected, and not deprived of something I enjoy. And it still leaves time for other activities.

Create work/life balance. With many people still working from home, having good work/life balance, and clear boundaries is more important than ever. So unless you’re working on something pressing or urgent, only look at your work stuff during work hours. You owe it to yourself and your family to have some downtime. You’ll be much happier for it.

Lose the distractions. And speaking of work, do you also find yourself distracted by apps when you should be working? (Asking for a friend). It’s amazing how much time you can waste when one of your apps decides to show you yet another cute cat/dog/llama video. And how much more productive you can be when you disconnect from these apps during work hours. So if you’re finding it all too distracting, turn off the notifications for any non-essentials.

Don’t look at your phone when you’re doing other things. So many people, myself included, walk the streets with their attention focused on their phone. While this is a great way to get hurt – walking into poles, tripping up curbs, falling into ponds – it also means you’re not seeing what’s going on around you. After the year we’ve had, noticing all of the incredible things around us – even in our own backyard – can bring a lot of calm and happiness. So put your phone in your pocket or bag and take a look around you. If you’re walking with other people, talk with them, and really listen to what they’re saying. It’s amazing how much you hear when you’re not distracted.

Make meal times sacred. Even if you’re eating on your own, put your phone or device aside, and turn the TV off. We tend to eat so mindlessly when we’re distracted by other things. And when you’re not paying attention, how can you enjoy your meal? Or those around you? So make these times digital-free, enjoy the food you’ve prepared, reflect on your day, and enjoy this small oasis of time.

Tips to help you detox

Detoxing from our devices can be really tough. They’ve become such an important part of our lives. So we’ve come up with some tips to help you:

  • Leave your phone in one central place at home, rather than carrying it with you from room to room. This’ll prevent it distracting you and constantly interrupting your day/evening.
  • Make your bedroom a tech-free zone. Charge your phone in another room. If you use your phone as an alarm, turn up the volume (the rest of the household will love that) or buy a small alarm clock.
  • Turn off push notifications. They’re the automated messages and pop-ups that alert you when an app wants your attention – usually for nothing particularly important. So turn them off. Or just turn off the alerts from apps you don’t care about. If you don’t know how to turn them off, go online and search ‘turn off push notifications’ and your phone type, and you’ll find video and tutorials galore to help you.
  • Turn on airplane mode. Basically this will turn off access to your mobile network, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so you can’t send or receive calls, texts or emails, access the internet or socials. It stops all the distractions coming in.
  • Leave your phone in your pocket or bag when in meetings or when you’re having a meal out.
  • Get your family and friends involved. Tell them what you’re doing and why. At the very least they’ll know why you may not get back to their messages immediately.
  • Don’t take your phone to the loo … Eeew!! Apart from the whole gross, unhygienic aspect – do you really want people to hear what you’re doing? And this, the most basic thing we do every day, surely deserves some alone time?
  • Use one device at a time. Do you have the TV on while you’re playing a game on your tablet, or flicking through socials on your phone? Choose one device and turn the other off. You can only focus on one at a time anyway.

However you choose to take a break from our digital world it’s a valuable thing to do. Particularly after the year 2020 has been, and the heavy reliance on all things tech.

So use the winding down of this crazy year to pause, disconnect from your devices, and reconnect with the things that are most important to you.

“Life is what happens between Wi-Fi signals”. Unknown

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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22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

Finding and keeping a job when you have a musculoskeletal condition can be difficult. Pain, fatigue, medication side effects, and the unpredictability of your condition can all affect your ability to work.

The extent to which this happens will depend on many things such as the condition you have, e.g. back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, how severe it is, how well it’s being managed, and the type of work you do. Physically demanding work, such as building, nursing, and farming, will be impacted by painful joints or restricted movements. And any work that requires you to focus and concentrate, especially for extended periods, will be affected by brain fog, pain, and lack of sleep.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage these issues. We’ve listed a bunch of strategies here. This is part 1 of our 2 part blog.

Note: we understand that some of these strategies may not be possible for all workplaces or conditions. However the majority of them can be adapted in some way to suit your needs.

Work with your healthcare team to ensure your condition is under control and well managed. This may involve your GP, rheumatologist, physiotherapist, podiatrist and/or occupational therapist. They’ll also help you develop a plan to cope at work when your condition flares.

Evaluate your workspace. Whatever your setting – office, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, transport – there are options for making it more supportive for you. The first step is to talk with an occupational therapist about the issues you’re facing and develop strategies to help you manage them. They may include simple things such as being aware of your posture throughout the day and changing position regularly to reduce pain, strain and fatigue. They may also involve changing your workspace to make it work for you.

For example:

  • using a standing/sitting desk
  • rearranging the setup so that items you use most often are close by
  • sitting on a chair or perch instead of standing for long periods
  • using a headset on your phone
  • getting lumbar supports for your chair or car seat
  • using a trolley to help you move heavy items.

Some of these options may be easy to do without going through your employer, but some changes may need their involvement. If your employer knows about your condition, then you can discuss these changes together. However if you’ve chosen not to disclose your condition, your employer is still obliged to make reasonable adjustments to your workstation or environment to ensure your comfort and safety. Things such as stand up desks, foot rests, wrist rests, height adjustable chair, ergonomic chair are all considered reasonable. For more information read our information on Employment FAQs and visit Safe Work Australia.

Take control of your pain. Chronic pain can affect your ability to do the things you want and need to do, your sleep quality, your concentration, and mood. Basically it sucks. That’s why you need a toolbox of strategies for managing your pain. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to pain management. So having several strategies you know work for you, is essential. They may include gentle exercise, medications, heat and cold, stretches, massage, splints, braces and aids and equipment. It’ll take some trial and error, but it’s well worth the effort to find what works best for you. You can then pull them out of your toolbox when needed, giving you more control over your pain. Your doctor and physiotherapist can also give you tips for managing your pain while at work. For more information and practical tips for dealing with pain, read Managing your pain: An A-Z guide.

Along with pain, fatigue is a massive issue for people with musculoskeletal conditions. Fatigue is very different from just being a little tired. It’s overwhelming physical and mental tiredness that makes every activity a struggle. But there are things you can do to manage so that it has less impact on your life and your work. Find out how.

Acknowledge the unpredictability of your condition. It’s a fact that musculoskeletal conditions are unpredictable. You often won’t know you’re about to have a flare until one happens. Apart from increased pain, stiffness, and fatigue, having a flare can be really stressful as you worry about getting things done – at work and at home. Having a plan in place for managing – before a flare occurs – means you can be proactive. This may involve developing a plan with your healthcare team that will help you cope at work, prioritising and pacing your activities so that you get any important, time-dependent tasks done when you’re feeling your best, discussing flexible work arrangements (like working from home) with your employer, or taking time off work or reducing your hours until you can get the flare under control. The important thing is that you’re prepared, with a plan of attack in place, ready to go when needed.

Use your scheduled breaks. It’s easy when you’re feeling under pressure – whether it’s from your employer or pressure you’ve put on yourself – to ignore your lunch or tea breaks and just keep working. But this will only add to your stress, pain and fatigue. You need to take some downtime during your day to eat, drink and give your mind and body a break. If you can, get outdoors and breathe in some fresh air. When you return from your break you’ll feel better, have a clearer head, and be more productive.

For more info and tips check out part 2 of this blog.

Call our Help Line

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

Making the invisible visible

Read the report based on our 2020 National Consumer Survey – Making the invisible visible – in which 66% of people said that their ability to work had been impacted by their condition/s.

Watch our webinar

Watch the recording of our webinar from March 2021, as Jessica Dawson-Field, Employment Associate, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, takes us through employment law – rights and entitlements.

More to Explore

JobsAccess
Australian Government
JobAccess is the national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers, and service providers. It provides:

  • a wide range of info and services to help people with disability find and keep jobs, get promoted to better jobs, upgrade or expand their workplace skills
  • advice on modifying your work area, talking about your disability, training for your co-workers, negotiating flexible work arrangements and returning to work
  • the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to buy work-related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.
  • and much more.

Work Assist
Australian Government
Work Assist can help you stay in work if you risk losing your job through illness, injury or disability.

I have a job and arthritis: Now what?
Arthritis Society Canada

Fatigue: Beyond tiredness
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


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22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

This blog was so full of info and strategies we had to split it into 2 parts. You can access part 1 here.

But here’s a recap: We know finding and keeping a job when you have a musculoskeletal condition like back painrheumatoid arthritisosteoarthritis and gout can be really tough.

Pain, fatigue, medication side effects and the unpredictability of your condition can all affect your ability to work.

The extent to which this happens will depend on things such as the condition you have, how severe it is, how well it’s being managed, and the type of work you do. Physically demanding work will be impacted by painful joints or restricted movements. And any work that requires you to focus and concentrate, especially for extended periods, will be affected by brain fog, pain, and lack of sleep.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage these issues. We’ve listed a bunch of strategies here. This is part 2 of our 2 part blog.

Note: we understand that some of these strategies may not be possible for all workplaces or conditions. However the majority of them can be adapted in some way to suit your needs.

Manage your meds. Sometimes medications cause side effects like nausea, headaches, lightheadedness, and drowsiness. This can make it really hard to concentrate at work, and may in fact make it dangerous to perform some work duties such as driving or operating machinery. If you find that your medications are causing issues for you, talk with your doctor about possible alternatives you can use.

You may also need to have a review of your medications if you find your condition’s not under control or you need more help managing pain and other symptoms. Again, talk with your doctor about this.

Get a good night’s sleep. We all go through periods when sleep is elusive. Chronic pain and anxiety are just a couple of things that can affect our ability to get enough quality sleep. But sleep is important for good physical and mental health, and to give us the ‘get up and go’ we need to get to work and work productively. If you’re having issues sleeping, don’t just put up with it. There are lots of things you can do to get the sleep you need.

Take a break. Get up, move and clear your head. We all need to take breaks for our physical and mental wellbeing. So walk to the photocopier or around the block, do some simple stretches, step outside and do some deep breathing or visualisation. Whatever helps you manage your pain, fatigue, and brain fog, do it.

Dealing with time off work. We all need time off from time to time, but for many people with musculoskeletal conditions, it may happen more often than we’d like. Attending healthcare appointments during working hours or having a flare means you may go through your personal leave quite quickly. If this is a concern or problem for you, discuss your options with your healthcare team. Are you able to attend appointments via telehealth or outside of your usual working hours? An occupational therapist or physiotherapist may have some solutions for working during a flare and to reduce the pain and strain on your joints. And if you’ve disclosed your condition to your employer, discuss your concerns with them. Together you should be able to develop a plan to help you balance time off and the work duties you need to complete. One of the silver-linings of the COVID pandemic is that we’ve discovered that many jobs can be done productively from home. So working from home may be an option. As too are aids and equipment that protect your joints and save energy, or even changing the work you do at your workplace. Being proactive and knowing your rights is key to working well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing changes to your abilities and functioning. Unfortunately some musculoskeletal conditions will change a person’s ability to do specific tasks. For example, someone with back pain may find sitting for long periods impossible. Or a person with arthritis in their hands may find repetitive work such as typing extremely painful. Talking with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist can help you find potential solutions to these issues. Whether it’s finding new ways to do work tasks, using special equipment and aids to support you and protect your joints, or managing your pain while at work, they’ll tailor a solution to your specific needs.

These are just some of the things you can do to manage your condition and continue to work. Feel free to share the things you do to help you manage at work with a musculoskeletal condition. We’d love to hear from you!

Call our Help Line

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

Making the invisible visible

Read the report based on our 2020 National Consumer Survey – Making the invisible visible – in which 66% of people said that their ability to work had been impacted by their condition/s.

Watch our webinar

Watch the recording of our webinar from March 2021, as Jessica Dawson-Field, Employment Associate, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, takes us through employment law – rights and entitlements.

More to Explore

JobsAccess
Australian Government
JobAccess is the national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers. It provides:

  • a wide range of info and services to help people with disability find and keep jobs, get promoted to better jobs, upgrade or expand their workplace skills
  • advice on modifying your work area, talking about your disability, training for your co-workers, negotiating flexible work arrangements and returning to work
  • the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) which gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to buy work related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.
  • and much more.

Work Assist
Australian Government
Work Assist can help you stay in work if you risk losing your job through illness, injury or disability.

I have a job and arthritis: Now what?
Arthritis Society Canada

Fatigue
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


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25/Jun/2020

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

Healthcare costs

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

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

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

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

Employment

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

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

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

Wow. This became really depressing really quickly.

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

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

Hidden costs

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

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

Pandemic pain

And then came COVID.

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

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

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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11/Jun/2020

Sore neck? Back? Knees? Feel like you’ve aged 20 years with all the niggles, twinges and outright pain you’re feeling lately? You’re not alone. Many of us, even those who don’t live with a musculoskeletal condition, are feeling the physical effects of months of isolation, changes to our routine and living more sedentary lives than usual.

There are many reasons for this, and the good news is there’s lots you can do to deal with these annoying aches and pains.

Working or studying from home

When many of us first started working from home, it felt strange but also pretty cool. No dreaded peak hour commute. Yay! Instead we moved a bit more leisurely, lingered over coffee and our slippers stayed on all day. But after months of sitting at makeshift desks, or using laptops for hours on end, or struggling with tech issues and video calls, the cool phase is well and truly gone.

You may notice that you’re getting a sore neck more often, or your back aches, or you’re really tight across your shoulder blades. Or when you stand up your knees and/or hips let you know quite emphatically that you’ve been sitting in one place for a loooong time.

The problem is most of us don’t have a dedicated working space that’s set up as well as the one we had in the office. And since we’re likely to be working from home for quite some time, we need to deal with these issues rather than continuing to put up with them and the resulting aches and pains. Some simple things you can do include:

  • Have a routine – and stick to it. Find what works best for you and your specific situation. Whether you’re home schooling your kids, sharing your work space and equipment with your partner, or keeping your pets off your laptop, all of these things will factor into your routine. For me, internet access is really poor during the late afternoon, so starting work earlier and finishing earlier meant I could work more productively and with much less frustration. We’ll all have different solutions to suit our unique situations. So work out what’s best for you and stick with it. And don’t forget to talk with your employer if your new routine affects how/when you work.
  • Check out your work space. Is it helping or hindering you? Are you putting up with an uncomfortable space because you’re not sure what else to do? If so Safe Work Australia has a guide to help you set up your workstation and ABC News also has some practical hacks to take some of the pain out of working from home.
  • Move. When you’re working from home it’s easy for time to get away from you. We don’t have our usual cues to move such as getting up to go to the copier or attending a meeting in another room or just going to chat with a workmate. We’re sitting more and moving less. So you need to schedule time to get up, move around, stretch, go outside. Set up regular alerts on your phone/computer/watch – whatever works for you – and make sure you move. You’ll really notice a big difference at the end of your day.
  • Talk with your employer. If you need to adjust your hours, or you’re having issues with equipment or tech, or you’re having other issues working from home, discuss this with your manager or with HR. Together you should be able to come up with some solutions to ease these issues.

Managing stress

We’re living through a worldwide pandemic. Even after several months it feels surreal to say that. It’s important to acknowledge that it’s a really stressful time. Apart from worrying about getting sick, we’re also stressed about work, making sure the kids don’t fall behind at school, managing our chronic conditions, our finances, our family, and concern about the future. Add in the current unrest across the globe and it’s amazing we’re not all hiding under the bed.

But stress can cause physical aches and pains. It can also affect the quality of our sleep, our pain levels and can trigger a flare. So it’s important we find ways to manage stress effectively.

Many of the practical strategies we use to manage pain can be used to manage stress. These include: deep breathing, exercising, pacing, talking with a friend, mindfulness, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and doing something you enjoy (e.g. reading, gardening, walking your dog, playing music).

But if you’re finding it difficult to manage your stress, talk with a professional such as your doctor or psychologist. There’s help available. And remember you can access them via telehealth if you prefer.

Spending more time at home

Even though isolation is easing we’re still meant to stay at home as much as we can. And with the weather getting really chilly, we’re getting cosy on the couch with the doona and the remote, as we binge lots of TV (or is that just me). There’s just so much to watch!

Hanging out on the couch and binge watching TV is ok occasionally, but we don’t want to get into the habit of doing it too often. Slouching on the couch and not moving for long periods can aggravate our existing musculoskeletal conditions. And if we’re not moving and being active regularly it can also make it difficult to manage our weight.

So make sure you get up and move. Take a break. Go for a walk or do some exercises or stretches.

Break up your day with a mix of activities – both physically active (e.g. walking, gardening, tidying) and more passive (e.g. reading, watching TV, sitting at a computer).

Be aware of your posture

Bad posture can sneak up on us. Working at a computer, sitting on the couch reading a book, standing around watching the kids in the playground, lifting shopping out of the boot of your car – if you’re not paying attention to your posture, it’s easy to slouch, hunch over or strain.

As I’m typing this I’m literally straightening up from the curled position I was in, hunched over my laptop. And wow – it feels amazing when you sit up straight. It’s the same when you’ve been sitting on the couch for a while – when you stand up, stretching feels soooo good.

So be aware of your posture as you’re sitting and standing. For more info read our tips for good posture.

Increase your incidental exercise

Because we’re more sedentary than usual, and don’t have many of our usual outlets for exercise, we need to find ways to become more active. Increasing our incidental exercise is one way to do this. Incidental exercise is the little bits and pieces you do over the course of your day such as walking to a letterbox to post a letter, playing with the grandkids, cleaning the house. It’s not a part of your structured exercise plan, but it is important. There are many ways you can increase your incidental exercise without too much effort or disruption to your day. Read our blog to find out more. Before you know it you’ll be feeling more energised and noticing a difference with your pain levels, sleep quality and mood.

Dress appropriately

It’s getting really cold and many of us are a little stressed at the thought of high energy bills as we stay home and use the heater more. It’s tempting to keep the heat down, but that can cause your muscles to become tense, aggravating your musculoskeletal condition. So it’s important to keep warm. One of the simplest things you can do to stay warm is to dress for the weather. Let’s face it we’re not going anywhere, so wear the thick socks, the cuddly jumper and the daggiest track pants. Whatever keeps you warm.

We also need to be mindful of our footwear. Although it’s tempting to stay in our slippers all day, our feet and ankles need proper support. Wear the right footwear for whatever you’re doing. Going for a walk? Put on your sneakers. Working at home? Wear your casual shoes/boots that support your feet and keep you warm. And lounging around in the evening? Get those slippers on.

Be careful of trips and falls

Hands up if you’ve tripped over cables, laptop bags, files, excited dogs, folders, exercise equipment, books, and other stuff that’s suddenly cluttering your home? With all of the other things going on at home at the moment, school, work, exercise, entertainment…we’ve had to make space for all sorts of things in order to be get by. Which means our risk of tripping or falling has suddenly increased, especially if you’ve got nowhere to put these things and they’re constantly in the living area. So be careful as you move around your home – don’t rush, put things away if you can and tie or tape down cables. Preventing a fall, especially if you have a musculoskeletal condition, is easier than dealing with the significant injuries a fall can cause. So please be careful.

Treating pain

Even when you’ve done everything you can to prevent joint pain and muscle strain, you may still find you’re a bit sore. Depending on how severe this pain is, you may be able to treat it simply with heat and cold, massage, short term use of medication, distraction and many other strategies. Check out our A-Z guide for managing pain for more hints and tips.
However if the pain is severe, it’s affecting your day to day activities, your ability to sleep, or it’s lasted for some time with no relief, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about it. Together you can find out what’s causing the pain, and the most effective ways to treat it. Don’t simply put up with it.

Contact our free national Help Line

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


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22/Jan/2020

Written by Steve Edwards, MSc(Oxon), MSc(Edinb), BSc(Pod)

“A cortisone injection? You want to stick a needle in my sore foot?”

Your health care clinician has suggested you have a cortisone injection into your foot. As with any medical procedure, both of you are best advised to discuss the benefits and risks before proceeding. It helps to know what cortisone is, what it does, and why it’s been offered to you.

Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication that’s often used to treat musculoskeletal conditions. It’s a synthetic version of cortisol, a hormone that naturally occurs in your body. Injected into the affected area, cortisone can lower inflammation and pain, remove fluid, and thin scar tissue or adhesions. So if your clinician diagnoses a musculoskeletal condition affecting your foot or ankle – such as arthritis, bursitis, neuroma, or tendinitis – a cortisone injection is commonly raised as an effective treatment option.

Cortisone injections also contain a local anaesthetic. For certain conditions an injection can be painful, so the anaesthetic may be injected separately before the cortisone to block this pain.

The clinician may or may not use ultrasound technology to guide the injection. For pain relief in the foot or ankle, research finds no statistically-significant difference between procedures conducted with or without ultrasound. Interestingly, trials on cadavers injected with dyed cortisone show how it rapidly spreads from the injection-point to adjacent tissue, indicating that pinpoint accuracy is not key to effectiveness.

There are several types of cortisone. In most cases the clinician will administer a long-duration cortisone, taking effect within 1-3 weeks, with benefits lasting between 1-9 months, depending on the condition and its severity. There’s a clinical consensus that no more than 3 injections should be administered to the same body-part within a 12-month period, though there’s no research literature to clearly support this belief.

After the injection, you can quickly return to most activities. The clinician may recommend you avoid strenuous physical exertion such as gym workouts or running for a few days, so the cortisone isn’t displaced from the target tissue.

As for risk-factors, there’s been research into whether the injection may risk tearing tendons in the target area. There’s no recorded case of this in human trials, though it has occurred in trials on dogs and horses. There were cases of more general tissue damage recorded in early trials on American gridiron players, but various factors could have produced this result – the needle used, the amount of fluid injected, and the subjects receiving multiple injections within a short period.

No medical procedure has a 100-percent success rate, but a single cortisone injection administered by a trained clinician is both safe and effective in providing medium-term pain relief. Side effects are minimal, and the benefit to your musculoskeletal condition is potentially vast. And for some foot-specific conditions – such as a neuroma (pinched nerve), or plantar fasciitis (heel pain due to scar tissue) – a cortisone injection can often be a cure.

Our guest blogger

Steven Edwards is a trainee foot and ankle surgeon with the Australasian College of Podiatric Surgeons. He also teaches pharmacology and foot surgery to undergraduate podiatry students at La Trobe University.


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02/Aug/2018

Gathering your all-star support team

Written by Amanda Sobey

Attempting to take control of your chronic condition can at times be a daunting and uncertain challenge. Ensuring you have a strong team around you to help tackle each milestone, step by step, can make it feel achievable.

So who might be in your personal support team?

Health professionals

Depending on your individual needs, your team may be made up of a variety of health professionals. These could include your GP, rheumatology nurse, specialist, pharmacist, physiotherapist, rehabilitation practitioner, occupational therapist, nutritionist or dietitian, physiotherapist, remedial massage therapist, acupuncturist, health coach, counsellor, podiatrist, or your exercise physiologist. Share your goals with your health practitioner up front to maximise the limited time in your appointments and so they can help you progress.

Your personal cheer squad

Surrounding yourself with people who lift you up and encourage you to take charge of your condition can be empowering.

Family and friends

Let them know how they can help you and keep them in the loop as you go along. Let them celebrate the small wins with you. Examples could be receiving positive results of reduced inflammation from your latest blood test, that you managed to walk around the block comfortably, or that you had a pain-free night’s sleep. They might be able to help you hang out that load of washing or put a home cooked meal in your fridge. They can provide a second pair of ears when you need to off-load, question information you’ve been given or accompany you to your next medical appointment. They can also be great companions for a belly laugh, keeping active and getting out of the house!

Peer support group contacts

Being able to connect with people who are going through the same challenges can mean the world. This might be through online social networks or contacts you’ve made at meetups. Group members will be at various stages of their conditions. Some will be newly diagnosed, others may be long-time chronic illness warriors. They’ll be happy to share their experiences and provide insight based on what has helped them.

Studying?

Consider letting your teacher or course convenor know about your condition, so that they can provide assistance if you need to ask for an extension, or are unable to attend a class. It’s also worth finding out about other support services available at the school or university you are studying with.

In the workplace

If you feel comfortable, let your employer or HR Manager know about your condition so that they can provide flexibility, if and when you need it. They’ll be appreciative of any information you can share with them about your condition, so they know how best to help.

On the road to wellness

With the right support around you, taking control of your chronic condition can feel even more possible. Keep your care team in the loop, share your highs and lows and be sure to celebrate each milestone on your wellness journey.

Our guest blogger

Amanda Sobey is a co-founder of Young Adults with Arthritis+ (YAWA+), an online peer support network for young adults in Australia aged 18-35 with arthritis and related chronic conditions. Amanda was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 22 and is passionate about raising awareness and helping others on their wellness journey.

For more information please visit the following links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/yawaplus
Twitter: www.twitter.com/yawaplus
Instagram: www.instagram.com/youngadultswitharthritisplus




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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