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mental-health-dog.jpg
13/Aug/2020

When we first entered this pandemic earlier this year we were hopeful. The situation we found ourselves in was a little surreal, but most of us were optimistic it would end quickly. There was even talk about a vaccine by September! So we (mostly) did all the things we were meant to do and got on with life.

Six months down the track we now have large numbers of active cases and deaths occurring in a second wave. And we’re realising just how insidious and grim this virus is. Just when we think we have it under control, new cases and clusters appear. Many people are back to juggling work and home schooling while under tight restrictions and curfews. And a lot of people have lost their jobs and are facing serious financial hardship. Most distressingly of all, many of our fellow Aussies have lost their lives.

We’re seeing this all play out in the 24/7 media cycle. It’s exhausting. It’s stressful. And we’re scared and angry. It’s no wonder many of us are feeling the impact on our mental health.

So what can we do about it?

Lots! There really are a lot of things we can do to look after our mental health during this time. And with no end date for this pandemic, the sooner we start to take care of our mental health, as we do our musculoskeletal conditions, the better it will be.

Note: These are general tips only. If you’re being treated for a mental health condition, continue to take your medication as prescribed, and keep in contact with your mental health specialist so that you continue to receive the support you need during this time.

  • Check your routine. Do you have one? Or are you just winging it from day to day? We’re creatures of habit and thrive on our schedules. They make us feel like we have some control over our lives. But it can be hard to develop and stick to a new routine. You really need to work at it, or you’ll find yourself staring at your phone and socials for hours, or going to bed later and later, not sleeping well, snacking more often, and basically forming some bad habits 😑.
    So whether it’s just for you (or your household) create a routine. Or update your existing routine; what worked at the beginning of the pandemic may not work anymore. Things have changed so much, and will continue to change, so we need to adapt. And don’t forget to include time for leisure, fun and exercise 😊.
  • Don’t compare yourself with others. We all have the friend who appears to have it all – somehow during iso they’ve mastered the perfect sourdough, have juggled work and home schooling effortlessly, all while looking perfectly put together. So if you’re comparing yourself to that ‘perfection’ – as you sit in your tracky pants and baggy windcheater, not able to remember when you last washed your hair, and that pile of laundry on the floor threatens to engulf you, your kids are nagging and the dog hasn’t been fed yet. STOP! Stop right now.
    First – no one’s perfect. We can never know what else is going on in someone else’s life. We all have our trials and challenges. Some people are just better at concealing them than others. Second – comparing ourselves to others isn’t helpful. Remember, most people only post on social media the things that make them look good. We select the best photos, we use filters and we crop and manipulate our pics so we look our best. Comparing yourself with others just makes us feel ‘meh’, so don’t do it.
    And third – don’t compare yourself with others in a way that invalidates what you’re feeling. Don’t feel guilty for being upset, sad or anxious by telling yourself “that person is worse off than me, what do I have to feel sorry about?”. Our feelings are valid, they’re real and we need to acknowledge them.
  • Stay in touch. When you’re feeling down, anxious or depressed, it’s really easy to become isolated. You just want to stay in your safe cocoon. Interacting and opening up to others can be difficult when you’re struggling – but it’s really worth it. Call someone. You can choose whether to open up about your worries and fears. Or you can just talk about things that make you smile. Past trips together, childhood memories, something that’s happened in your day that made you feel good. Keep the communication channels open. If you aren’t locked down or under restrictions, catch up for a coffee or a walk in the park.
  • Get back to BACE-ics. BACE is a way to divide your daily activities into areas that promote self-care. BACE stands for Body care (e.g. exercise, showering), Achievement (e.g. chores, reading), Connecting with others (e.g. family, pets), and Enjoyment (e.g. dancing, movies). A recent ABC Life article explained that a “routine that has activities across all BACE categories is good for us because it releases good chemicals in our brain which are key to staying mentally healthy. That’s because: exercise releases endorphins, achievement releases dopamine, connecting with people releases oxytocin and physical activity releases serotonin.”(1)
    So get back to BACE-ics and focus on self-care.
  • Schedule time to face your worries and fears. We can’t get away from the worries of COVID and what the future may hold…it’s always in our face. In the news, on social media, in the eyes of our masked neighbours walking in the park . So acknowledge that you’re worried and schedule a time to process this. Don’t do it too close to bed time or you’ll be tossing and turning all night. Now look at them closely – really shine a light on what’s causing your worry, fear, anxiety. Try to come up with possible solutions or things you can do to lessen these issues. Or you may need to accept that some things are outside of your control. But once you’ve taken the time to acknowledge them – put them away. It’s not great for our mental health if we constantly focus on our worries.
  • You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. Just try for your best – and give yourself a break here. Your best pre-COVID is different to your best now. So do the best you can in the circumstances you find yourself in.
  • Limit exposure to the news. It’s full on and much of it’s grim. So pick a time when you’ll watch or read the news, and then tune it out. Don’t constantly check it. Another tip is to share the job of gathering the daily news with your partner or a friend. Take turns getting the latest, authoritative info. Discuss it, and then put it aside. That way you won’t feel like you’re totally immersed in the news cycle.
  • Nurture your relationship. Whether you live with someone or your partner/significant other lives elsewhere, it’s important to nurture your relationship with them. Everyday stresses have been compounded by COVID, and can affect how we interact with the most important people in our lives. So schedule a regular date night or alone time with them. If you’re living under restrictions, especially if you have kids, you’ll need to be creative 😊. And if you live apart you’ll need to resort to video chat, phone calls and good old-fashioned love letters (swoon 💖) But you can do it! It’s important to give your relationship the time and effort it deserves. Dress up or wear something that makes you feel good. Don’t talk about COVID, schooling, work, finances or any of the usual worries. Talk about your favourite books/music/movies, your hopes and dreams, your fantasy holiday destination, reminisce about when you met, tell them things they don’t know about your childhood and growing up. Put some music on and dance in your lounge room. Have a moonlit picnic in the backyard. Or hold hands for a stroll around the local park. Whatever you do, make sure to take the time to cherish this relationship.
  • Watch the self-talk. We can be horrible to ourselves, especially when we’re feeling down. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m a terrible mum/dad/partner”, “I’m a failure” – sound familiar? The critical things we say to ourselves really undermine our mood and our mental health. They can be so destructive. Some simple things you can do to negate these thoughts are:
    • Ask yourself if you’d talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself. The answer is likely no, so don’t talk to yourself this way. This will take some practise, but keep at it.
    • Ask yourself why you think you’re any of these things. And don’t be overly critical of yourself. Again ask yourself if you’d judge others with these labels, or so harshly.
    • Address these thoughts. If you think you’re overweight, and that makes you unhappy, what can you do to work on this? If you think you’re hopeless, why? It’s such a vague concept. What makes you think it? Is there something underlying it, or you’ve just had a bad day when a bunch of things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped.
    • Now give yourself a break. We’re all learning to live, work and exist in a really trying and stressful time, so we need to be kind to ourselves and others.
  • Stay active. One of the best things you can do to boost your mood is regular exercise. When you exercise your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. Exercise has so many other wonderful benefits. It’s why we go on and on about it 😉And when you combine it with a bit of sunshine, it’s the best feeling ever 😊
  • Do something for others. Focusing on others can take your mind off your own anxiety and stress. Send a letter or card to a friend just to say hello and let them know how important they are. Write a note to an elderly neighbour and offer to bring them groceries or take their bins out. Volunteer for a charity or community group. Check the Volunteering Australia website to learn about volunteering opportunities or contact your local community group, sporting club, park, school. Become a Citizen Scientist! There are research projects across Australia looking for ordinary people to take part across a wide range of sciences from animals to information and computing to water studies.
  • Take time to listen. When someone is sharing their concerns/stresses/anxiety – really listen to them. It can be easy to leap into ‘let’s fix it’ mode because we want to help those important to us. But sometimes all someone wants is for their fears, concerns and worries to be heard and validated. If they ask for your help, then jump in. Do some problem solving together, but wait to be asked. Or ask if they’d like your help before offering advice.
  • Be careful with alcohol and other drugs. Recent research by The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) has found that since the pandemic began more Australians are drinking, and people are drinking more. While you might think alcohol makes you feel better, and more able to cope with your anxiety and stress, alcohol is a depressant and will affect your mood, ability to sleep and can make existing mental health issues worse. Find out more in this article from Beyond Blue. The ADF also has an online tool to help you change your habits if you’re finding yourself drinking too much.
  • Talk with a professional. Whether it’s a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health coach or a counsellor – seek professional help if you need it. You don’t need to put up with mental health issues – there’s help available. And the Australian Government recently announced that they’ll provide “10 additional Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people subjected to further restrictions in areas impacted by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic…the additional Medicare subsidised sessions will allow people in eligible areas who have used their 10 sessions to continue to receive mental health care from their psychologist, psychiatrist, GP or other eligible allied health worker.”(2) 

Final words

We often focus so much on our physical health, that caring for our mental health is pushed to the side. There are just too many commitments and other things competing for our time and energy. But we need to take care of our mental health so that we feel strong and resilient enough to get through these constantly changing and crazy times. This article has just skimmed the surface of the many things you can do to look after your mental health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, stressed, afraid or angry, decide to do something about it. You can feel better, you can take control. One step at a time.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention. https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

  1. An illustrated guide to BACE self-care
    ABC Life, 23 April 2020
  2. Additional COVID-19 mental health support
    Department of Health, Australian Government, 2 August 2020

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash


walking-dog-beagle.jpg
13/Aug/2020

I know, I know. We talk about exercise a lot.

But as anyone with a musculoskeletal condition knows, exercise is such an important tool for managing your condition. It keeps your joints moving, it’s vital for bone health, it helps you manage your pain, weight, mood, sleep. It’s practically magic! 😉

However during these weird times, many of us are probably not exercising enough. Our routines are all over the place, we’re working from home/not working/or working strange shifts. There are restrictions (depending on where you live) around going to the gym or the pool, team sports, catching up with friends for exercise or even leaving your home. And because we have to stay at home as much as possible, we’re not getting as much incidental exercise as we once did – such as walking around shopping centres, commuting to work, walking to a colleagues office. That means many of us are more sedentary and becoming unfit and deconditioned. This’s a big problem.

So even though we’re six months into this pandemic in Australia, we need to take stock and be honest with ourselves. Ask yourself – “are you really doing as much exercise as you can?”

Or have you gotten into a routine (I know I have) where it’s easier to stay cooped up indoors, working, watching TV and avoiding exercise outdoors in the cold, wet, COVID-winter? If you answered “no, I’m not doing as much exercise as I could” (like me), what can you do about it?

Steps to becoming more active

  1. The first step was admitting it. Well done!
  2. Now, look at the barriers to exercise. What’s stopping you? This may include things like a lack of time, the weather, being worried about being in public with others, not having access to your usual exercise outlets such as the gym, not feeling motivated.
  3. Once you’ve identified the problem/s, it’s time to do some problem solving. Let’s say the issue you identified is a lack of time. That’s always a tough one. When we have so many things competing for our time and attention, exercise often gets pushed to the bottom of our list of priorities. But it’s important we make it a priority as it has so many benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing. So here are some simple steps to help you come up with some solutions:
    • Identify the problem – done. Don’t have time to exercise.
    • Brainstorm possible solutions and write them down, e.g. exercise in the morning, exercise after work/school, exercise for small periods of time several times a day (e.g. 3 exercise sessions that last 10 minutes each), set reminders on your watch/phone to remind you to get up and move.
    • Choose one and try it. Evaluate how well it works for you. Make sure you give it a solid attempt. Don’t stop after only one try.
    • If it didn’t work out so well, choose another solution and try it.
    • Keep going until you find the solution that works for you.
    • Make it a part of your daily routine.
    • And keep it at the forefront of your mind. Don’t let it slip off the radar again. It may help to write a note on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or the back of the toilet door 😁. Visual clues help us stay motivated.

Motivation

Getting and staying motivated is often a big challenge when it comes to becoming more active. It’s cold, you’re in pain, you miss exercising with your friends, you can’t be bothered – there can be so many reasons why our motivation to exercise disappears. Especially if we haven’t been exercising regularly for a while. Here are some tips to help you if your motivation has gone south for the winter:

  • Remind yourself of the benefits of regular exercise – pain management, improved fitness, joint mobility, muscle strength, better balance, improved sleep and mood, weight management.
  • Add it to your routine. Just like you know you’ll always clean your teeth every morning, make exercise a regular part of your day. It should become that habitual. It may take some time, but if you do it regularly, it will become a habit.
  • Plan to do it when you know you feel the best. If you know you’re generally stiff and sore when you wake up, don’t schedule your exercise routine for the early morning. Schedule it for a time you know you’re feeling loose and limber.
  • Do something you enjoy. You’re more likely to continue to do it if you enjoy it and look forward to it.
  • Exercise with someone – if you have others in your household, include them. They need exercise too! If you live on your own, do some virtual exercise with friends or family. Connect with them over the phone or video and exercise together. Call someone while you both go for a walk – so you not only exercise together, but you get to catch up (just be sure you’re moving at a pace that makes you huff and puff a little – though not so much you can’t speak).
  • Exercise on your own – if you have others in your household, this can be a great way to get some alone time. We’re living in tight quarters at the moment and going a little stir crazy 😜. Scheduling time every day (even if it’s only 10 minutes) will give you time to refresh, breathe and retain your sanity.
  • Make sure you do a variety of exercise – you don’t want to get stuck in a rut. That’s boring and you’re more likely to stop doing something that bores you. Look online at the different exercise videos offering everything from Bollywood dancing, yoga, tai chi, chair exercises and more (see the More to Explore section below for more info. And make sure you read our blog about evaluating online videos for safety and quality.
  • Track what you’re doing. Use a tracking app, a pedometer or a notebook – whatever works – but make sure you track how you’re going over time. Seeing how far you’ve come and how you’ve improved is an amazing feeling. And it motivates you to keep going and challenging yourself 😊.
  • Continue to challenge yourself and increase the intensity of your exercise as your fitness improves. It’ll make your exercise more interesting, and also have greater health benefits.
  • Don’t set yourself up to fail. It’s easy when you’re gung ho and ready to make a change to set unrealistic goals, for example 10,000 steps every day or an hour of aerobic exercise 5 times a week. Or you may attempt to do something you used to be able to do pre-COVID. That may no longer be achievable at the moment, which can be a little disheartening 😥. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start slow and increase your steps/distance/time gradually.
  • Set goals. Having a clear goal can really motivate you to stay on track with your exercise program. Make sure your goal is SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and have a Timeframe. For example, your goal may be to walk a lap around your local park, a distance of 3.5kms. You want to be able to do this without stopping within a month. You plan to do this by walking short distances each day, and going slightly further every day. This goal is specific – it states exactly what the goal is; you can measure it – both time and distance; it’s achievable – as it lists the steps for how it’ll be done; it’s realistic – it gives you a realistic time frame to do it in so they can build up your fitness and endurance; and it has a timeframe. For more info about goal setting read our blog.
  • Make it enjoyable – listen to music, podcasts, audio books when you go for your walk.
  • Reward yourself. Especially if you’ve exercised even though you didn’t feel like it. That’s amazing! You should be proud of yourself. Have a bubble bath. Give yourself a foot massage (or better yet have some else do it). Call a friend just for a chat.

Variety is the spice of life

To get the most out of exercise, you should include a variety of different exercises that help with:

  • flexibility – stretching and range of movement exercises help maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and nearby muscles. They’ll help keep your joints moving properly and ease joint stiffness.
  • strength – to build muscle strength, provide stability to your joints, improve your bone health and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.
  • overall fitness – exercise that gets you moving and increases your heart rate (e.g. walking, swimming, cycling) will help improve the health of your heart and lungs and can also help with endurance, weight loss, prevention of other health problems (e.g. diabetes). This type of exercise is also called aerobic exercise, cardiovascular exercise or ‘cardio’.

Types of exercise

There are so many ways you can exercise so that you enjoy the benefits listed above. It’s really a matter of finding the things you enjoy doing. So why not try:

  • online exercises – so many gyms and fitness instructors have moved their classes online due to COVID so you’re sure to find some that will appeal to you
  • tai chi, Pilates, yoga – again try online videos/classes, or go ‘old school’ and borrow DVDs from your local library
  • swimming, exercises in water – if you live near the beach, have your own pool or the public pools have reopened
  • ride a bike, scooter, skates, skateboard
  • tennis, cricket, basketball
  • croquet, lawn bowls – you can get all the equipment you need to play these in your own backyard or park
  • active video games – for example WII Fit, Nintendo Switch
  • walk the dog (or cat 😹)
  • skipping rope – by yourself or get the family involved – double Dutch anyone? 😲
  • strength training using free weights and resistance bands
  • dancing/playing air guitar…rock on!

Note: not all of these options will be available for everyone at the moment. It’ll depend on where you live and the current COVID restrictions.

Tips to stay safe

Exercise is really important for good health, but we need to be careful we don’t get hurt or exacerbate an existing condition. Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • see your doctor before starting any new exercise program. If you’ve had a joint replaced, find out from your surgeon or health professional which movements you should limit or avoid.
  • talk to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist – in person or via telehealth – if you need specific help, or want an exercise program tailored to your specific needs and health conditions.
  • don’t exercise a painful, inflamed or hot joint. Instead, gently move the joint through its range of movement to help reduce stiffness and improve circulation.
  • start gently and increase the intensity of your exercise program gradually over weeks or months.
  • always warm up and cool down.
  • pay attention to good technique and try to move smoothly. Don’t force a joint beyond a comfortable range of movement.
  • if you’re short of breath or in pain, ease back on the intensity of your exercise.
  • if your joint feels particularly painful afterwards (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next exercise session.
  • if an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what’s normal for you, then stop this activity.
  • drink plenty of fluids during and after exercising.
  • wear appropriate clothing and footwear when exercising.
  • practise good COVID habits – wear your mask (if applicable), follow restrictions, maintain physical distancing (at least 1.5 metres), don’t exercise if you’re sick and don’t leave your home if you have tested positive to COVID.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


dog.jpg
13/Aug/2020

The purr-fect treatment for COVID and MSK conditions!

In the midst of all of the stress, unhappiness, boredom and frustration of this pandemic, something that always lightens my heart is the presence of my cats. Their antics while I work from home are so entertaining (and often distracting 😊).

And nothing lifts the spirits more than seeing ridiculously happy dogs in the park as they take their owners for a walk 🐶.

There’s a reason we share so many animal memes and videos. Animals take us out of our own world for a moment, and make us smile and laugh out loud with their boundless joy and exuberance.

In the absence of a specific treatment or vaccine for this pandemic I think our pets, and the animals around us, are the perfect therapy. They’re always ready for walks, pats, cuddles and conversation. They ease our loneliness, they listen to our rants, they don’t judge our moves as we dance around the house 😉. They give us a reason to get out of bed, to be active and to just keep going when things seem bleak.

Apart from helping us through these tough COVID-times, our pets are wonderful therapy for helping us manage our chronic conditions. They distract us from our pain and can help us manage our anxiety.

Research has shown that owning a pet can:

  • decrease cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • decrease feelings of loneliness
  • reduce your stress
  • improve your mood
  • increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities.

With all of that good stuff, it’s no wonder almost two-thirds of Australian households have a pet, and 90% of us have had a pet at some time. (1)

The time’s right – let’s get a pet!

Hold your horses for a minute. If you’ve been thinking of getting a pet, and you think now’s the right time, it’s important that you do your research. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of adopting a pet. Especially now in the thick of a global pandemic and you’re feeling lonely or bored.

But you need to make sure the fit is right for you and the animal. You need to be willing to take on the pet for the entirety of its life. That’s a big responsibility. You need to have space for them, be able to afford them (including food, bedding, vet bills, vaccinations, litter, boarding), have time to play with them and exercise them.

The RSPCA has several resources to help you decide on the right pet for you. Check the More to Explore section below for links.

I love animals, but I can’t have a pet 🙁

Sadly pet ownership isn’t an option for everyone. You may live somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you don’t have space, you’re allergic or you live with someone who is, or you work long hours and aren’t home very much.

If that’s the case, but you want to be around animals more, there are lots of other options:

  • offer to walk a family members/friends/neighbours pet. Just make sure you follow all the COVID requirements for your area, including washing your hands thoroughly before and afterwards.
  • volunteer your time at an animal shelter – there are lots of things you can do – playtime socialisation, patting cats, walking dogs.
  • look after a family member or friends pet when they go on holiday (remember those? 😉).
  • think outside the litter box. There are others pets you can adopt that may be an option including fish, birds, spiders, mice, rabbits, ferrets and rats. They may provide a bit more flexibility than the traditional cat or dog ownership.
  • watch videos online. The internet is practically one big animal video…crazy cats, daggy dogs, goofy goats. It’s all there waiting for you to find. And even though you’re not in physical contact with an animal, this connection can boost your mood and relieve stress.

What about COVID?

According to the World Health Organization “several dogs and cats…in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, ferrets appear to be susceptible to the infection…however, there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID-19.”(2)

Phew. But what if you get sick?

First – the Australian Veterinary Association advises that if you get COVID-19, you should minimise close contact with your pet during this time, such as hugging, face to face contact or sleeping on your bed.(3) 😥

Second – you have to isolate until the Public Health Unit lets you know you can go back into the community.

That means you can’t leave your house except in an emergency or to get essential medical care. But if you have a pet, you might need some help. You may not feel well enough to care for your pet/s, you may need more food and supplies for them or need someone to take your dog for a walk. Or your pet may need to see the vet.

Some things you can do:

  • order food and other essentials online, via pet supply stores or your grocery store, and have them delivered to your door
  • ask a friend/family member/neighbour to pick up supplies for your pet, or take your dog for walks
  • if you’re too sick to look after your pet, ask a friend/family member/neighbour if they can take them in, or look after them
  • if your pet is unwell and needs to see the vet, don’t leave your home. Call your vet and ask for their advice. They’ll work with you to ensure your pet gets the treatment they need while keeping vet staff safe.

It’s vital that you take all precautions to ensure that whoever helps you isn’t exposed to you and the virus. You’ll also need to be mindful of current restrictions. Check your local state/territory health website for info.

Finally – the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (UK) has some information on other things you can do to care for your pets if you’re ill or have to self-isolate due to coronavirus, including brain games to keep your dog occupied and happy. This is a general guide. Please be mindful that some of the restrictions in the UK are different to those in Australian states and territories.

Coming out of COVID-cray-cray

One day things will calm down and we’ll spend less time at home. We’ll be able to go to work, visit friends and stay away from our homes for longer periods of time. So we need to help our pets – those wonderful little creatures that have kept us sane during an insane time – get ready for this change. They’ve had us for AGES, and they’ll miss us being around all the time. This may cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety. The RSPCA has written a great article full of tips and advice on how you can make this transition less stressful for your pets: How can I prepare my pets for easing of COVID-19 restrictions? 

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

(1) Pets in Australia: A national survey of pets and people
Animal Medicines Australia, 2019
(2) Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)
World Health Organization, 17 April 2020
(3) Advice from the Australian Veterinary Association to pet owners: COVID-19 and companion animals
Australian Veterinary Association Ltd

Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash


cold-hands.jpg
30/Jul/2020

….your hands!

Did you know that each of your hands has 27 bones, 27 joints, 34 muscles, and over 100 ligaments and tendons?

They really are amazing, complex and delicate structures. And we often take them for granted – until something happens – we hit our thumb with a hammer, we slam a finger in a drawer or we develop a musculoskeletal condition 😣.

Many conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause pain, swelling and sometimes disfigurement in hands. Other conditions such as Raynaud’s phenomenon and carpal tunnel syndrome can make your hands painful, and can cause pins and needles, as well as numbness.

For many people who have hand conditions, the colder months can make it worse. Your joints may ache more because of the cold, the constant hand washing can make your skin dry and the use of hand sanitiser (which often has a cooling effect) makes it feel like your fingers are about to drop off 😒.

But there are things you can do to decrease hand pain, deal with the cold and COVID, and make everyday activities easier.

Look after your hands. Inspect them for things such as swelling, nail and skin changes and any changes to the joint shape or direction of fingers and/or thumbs. By being aware of our hands and any changes that occur, you can seek advice sooner and prevent things from getting worse..

Wash and dry your hands regularly and thoroughly. Just as washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is necessary to help prevent the spread of germs (including SARS-CoV-2), drying your hands thoroughly is also important. Germs love moisture and thrive in moist places. Drying your hands reduces your chances of spreading or picking up germs when you touch things with damp or wet hands.

Apply a moisturising hand cream regularly to keep your skin healthy and nourished. With our more frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitiser, it’s easy for our hands to become dry and cracked. Cracked skin is an opening for germs to get in and potentially cause an infection. And if you have a condition such as scleroderma or psoriatic arthritis, skin care is an important part of your overall management plan. You may need to use a medicated skin cream, rather than an over-the-counter product. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for more info.

Use assistive devices if your hands are painful and stiff. They can help if you have difficulty gripping or holding everyday items. Assistive devices such as jar openers, book holders, tap turners, button hook and zipper aids and easy grip utensils can make tasks easier by reducing joint stress and eliminating tight grasps. You may need to speak with an occupational therapist about what equipment is best suited to you. Also check out our online shop. We have some products available to help you with your everyday activities.

See a hand therapist if you have hand/wrist pain or a condition that affects your hands, especially if it’s causing you issues with your day to day activities. Hand therapists are occupational therapists or physiotherapists that have undergone advanced training to become experts in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of 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 hand function.

Splints and other supports may be an option. They can give support to a painful joint by providing mild compression, warmth and/or joint protection. There are two main types of hand or wrist splints – resting splints and working splints. The choice of splint will depend on your condition and your current needs. Splints need to fit your hand comfortably and correctly, so speak with a hand therapist about what’s best for you and how often you should wear them.

Exercise your hands, as well as the rest of your body. Regular hand exercises can reduce stiffness and support your joints by keeping your muscles strong. If you’re considering hand exercises, it’s best to get advice from a hand therapist or other specialist as to which exercises are most suitable for you. Exercises should be mild and should not cause you additional pain when you’re doing them. See our Hand information sheet for some basic range of motion exercises.

Wear gloves in the cold weather, especially if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon. Hand warmers are also helpful. If you’re going to the shops for supplies and you have to use hand sanitiser before you enter, be aware that many of them have a cooling effect. This can really aggravate your condition. Having a couple of hand warmers in your pockets can help. You can get disposable hand warmers, or reusable ones. Just remember if you use the reusable ones to thoroughly wash the fabric pouch it’s contained in between uses. They can easily become contaminated, and hygiene is everything during this pandemic.

Also wear gloves when you’re gardening, washing dishes or doing any tasks that have the potential for your hands to get dirty or damaged.

Medications may provide some temporary pain relief, depending on the underlying condition causing the problem in your hand/s. Your doctor may suggest analgesics (pain relievers like paracetamol) as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. A cortisone injection is generally not recommended for osteoarthritis of the hand, but may be used for rheumatoid arthritis or acute attacks of gout. In conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis you may also be taking disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). It’s important to take these medications as prescribed by your doctor.

With conditions such as Raynaud’s, if simple measures like keeping your hands warm hasn’t helped, you may need to be prescribed medications that widen your blood vessels and improve circulation. Talk with your doctor for more info.

Making life easier on your hands

Sometimes simply changing the way you do everyday tasks can reduce pain and protect your joints. You can make life easier on your hands by considering the following:

Listen to your body – pain can serve as a warning sign that your joints are being overworked. Try to find a balance between activity and rest by pacing yourself. Take regular breaks when completing tasks and try not to overdo it on a good day. You might like to try heat or cold packs to help relieve pain. Some people also like to soak their hands in warm water or wrap their hands around a warm mug of tea.

Try to avoid using a tight grip for long periods. For example:

  • use foam or sponge to increase the grip size of handles on cutlery, pens and other hand held devices
  • use assistive devices with thick rubber grip handles (e.g. key turners, jar openers)
  • use rubber squares and gloves to help improve grip
  • consider lever handles around your home to minimise any twisting forces (e.g. mixer taps in bathrooms/kitchens).

Avoid repetitive movements. For example:

  • prolonged typing, pruning and power tool usage particularly those that vibrate
  • when gardening ensure your tools are sharpened and well maintained for ease of use
  • if you can’t avoid these repetitive movements, make sure you take regular breaks.

Try to use your body’s larger joints and muscles when you can. For example:

  • use your forearms to carry bags instead of your hands
  • when carrying items hold them closer to your body
  • when lifting heavier items squat and use your thigh muscles.

Spread the load – try to spread the load of an object over more than one joint. For example:

  • when picking up objects use two hands
  • slide sheets and swivel pads can help move items with less strain
  • divide shopping into smaller bags and try using a backpack and/or trolley.

Find an alternative. For example:

  • buy pre-cut meat and vegetables instead of trying to cut them up yourself
  • use electrical items instead of manual (e.g. can openers and graters)
  • look for items that are easier to use (e.g. push on pegs)
  • keep a pair of scissors handy to open packaging.

Rethink personal care/hygiene – for people with decreased hand function or fine motor skills, everyday tasks such as showering and toileting can be quite challenging. To make things easier you could use:

  • a bidet to help with cleaning difficult to reach areas
  • baby wipes/moist towelettes instead of toilet paper (but remember that they’re not flushable)
  • toilet paper tongs/aids to help with grip
  • soap dispensers instead of a bar of soap
  • items to make dressing easier e.g. sock sliders, elastic shoe laces, button hole hooks/zip pullers, front fastening bras as well as dressing aids for coats and cardigans o shoes with velcro fasteners instead of laces.

Our hands are complicated and important and we depend on them more than we realise. Painful hands can often be managed with simple self-care strategies, however if your hands are causing you a lot of grief, and affecting your day to day functioning, talk with your doctor for information and support.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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30/Jul/2020

Looking after your feet

Our feet are amazing ‘feats’ of engineering (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one 😁).

Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. They support us through thick and thin – whether we’re walking, running, jumping, dancing, skipping or hopping. We cram them into ill-fitting shoes, torture them in high heels and stub them against the bedside table in the middle of the night (or is that just me?).

As well as the many injuries and calamities that befall our feet, many musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout can affect the feet.

They’re the unsung heroes of this pandemic as we hit the streets, parks and trails for exercise. Walking has become the exercise of choice for people at the moment. Many of us can’t – or don’t feel safe to – return to gyms or exercises classes. And lots of people are walking instead of catching public transport to avoid being in close contact with others. As a result we’re all walking many more steps than we did pre-COVID.

So we need to stop taking our feet for granted. We need to look after them so we can continue to do the things we want and need to do as pain-free as possible.

So what can we do?

Give your feet the TLC they deserve. It’s really important to look after your feet. Wash and dry them regularly. Inspect them for anything unusual such as cuts, blisters, changes to the nails and skin. By being aware of your feet and any changes that occur, you can seek advice sooner. And if they’re sore after a day of walking, maybe give them a warm soak in the bath, or in a bucket or a foot spa (if you have one) while you watch TV. Then dry them thoroughly and rub a moisturising foot cream into your skin. Take your time and give your feet a nice massage. Better yet, see if you can talk someone else into giving them a massage while you relax on the couch 😉

Manage your condition. If you have a musculoskeletal condition that affects your feet, it’s important that you work with your doctor and healthcare team to look after your feet and manage your condition effectively. The treatments used for foot conditions will vary from person to person, depending on your condition and how it’s affecting you. And this may change over time as your condition and your feet change.

See a podiatrist. If you have foot pain, or a condition that affects your feet, visit a podiatrist. They’re feet experts and can assess, diagnose and treat foot and lower limb problem, including skin and nail problems, foot and ankle injuries, foot complications related to medical conditions and problems with your gait or walking. Podiatrists can also give you advice on appropriate footwear, and can prescribe custom foot orthotics.

Consider orthotics. Orthotics are corrective insoles that can help alleviate pain by redistributing pressure away from the painful area and support your arches. You can buy off-the-shelf orthotics or you can have orthotics made that are specifically fitted to your feet by a podiatrist.

Fit your feet with appropriate footwear. With our worlds turned upside down due to COVID, and many of us having to stay home, it’s tempting to stay in our slippers all day. There’s something so comforting about warm, fluffy slippers 😁. However 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.

If you’re buying new shoes, make sure they fit properly, support your feet and are comfortable. Look for shoes that are light, flexible at the toe joints and are hard wearing. Shoes made of leather are preferable over synthetic materials as they breathe better. Avoid slip-on shoes and if laces are difficult to fasten due to arthritis in your hands, Velcro or elastic laces may be an option.

Let them breathe. Did you know you have about 250,000 sweat glands in each foot? That’s a lot of sweat! So let your feet breathe to avoid smelly feet and fungal infections. Change your socks and shoes at least once a day. Wear shoes that allow air flow around your feet: leather, canvas, and mesh are good options, avoid nylon and plastic. And avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row. Give your shoes time (at least a day) to dry and air out. And if the weather’s warm, set your feet free and let them go au naturale. There’s nothing better than walking barefoot on warm grass on a sunny day 🙂

Exercise your feet. I’m not talking about walking here…but other exercises that keep your joints moving. Try non-weight-bearing exercises such as swimming, especially if you have foot pain, as they take the pressure away from the painful areas. You can also do exercises while sitting in a chair. NHS Inform (Scotland) has some foot exercise videos you can try. If you want exercises tailored specifically for you, visit a podiatrist or physiotherapist.

Medications might help. If you’re having a lot of foot pain, speak with your doctor about whether medications may be an option. Depending on the underlying condition causing the problem, your doctor may prescribe a short-term course of pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications, or they may prescribe other medications, such as a cortisone injection into a joint for rheumatoid arthritis or medication for acute attacks of gout.

Diabetes and feet. Many people with musculoskeletal conditions also have diabetes. So it’s really important if you have diabetes that you take care of your feet every day because of the increased risk of developing nerve damage, ulcers and infections. Talk with doctor about how to look after your feet properly if you have diabetes.

Surgery may be required. For some people, surgery may be needed if other conservative treatments haven’t helped. A referral to an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in feet is usually required.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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30/Jul/2020

Guest blogger Phil Cole

Hi I’m Phil Cole. I’m 47 years old and have a young family. Ziggy is just over a year old now and my long suffering partner Marie is an amazing mother 💖. She always carries on despite the extra stresses my condition brings to our lives.

My musculoskeletal situation is complicated…

I officially have psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis. It affects all of my joints and organs.

But recently I’ve been under the care of an immunologist investigating rare immune diseases, in conjunction with my endocrinologist and many other ‘ologists’.

I’m prone to infections and am mostly always sick with something. The only good thing about this lockdown is I haven’t been out much and been exposed to germs – so I’ve haven’t caught as much as I normally do. Sometimes these infections can last months 😑.

But the jury’s out on what I have, unfortunately. We know it’s immune-related, we know it’s inflammatory, that’s it so far. I’ve probably had it in some form for most of my adult life, but it’s over the last ten years that its really gotten worse. I also have some added complications due to my Army Service – bad knees and other injuries that don’t help.

Day to day life

Like other people living with a chronic condition, it affects my day to day life. And it’s gotten progressively worse each year.

Chronic pain and exhaustion are the most debilitating factors. I have some mobility issues that flare and have had to give up activities I loved – like kite surfing and skiing.

To be truthful every day is some version of the same struggle. Frustration is the hardest thing. It’s like I’m stuck in a sick Groundhog Day (remember that movie with Bill Murray?). There’s no improvement over all. In fact it’s been heading the other way 😑.

My condition affects my future plans to some degree, but overall we try to plan and live as if I will improve someday, as any plans are not just for me.

Coping strategies

In the past my coping strategies weren’t great. It involved a lot of self-medication and isolation.

But I’m really happy to say that all changed after I attended a pain clinic nearly two years ago.
Since then I’ve been off all my opioids and I have more of a framework to help deal with the pain and bad flare ups.

Having the right mindset is really important. For me it’s knowing I can at least run the clock out on this flare up – just get up every morning and keep going. There’s others far worse than me out there suffering.

Regular walking and stretching, mindfulness, hot chips with grated cheese and baked beans helps too 😋

This is all a work in progress – trying to stick to a schedule with all the above isn’t always easy with a one year old terrorist hiding your car keys!

I wish people knew…

When it comes to my condition I wish people knew that a lot of the worst symptoms are invisible to anyone outside of your immediate family. And that’s because they have to live with it too.

Chronic pain isn’t like normal pain, just as exhaustion isn’t the same as being tired. There’s literally no break from it, no return to normal life.

Both of these things are impossible to convey to others. In fact I don’t, or try not to these days.

It’s not anyone’s fault at all. These things are subjective to a great extent and the nature of the degeneration and symptoms are largely hidden from view.

Some annoying/frustrating things I hear about my condition

This will probably ring true for most people living with a musculoskeletal condition, but it can be annoying when people say “you look well”. I know it’s not their fault, they often don’t know any better. But I did have an ‘ologist’ say exactly that to me last week – now they should know better.

Then there’s the usual stuff – “it improves in good weather” or “I’m tired too” or “have you tried X?” or “my aunty tried X and now she’s better”. Most times it turns out that X is a pseudoscience.

This all comes from a good place so it’s not that annoying really. It’s just that it always happens 😑.

So I now try to look at it as more info to consider. One day someone might have just the right idea or advice, so I’ve decided the best thing to do is listen and then apply some critical thinking to the claim.

Some tips and advice I’d like to share with others

Hands down the best thing I ever did to manage my condition was attend a pain clinic. It taught me how to live with chronic pain and even reduce it, as well as how to get off all the drugs I was taking to manage it.

Some other things I’ve learned along the way:

Own it – don’t rely on others to fix you. You may be lucky and your pain goes away or your condition gets better, but realistically, this is unlikely to happen. So own it.

You have to keep on top of all your specialists. The current model is your GP manages all of your specialists, but in my experience this only exists on paper. That’s why you need to be on top of it all. And try to stay up to date as far as the research and current consensus is for your condition. If, for example, ‘eating oranges cures psoriatic arthritis’ then that will show in the consensus. Until then, it’s just speculation, not fact.

It can be hard to keep on top of it all, but do your best. Keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out 😁

Learn and practice critical thinking methodologies and have a basic understanding of the scientific method. These are not just catchphrases but a learned skill. You can use these real step-by-step methods to evaluate potential treatments, drugs, research your condition and challenge specialists – at the very least it will save you time filtering the interweb.

Be the custodian of ALL your medical records. Get a copy of every single test and scan you have. Consider keeping them organised online using a cloud drive like Google Drive or Dropbox so you can access them in real time at any of your appointments. Some pathology centres will email the results to you. So it can’t hurt to ask.

If you know how, transcribe all your results into a master spreadsheet. You can see patterns over time. This has been instrumental in my diagnosis and realisation that what’s going on with me is more complicated than a ‘normal’ rheumatological condition.

Other tips:

  • Learn the medical lingo.
  • Try to eat well.
  • Get referred to a chronic pain clinic.
  • Learn about sleep hygiene – or the habits and everyday practices that help you sleep well. This includes things like exercise, having a nighttime routine, turning off screens etc. This is so important!
  • Don’t ever give up, especially trying to find a diagnosis.

I’m participating in Walk in July for MSK

It’s a great excuse to see how I go on a longer walk than I’m used to. It’s also my chance to help out a great organisation and generally rib the CEO Rob Anderson along the way (or get him to buy me a coffee at least!).

Final words

I think most people living with musculoskeletal conditions have the same struggles. Generally there’s only so much you can do to slow the progression of the condition and limit the pain, exhaustion and mobility issues.

At its core it’s a big, lifelong mental battle. It can be very isolating dealing with that every day, you have to try and come to terms with the fact that your life has changed forever and there’s no cure…yet.

So you must adapt, and seek out the positives…you’ll find there’s many if you look for them 🙂

Believe me, I know it’s not always easy to do. There’ll be some dark days ahead – that’s why acceptance is so important.

Things that your old self loved to do may no longer be an option – try and find new stuff to replace that old stuff.

In the end you may find your life becomes much more simplified in many ways, and that’s a really good thing 😊.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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16/Jul/2020

“Whooooa, and don’t it feel good!”

Gotta love the eighties and music from bands like Katrina and the Waves, right?

And even though there’s only a glimmer of sunshine in Melbourne as I’m writing this and I’m a bit chilly from the quick walk I took round the block, I’m certainly feeling brighter than I did 15 minutes ago! Especially with the tune of that song stuck in my head 😁

While I was out I couldn’t help but notice how many people were also out for a stroll. It seems that everyone’s rediscovered walking during the pandemic.

This is one of the most positive things to have emerged due to COVID. People are pulling on their walking shoes and hitting the paths.

Family groups, deliriously happy dogs with their owners, single people with their headphones on – and everyone doing the COVID smile as you pass by. It’s lovely.

Walking is a great way to exercise. It costs nothing, it’s suitable for most people, and it gets you out and about.

It’s a fantastic way to wind down after a long day of work. It can help you relax, especially if you’re feeling stressed or anxious because of the crazy state of the world. There are so many things we have no control over at the moment, but going for a walk? That’s something we can control.

The fresh air, the exercise, and listening to something interesting – your family, a friend, a podcast or music – it’s a great way to boost your mood.

If you don’t exercise much, walking might be a good way for you to build up your activity levels – though be sure to talk with your doctor first to get the all-clear. Then start slow.

Try walking 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and you’ll really notice the health benefits. It can help you manage your pain, lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it can lift your mood, help you get a good night’s sleep, improve your bone and joint health and increase heart and lung fitness.

If you can’t walk 30 minutes at a time, break the walking up over your day. Three 10 minute walks, six 5 minute walks…it all adds up.

And if 30 minutes most days isn’t achievable for you at the moment, set yourself a goal so that it becomes achievable. Think about your daily commitments, your level of fitness, your pain/fatigue levels and all of the other things that affect you day to day. Now create a SMART goal. That’s a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Time-frame that works for you. Read our blog about goal setting for more info.

Walking tips

  • Wear comfortable, appropriate clothing and shoes. Your shoes should support your feet and have a non-slip sole. Clothes should be loose and/or stretchy enough to allow you to walk without restrictions. And don’t forget a hat on sunny days.
  • Warm up and cool down to prevent injuries or pain. While you might be eager to just get out there or you want to stay ahead of a group of people coming up behind you, it’s important that you take the time to let your muscles and joints warm up. And when you’re close to finishing your walk, take the time to slow it down and give your body the chance to cool down. Don’t forget to incorporate some basic stretches after you’ve warmed up and after you’ve cooled down. Check out these ones from the Arthritis Foundation (USA).
  • Remember to physically distance from other people when you’re out for your walk. Keep at least 1.5 metres between yourself and others. That doesn’t include members of your household 😊.
  • Choose quieter times to walk if you live in a busy, densely populated area. Try walking early in the morning, or in the evening, as long as it’s safe to do so.
  • Avoid the really popular parks and paths. It’s just too hard to maintain that 1.5 metres when you’re surrounded on all sides by people. It can also make your walk less enjoyable if there are crowds of people and lots of noise. Find parks and walking trails that are less crowded, or go at a different time of the day/week.
  • Make it social (if you can) – walk with a friend, your family, kids, the dog.
  • Listen to music, audio books, podcasts. Going for a walk by yourself gives you space for some alone time. Listen to something that interests you and relax as you get some exercise.
  • Make walking a part of your regular routine. Go at the same time each day – e.g. before/after work, after lunch.
  • Don’t go out if you’re sick – stay home and look after yourself. This is especially important if you’re experiencing any COVID symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. Find out more about COVID symptoms on the Australian Government website.
  • Be mindful while you’re walking. Really take time to be in the moment and experience the walk. How do your feet feel as they connect with the ground? What can you smell? How does the wind feel on your face? This is an opportunity to really connect with what you’re doing and savour every moment.
  • Explore new places. Obviously follow the directions of the health officer in your state/territory, but if you’re able to explore new walking trails, parklands and suburbs, do it. As many of us have discovered during lockdown, walking the same paths day after day can become a little tedious. Mixing it up will make your walks more interesting. Comedian and radio host Tony Martin and his partner have spent more than 10 years exploring the streets of Melbourne, with the goal to walk every single street! While your goal doesn’t need to be this challenging, it may inspire you to pull out the old Melways or use your GPS to discover new and interesting places to walk.
  • Take a water bottle – it can be thirsty work! And depending how far you’re walking, consider taking a small backpack for your water bottle and any other supplies you think may need such as snacks, a map, band aids (just in case) and your phone.
  • Track your walking with a pedometer or fitness activity tracker. This’s a great way to see how you’ve progressed over time. And many of the walking apps allow you to challenge others, so if you can’t physically walk together, you can in spirit.
  • Increase the distance and intensity of your walks over time. To see the health benefits from your walking, you need to push yourself to go further and harder.
  • And if you catch the walking bug (that sounds a little gross but you know what I mean 😋), consider joining a walking or bushwalking group when restrictions ease. You’ll meet other people who love walking, explore new places together and get lots of tips and advice to make your walking more enjoyable and challenging.
  • And last but not least…walk with us! At least in spirit 😊 Our Walk in July is happening as we speak. People of all ‘walks’ of life (sorry for that), ages, conditions and locations are walking virtually whenever and wherever they want to raise awareness of musculoskeletal conditions and to raise funds for Musculoskeletal Australia. Join us and together we can make a difference to the lives of those who need it most!

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

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just some of the sites that provide useful info about different walks and trails in Australia.


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16/Jul/2020

For many of us, massage is an important tool for managing the aches, pains and muscular tension associated with having a musculoskeletal condition. It complements the other things we do to manage our condition such as exercise, medication and mindfulness.

What is massage?

Massage is a hands-on therapy that involves rubbing and manipulating the soft tissues of your body, especially your muscles. There are many different types of massage including relaxation, shiatsu, sports, deep tissue, hot rock and remedial.

Massage can improve circulation, ease muscle tension and help you feel more relaxed. A massage can also help relieve stress and help you sleep.

In this blog our focus is remedial massage and self-massage.

What’s a remedial massage?

Remedial massage treats muscles that are “knotted, tense, stiff or damaged.” (1)  In consultation with the client, a “remedial therapist will assess and identify which areas of the body require treatment, and use a range of massage-based techniques to optimise muscle function”.(2)

Remedial massage helps loosen tight muscles and ease your pain and stiffness. And for many people with musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis or back pain, this type of massage is essential to keep you moving.

Seeing a remedial massage therapist

A qualified remedial massage therapist is trained to “assess and treat muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue and treat injuries and soreness”.(3) 

Seeing a massage therapist regularly can help prevent a build-up of muscle tension caused by chronic pain, inactivity and injury. They can also help you manage your pain, maintain joint flexibility and function, and provide you with exercises and stretches to do between visits.

Questions to ask a massage therapist

Before seeing a therapist, you should do your homework and find out as much as possible. Ask questions such as:

  • What type of massage do you provide?
  • What are your qualifications?
  • Are you accredited with the peak massage body in Australia?
  • Have you successfully treated people with my condition?
  • Do I need to take all my clothes off?
  • How long are the massage sessions?
  • What is the cost?
  • Can I claim this on my health insurance?

When you see the therapist you should:

  • Be open with them and communicate your needs and any health issues – whether they’re ongoing or new.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable before they start massaging. They may have placed your arms in a position that aggravates a neck or back condition, or have you lie in a way that causes pain or discomfort. If this occurs, explain to the therapist that the position doesn’t work for you. They can then make changes to ensure you’re comfortable and that you get the most benefit from the massage.
  • Ask for extra support if you need it. If you need a pillow or cushion to support your neck, knees or back, let them know so they can accommodate you.
  • Let your massage therapist know if the pressure is too hard, too soft or if anything hurts. Don’t suffer in silence.
  • Ask yourself whether it matters if you see a male or female therapist. Massage therapists are professionals who want to help you. They’ve seen people of all shapes and sizes and will use towels and sheets to cover you. However you do need to be relaxed during a massage, and if you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious you won’t fully relax. So if you think this will be an issue for you, ask for a massage therapist that suits your needs.
  • Try not to feel embarrassed if you fall asleep or pass wind during your massage. It happens – especially when your body relaxes.

After your massage

  • You may feel a little sore or tender after your remedial massage. This may last up to a day. The massage has worked and stretched your muscles, much like exercise does. If you’re not used to this or it’s been a while since your last massage, you may feel some pain. A warm shower or heat pack can help alleviate this.
  • Do some gentle stretches, as you would after exercising. This helps you maintain some of the benefits of your massage – such as increased flexibility and reduced muscle tension.

Giving yourself a massage

You can relieve many of your own aches and pains by giving yourself a massage. You may even find that you do this unconsciously – when you’re sitting at the computer and you rub your neck, when you have a headache and you gently rub your temples, or when you’re applying a heat rub to your sore knee.

It’s a simple easy way to relieve pain and tension. The good thing about self-massage is you can do it almost anywhere and it’s free! Try it next time you feel tense and sore.

Self-massage tips

  • Warm up first – ease some of your muscle tension with a warm shower or by applying a heat pack (warm not hot) to the painful area.
  • Use smooth, firm strokes. You’ll feel the difference between strokes that are relieving muscle tension, and those that are adding to it. Adjust the pressure, from hard to gentle, based on your pain.
  • Add some massage oil (or lotion) – it can help your hands move smoothly over the skin. This isn’t essential, but can add to the soothing feeling of the massage.
  • Don’t massage over bony areas. This can be painful and may cause an injury.
  • Try using massage aids – such as a foam roller, massage balls or other massage aids; e.g. use a tennis ball or a golf ball to massage the soles of the feet. Simply place the ball on the floor, place your bare foot on top of it and gently roll the ball along the length of your foot. If you’re unsteady on your feet, sit down while you do this. You can also use the shower to provide a massage, especially on your neck, shoulders and back.
  • Massage regularly – this’ll help prevent muscle pain and tension building up.

Get help with self-massage

Sometimes you need help when you’re giving yourself a massage. Reaching a sore spot in the middle of your back is tough 😣. Or being able to apply firm, consistent strokes to your neck and shoulders may be impossible if you have a musculoskeletal condition that affects those areas. So ask for help. From your partner, a close friend or even the kids. Just be sure to clearly explain what you need.

You can remain fully clothed and have them massage those areas over your clothes. Combined with using a heat pack, a home massage can provide some relief from your pain.

Massage during COVID

Many of us are finding our muscular aches and pains are worse at the moment and the need for a massage is even greater. Working from home and not having access to a proper desk or chair, trying to home school kids, not being as physically active as we’d like, and general stress about what’s happening in the world can all add to our pain levels and muscle tension. A massage – whether by a qualified therapist or a self-massage can help.

The good news for people locked down due to stage 3 restrictions, is you can still access remedial massage therapists. Yay!

Remedial massage and other allied health services like podiatry, mental health counselling and physiotherapy are essential to support health and wellbeing. So they’re not a restricted at this time. So wherever you are in Australia, you can get a remedial massage if you choose to.

Just make sure you don’t see a massage therapist if you’re feeling unwell. If you feel at all sick, get tested for COVID-19 and stay home. Find out more about COVID symptoms on the Australian Government website or call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.

Take care, stay safe and give massage a go 😊

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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16/Jul/2020

We’re used to having a certain amount of control and consistency in our lives. Before COVID our lives were fairly predictable and we generally knew what was coming. It made us feel secure and settled.

But at the moment it’s almost impossible to know what’s coming. Things are constantly changing and there’s so much we can’t control because of this new world we find ourselves in.

The problem is that when we feel like we have little or no control, we can start to feel more anxious and stressed. Apart from the significant impact this can have on our mental health, we know our physical health is negatively affected by periods of increased stress and anxiety. Our pain and fatigue becomes more intense, our sleep is affected, as is our concentration and blood pressure. We may also get more frequent headaches and stomach upsets.

So if we can take back some control, we won’t feel so powerless. This can help reduce the impact of stress and anxiety on our health.

But we’re in a pandemic – what can I control?

I’m glad you asked. While there are lots of big picture problems we can’t change, we can focus on the small, personal things that affect ourselves, our family and friends and our community.

Start with rituals and routines

Work – Hands up if your working from home attire is something you couldn’t wear to work even on a casual Friday? Many of us have relaxed into trackies, slippers and other comfy clothes. Unless we’re on a video chat, in which case our top half is more presentable 😁.

But this has the effect of blurring the lines between work and home life; just when we really need that distinction to give us work/life balance. And while I won’t go so far as to suggest we all get dressed in our pre-COVID work clothes (though some of you may do that) making a few simple changes may help solidify the lines between work and leisure.

In a recent article in The Age, Melissa Singer wrote that when she’s working she puts on her work shoes, even if she’s wearing comfortable, loungy clothes. At the end of the day she can kick them off. This is her signal that work is done for the day.

You can do similar things like putting on some perfume/aftershave, lipstick, a favourite work shirt, or putting your work away in a briefcase or work bag at the end of the day. They’re things we associate with work, and when we’ve finished work, we should go through our end of work day routine.

And if you can, put your work out of sight so it’s not in view. Even if that means putting a sheet over it. Create a new work routine that helps you put work aside so you can relax and enjoy your leisure and home time.

Daily routines – It’s important during times of change and uncertainty to have a daily routine that you stick to. It will help you feel more in control of your life and what’s happening at the moment.

Your routine is very specific to you and your life, and will be affected by what you need to do in your day, if you have people depending on you, if you’re working from home, have school work (or need to help others with school work) etc.

It might help to sit down with the members of your household and create a calendar that includes everyone’s commitments and needs. Things to think about when creating your calendar:

  • Get everyone involved. It’s vital that everyone feels that their needs matter and they’re being heard.
  • Include specific time for fun stuff, exercise and connecting with family and friends.
  • Keep your weekends separate – this is really important so that you can get your chores done (sadly the laundry doesn’t stop because of a pandemic) and you have time to do creative stuff, exercise, and get a break from the workday routine.
  • Be very clear on your hours. It’s really easy to lose track of time. If you find this happening, set reminders on your phone to alert you.

Birthdays, weddings, graduations, funerals – These are big events for us all. They make us feel connected with our people. And while there may be some restrictions depending on where you live, it’s important we continue to mark these occasions in whatever way we can. In person, via video or phone. We can send celebratory or condolence cards; we can even go the extra mile and make our own 😊 We can write letters and actually put down on paper how much people mean to us. I can guarantee that this will mean so much to the recipient 💗.

Things are different, but there’s no reason we can’t still connect when it comes to the important occasions in our life. Or just on a random Tuesday 😄

Our health

We need to continue to look after ourselves. We have musculoskeletal conditions, so we need to continue to manage them as best we can. That means staying in touch with your healthcare team, alerting them to any changes or concerns, exercising, getting your regular tests done when they’re due, managing your weight and looking after your mental health.

Many of us have other health conditions as well. So we need to manage those too. Looking after your health is a really tangible thing you can do to feel in control in an upside down world.

The COVID three

This would be the worst band name ever, but it’s stuck in my head from all the ads in the media. Which I guess is the point 😉.

We can control how we react to the pandemic and reduce our risk of becoming infected, or spreading the virus, by following what Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth calls the COVID 3.

Wash your hands, physically distance yourself from others and consider downloading the COVIDsafe app. Stay home if you’re unwell and get tested. Cough and/or sneeze into your elbow. Consider wearing a mask. Use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water. And follow the advice of the chief health officer in your state or territory. Wait, hang on, that’s 10 things 😉.

Oh well, just stay safe people. Stay kind. And look after yourself and others.

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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Reference

  • Even behind the curtain of Zoom, the show must go on
    The Age, 9 July 2020

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02/Jul/2020

We’ve been noticing an increasing number of posts on social media and calls to our Help Line from people with musculoskeletal conditions, autoimmune conditions or with weakened immune systems who are feeling really anxious and vulnerable at the moment.

In the general population there’s a giddy exhilaration about restrictions easing. Unfortunately this seems to have led many people to forget all of the good things they’ve been doing over the past few months to flatten the curve. People are gathering in large numbers and forgetting all about physical distancing and giving others plenty of space.

That’s scary because most of us are still susceptible to the virus. And if you’re more at risk than others, it can make you feel really helpless and exposed.

So what can you do to look after yourself?

Acknowledge your feelings

It’s a crappy, crazy time, so recognise that and allow yourself to feel frightened or anxious, cry, have a freak out, and then move on. Don’t bottle these feelings up or pretend everything’s fine. All of our feelings are valid and important – you don’t have to put on a happy face or turn that frown upside down. You need to acknowledge how you really feel.

However if it feels like these feelings are taking over and they’re all you can focus on, talk to someone – your partner, a trusted family member or friend, your doctor or a mental health specialist.

Talk to your doctor

Make sure you keep your healthcare team up-to-date with how you’re doing – both physically and mentally. Continue to follow your treatment plan as prescribed, and if you have any issues contact your team immediately. If attending health appointments in person feels unsafe, use telehealth if you can. Obviously there are some appointments that will require you to attend in person – for example blood tests and scans – however there are many appointments you can attend from the comfort and security of your own home.

It’s also important that you don’t change or stop your medications without talking to your doctor, regardless of what you may see online or in the news. A recent survey of more than 500 patients attending Monash Health’s Rheumatology Department found that over half were concerned that their medications would increase their risk of getting COVID-19, and more than 75% were concerned that their medications would increase the severity of the disease if they did get it. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about medications and COVID, so if you’re worried, contact your doctor and get their expert advice.

Stay home

If you’re able to stay home, do it. The best way to avoid contact with someone who may have the virus is to stay at home. This is the advice of our health officers, especially if you’re in an area that has outbreaks. And quite frankly it’s so cold in parts of the country at the moment, it feels much better inside than out!

So stay home when you can. Use telehealth to access your health professionals, go online to order your shopping and have it delivered (or have a family member/friend pick it up for you and leave it at your door), stay in touch with your people using video chat and phone calls, use exercise apps or online videos to keep active. Technology allows us to stay connected while staying home.

Work from home if you can

This will help reduce your risk of coming into contact with someone with COVID and other contagious illnesses like the flu. However if you can’t work from home, your workplace is required to have in place safeguards to protect you including physical distancing measures, access to soap and water and/or hand sanitisier, and clean and disinfected work spaces. For more information visit the Safe Work Australia website.

Keep practising good hygiene

This is just something we need to live with from now on. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds), use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water, cough or sneeze into your elbow, throw tissues into the bin after use and wash your hands immediately, clean and disinfect your surfaces with soap and water and a disinfectant. It’s important to clean before disinfecting because organic matter and dirt can reduce the ability of disinfectants to kill germs.

Wear a mask

When you do have to venture out, consider wearing a mask, especially if you have to catch public transport or you need to go to a location where physical distancing may be difficult. Read our updated blog about face masks for more info.

Get vaccinated

We’re all being urged to get the flu vaccination this year. This pandemic is overlapping with our flu season and while flu numbers in Australia are low due to our physical distancing measures, this may change. So see your doctor (if you haven’t already) and get your flu vax.

Ask for help

People living with health conditions are tough and resilient. We want to be able to do everything ourselves. However sometimes that’s not an option and we need to ask for help. This can be really hard and can feel like we’re giving away our independence. However this is a global pandemic – so asking for help when you need it is the smart thing to do – especially if it helps you look after your physical and mental health.

Get support from others who understand

There are some great peer support groups who meet online. You can chat with them, share your worries and concerns, get useful info and gain support from people who understand exactly what you’re going through. Being a part of these groups also give you the opportunity to give back and provide support to others.

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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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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