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03/Jun/2021

I discovered one of the silver linings of wearing a mask this week. They really keep your nose warm during your early morning and late afternoon walks! Wow, it’s getting cold outside. Winter is well and truly here.

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

So what can we do to stay warm and keep the costs down as much as possible? Here are our top tips:

Dress for success

Let’s start with the basics. We need to dress for the temperature and wear layers of clothing. I know it can feel cumbersome at times, but it’s one of our best defences against the cold. So put on the warm pants and jumper, embrace your inner Wiggle and wear a skivvy, pull on your thick socks and/or tights and appropriate footwear. We need to do this when we’re indoors and add more layers when we go outside – including hats, gloves, scarves and masks (if required).

Deal with draughts

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

Turn down the temperature

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

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

Let the sun shine in

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

Snuggle up

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

Turn it off at night

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

Winter-proof your bed

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

Get active

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

Shorten your shower, if you can

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

Move clothes horses and other obstructions away from the heater

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

Use heat packs and hot water bottles

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

Warm up from the inside out

There are lots of delicious winter recipes that bring comfort and warmth on the most miserable days. So crack open the cookbooks and get inspired to make some yummy, warming drinks, curries, soups and stews. Also, check out these winter recipes from Delicious and Taste.

Working from home

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

Billing and payment help

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

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

Insulate

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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03/Jun/2021

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” ― Bob Marley

This morning I was sitting at my computer in my makeshift home office, looking out at the bleak Melbourne weather and contemplating a week of a whole lot of nothing. Yep, at the time of writing Victoria was entering a seven-day circuit breaker lockdown.

I could hear the radio in the next room and noticed the station had brought back the Lockdown Countdown. This is a daily uplifting ‘blast from the past’ song to help us get through the latest lockdown. It’s not the bright pop of Tay-tay or Bieber, but ‘OMG, I LOVE THIS SONG, crank the volume and sing at the top of your lungs’ music. A new song is played each day. Today’s song was Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. 

And I realised I was smiling as I went through my emails, and I was singing aloud.

Music is a powerful force we often don’t think about – or at least not too deeply. It’s always there, often in the background. But music can improve our mood, help us focus, get motivated and even ease our pain.

So let’s take a closer look at the power of music. And of course, this is a blatant opportunity to listen to great music and watch videos – all in the interests of research of course. 😊

Everybody hurts (R.E.M): Music and pain

Numerous research studies have confirmed what many of us have long believed – listening to music or creating music can ease our pain. However we don’t really understand exactly how it works. We do know that listening to music releases dopamine, a chemical made in the brain. It’s often called the ‘feel-good hormone’ and is released when we experience something pleasurable, such as food, exercise, sex and music.

Music also distracts us. It has the power to shift our focus from our pain to something else, such as singing, humming, dancing, or remembering the first time we heard a piece of music. Depending on the level of our pain, music may be enough on its own to help distract us, or used with other pain management strategies such as exercise, medication, heat and cold packs, or massage to get through the worst of our pain.

But at the end of the day, it’s a pleasurable, low/no cost, treatment for pain.

I’m so tired (Kasabian): Music and sleep

Many of us struggle with getting a good night’s sleep – whether it’s falling asleep, staying asleep and/or getting enough quality sleep to wake up refreshed. https://www.msk.org.au/sleep/ Anxiety, pain, stress and an overactive mind can all have an effect on how well we sleep.

If this sounds familiar, try listening to some music.

We know it works – we’ve used lullabies for millennia to help put babies to sleep.

Listening to music as you fall asleep can slow your breathing and calm your mind. Adding music to your nightly routine can help you sleep better and reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep. It can also distract you from your pain, and counteract any outside noises that may interrupt your sleep, such as traffic or noisy neighbours.

Choose music that you enjoy and find soothing – nothing too fast or upbeat! – and create your own sleep playlist. Or there are many ready-made sleep playlists you can try on streaming apps such as Spotify or Apple Music.

Fake happy (Paramore): Music, stress and anxiety

Anxiety and depression are common in people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. The good news is that many treatment options can help you reduce their impact on your life. One of these treatments is music.

Listening to music can lower blood pressure and slow down the heart rate – both of which are heightened in times of stress and anxiety. Music can also make us cry – which is sometimes the outlet we need to deal with strong feelings.

To get the most out of the music, take the time to ‘actively listen’ to it. Put away all of your usual distractions (e.g. phone) and focus on the music – the lyrics, the tempo, the instruments and how it makes you feel.

Again, it’s important to choose music that makes you relax and is soothing to you. This is obviously a subjective thing – we all have different tastes in music and what we consider relaxing. Such as Garth on the commercial for health insurance de-stressing to heavy metal – which isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’.

Whatever music you choose, be mindful while listening to it, and it has the power to help you find your calm during stressful and anxious times.

Dance monkey (Tones and I): Music and exercise

It never fails. When you’re out for a stroll and some fast-paced music comes through your earbuds, your steps sync to the tempo of the music and you start walking faster. For me this morning, it was some Run DMC and Aerosmith action with ‘Walk this way’.

So music can help us increase the intensity of our exercise. It also motivates us to move. Listening to music with a great beat, that lifts our mood, is often all we need to encourage us to exercise and be more active. It makes you want to dance around the lounge, walk around the park, do some yoga or head to the gym.

Having a good playlist will also distract you. If you’re finding it hard to get in the exercise zone, uplifting tunes will help you get there by giving you something else to focus on.

Happy working song (Enchanted): Music and everyday activities

As with exercise, music can help make our everyday, mundane and sometimes stressful activities easier. Stuck in traffic? Put on some relaxing music. Cleaning the shower? Put on some fun, one-hit wonders. Preparing dinner for the starving hordes? Put on something that makes you feel creative and calm. This is the beauty of music – whatever the genre – there’s something for all tastes, occasions and feelings

ME! (Taylor Swift): Music and our sense of self

Our musical preferences are a big part of who we are. We’re all unique when it comes to what we listen to and when – what music soothes us, energises us, makes us emotional, transports us back in time. It’s magical. And unique to every person.

Count on me (Bruno Mars): Music connects us with others

Music also connects us with others. Think about the earliest time we encounter music – a parent singing a lullaby to their child. Apart from helping the baby fall asleep, it’s an important bonding time between parent and child.

Now think about attending church, a sporting event, or a concert. The shared moments when everyone sings a hymn, an anthem or a song can unify people from all walks of life, even if it’s for a short period.

Music also provides an opportunity to make new friends over a shared love of a particular band, style of music or artist. And with most of us having access to the internet and social media, these friendships are no longer confined to our own suburbs, states or even countries. Why is this important? Because being connected with others is vital for good physical and mental wellbeing. Social connections can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and improve our immune systems.

Happy (Pharrell): Music and emotions

Listening to music releases dopamine – which is one of the ‘feel good’ chemicals. This boosts your mood and makes you feel more optimistic. So playing upbeat, happy music first thing in the morning can help set you up for the day. Especially if you’re feeling a bit down or the morning news is too depressing to deal with.

On the flip side, listening to sad music can also be healthy. It can help you process feelings of sadness or other ‘negative’ feelings, by reflecting on them or crying. By doing so, you’re able to deal with them, rather than bottling them up.

Make a playlist for all occasions

Music is such a powerful tool we can use in many situations, and for many health benefits. So just like making a mixed tape for the person you had a crazy, mad crush on as a teenager, make yourself a bunch of mixed tapes. Well not literally, those things are impossible to find! But make yourself a series of playlists that you can use to exercise, boost your mood, help you sleep or manage your pain. Have them ready to go so all you have to do when you need them is to press a button.

Or check out the playlists online and find some that suit your tastes and needs.

And pump up the volume! 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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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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13/May/2021

I was having lunch with friends last week. Two of us have recently turned 50, so of course the discussion turned to our eligibility to get the COVID vaccination (the fun never ends when you hit the big 5-0!).

I was surprised to find I wasn’t the only one starting to feel a little worried about being vaccinated. For months now, most people I know have been gung-ho, and ready to roll up their sleeves for the COVID vaccination.

So what’s changed?

Our confidence.

We all know that in order to reach herd immunity – in Australia and globally – and reduce the spread of COVID, mass vaccination is our best option.

But many of us are losing confidence in the vaccination rollout, and are starting to become anxious about potential risks, especially around the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Our confidence in the Federal and state/territory governments has eroded over the past year. Petty squabbling between our governments, snap borders closures, lockdowns, problems with hotel quarantine, changes to vaccination targets, and the lack of choice when it comes to which vaccine we receive have made us question everything. Even the speed with which vaccines were created has made a lot of people worry.

The issue of rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which saw use of this vaccine paused in several countries, and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommending Pfizer over AstraZeneca for those under 50, has been just another blow to our confidence.

On top of all of this has been the poor communication from our governments. Information has been very brief, lacking the detail that many of us want, or too complicated, especially around the issue of blood clots. And so many became hesitant about vaccination. Even though we knew it’s the best way out of this pandemic.

Our concerns are valid. Our choice will have an impact on our health and our lives.

So what can we do to deal with our hesitancy? We need to become better informed so we’re making decisions based on fact, not fear or misinformation.

Things to know about getting vaccinated:

Don’t believe everything you read or hear – on socials, in the media, from your neighbour. There’s been a lot of incorrect, biased and out-of-date information shared. The Australian Government COVID vaccine info, and your state/territory health websites are important places to start for accurate information. Then it’s a matter of discussing this information with your GP or specialist about your specific set of circumstances, and asking the questions that matter most to you.

Getting vaccinated reduces your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if you do get the virus. Being vaccinated also reduces the risk of passing the virus on to others if you do become infected. Read this article for more info: Mounting evidence suggests COVID vaccines do reduce transmission. How does this work? 

We can’t choose which vaccine we receive. Unfortunately we currently only have the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines available for use in Australia. With the recent side effect of blood clots associated with AstraZeneca, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has stated that the Pfizer vaccine is preferred for people under the age of 50 who have a higher chance of developing this side effect. For those 50 and over, you will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

About those blood clots. We’ve seen media reports of people hospitalised for thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. And as someone who’s 50 and will receive this vaccine, the news coverage is scary. However it’s important to also be aware that the majority of people who experienced this side effect survived. Some were hospitalised and even spent time in intensive care – which is not nothing. But the weight of the evidence to date supports that your risk of developing severe illness or dying from COVID is greater than the risk of developing TTS.

Although the vaccines appeared quickly, researchers and manufacturers didn’t skip steps. The difference between developing the COVID vaccines, and past vaccines, is that we had so much genetic information about the virus very early on. We also had technologies in place, and government funding around the world, for work to begin as soon as possible.

Out of the large number of potential vaccines on the radar in 2020, only a small number made it through clinical trials. Many of the others fell by the wayside due to safety and efficacy issues.

The ones that did make it through then had to jump through the hoops of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia, and similar organisations around the world. Read the TGA info on the vaccine approval process and their safety monitoring system.

The Australian Rheumatology Association recommends that people with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases get vaccinated.

Finally
Although in Australia we’ve been extremely lucky to have very low numbers of people being infected or dying from COVID, this could change, as we’ve seen in other parts of the world. So we can’t afford to become complacent. Whether you choose to be vaccinated or not, we all still need to adhere to the safety precautions we’ve become so familiar with:

  • wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water
  • use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water
  • cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue; put the tissue in the bin and wash/sanitise your hands
  • avoid touching your face
  • clean surfaces regularly
  • physically distance yourself from others
  • stay home if you’re sick
  • get tested.

Contact our free national Help Line

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


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13/May/2021

You can’t pick up a magazine or scroll through socials without seeing a celebrity or influencer touting the latest probiotic, prebiotic, wonder food or tips to enhance your gut microbiome. When did the gut become big business? And what’s it all about?

Let’s take a deep dive into the gut microbiome (sorry – that sounds a little gross 😉) and find out.

But first, some definitions:

  • microbes are tiny living things that exist all around us – in the air, soil, water, our food, and our bodies. They’re so small you can’t see them with the naked eye. They include bacteria, fungi, viruses and archaea.
  • microbiota refers to the entire community of microbes that inhabit a specific place. In this article we’re referring to the human microbiota – or the community of microbes that lives in and on your body, with a specific focus on the bacteria in the gut.
  • microbiome is what we call the genetic material of all of the cells in the microbiota. So this is not just the microbes themselves, but all of the genes in all the microbes.

We’re all unique

We’ve known for many years that there are trillions of microbes living inside and on our bodies. But did you know there are almost as many microbial cells as human cells that call our bodies home?! (1)

The majority of these microbes are found along the digestive tract (or gut), especially in the large intestine.

Microbes are extremely important for our health. We exist with them in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. That means that we both gain benefit from living in such close proximity with each other.

We provide them with a cosy place to live and an abundant supply of food to feed on. They help us digest food, absorb nutrients and fight off harmful bacteria. They also have an effect on our metabolism, weight, mood, and most importantly, they help develop, modify and control our immune system.

We’ve evolved with these microbes over thousands of years, passing them on from generation to generation. However your microbiome is completely unique to you.

It started to develop when you were a newborn and was shaped by your mother’s health, how you were born (vaginally or via caesarean) and how you were fed as an infant (breastmilk, formula or combination). Then a multitude of other factors contributed to your microbiome, including where you live (e.g. rural/urban), your diet, the medications you use, if you’re a smoker, and your stress levels.

The link between our microbiome and disease

Even though we live in a symbiotic relationship with our gut microbiota, that doesn’t mean that all of the bacteria present in our gut are beneficial. It simply means that in a healthy person the gut microbiome is relatively stable, and the ‘good’ bacteria keep in check the numbers of ‘bad’ bacteria that could become harmful to us.

For a healthy gut microbiome, we need sufficient levels and a diverse range of good bacteria. Poor diet, smoking, chronic stress and antibiotics can all affect the quantity and types of bacteria we have in our gut.

Many studies have shown that it’s disturbances or imbalances with the gut microbiota that may contribute to the onset and/or severity of a long list of diseases. And that people who develop these conditions have too little or too much of certain types of bacteria, or lack some types of bacteria completely.

For many autoimmune conditions, the cause is unknown. A genetic predisposition, coupled with an unknown trigger is often the closest we have to a cause.

This has led some researchers investigating whether imbalances in the gut microbiome may be the a potential trigger that could result in some people developing:

  • inflammatory bowel disease (9) (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • diabetes (8)
  • musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (2, 3), ankylosing spondylitis (4), and psoriatic arthritis (5).

Scientists are researching whether improving the diversity and health of gut microbiota in people with these diseases will also decrease their symptoms.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Some of the treatments being researched include probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are similar to those living in our digestive tract. They’re found in cultured and fermented foods including yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha tea.

Probiotics help to maintain healthy levels of good bacteria in the gut and support our immune defences. They also help to break down foods we find difficult to digest, or foods that aren’t broken down by stomach acids.

One meta-analysis investigated whether probiotic supplements provided any benefits for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Researchers concluded that there’s a potential role for probiotics in relieving inflammation for people with RA; however more research is needed before we can know if probiotics can relieve the disease progression (6).

Safety note – if you have a weakened immune system due to your condition and/or medications, you should talk with your doctor before taking a probiotic, as they contain live bacteria, and may not be safe for you to take.

Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre that we can’t digest. But our good bacteria love them, and they’re a great food source to help them grow and multiply in your gut. They’re found in foods such as beans, asparagus, garlic, brown rice, bananas and sweet potatoes.

Scientists are investigating whether prebiotics can be used to treat or manage a range of health issues.

Looking after your gut microbiome

While there’s a lot of research being carried out investigating how our gut microbiome affects our health, we still have a long way to go before we have any definitive answers, especially when it comes to our musculoskeletal health. Our microbiomes are all so diverse and unique, which makes this research complex. And this research is also still quite new. So ‘watch this space’! We’ll bring you more information, especially as it relates to musculoskeletal conditions, as it emerges.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to look after, and even improve your gut microbiome. And the good news is that these things are also good for managing your musculoskeletal condition/s and health in general.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with a wide range of foods. The microbes in our gut are attracted to different nutrients. So providing a diverse range of healthy foods – fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, fermented foods – means that you’ll be making a diverse group of microbes happy and healthy.
  • Eat a wide variety of fibre. The CSIRO says we can “feed our gut bacteria or microbiome by eating foods rich in resistant starch; for example, lentils, peas and beans, cooked and cooled potato, cold pasta salad, firm bananas, and certain wholegrain products” (7).
  • Avoid foods high in saturated fat and sugar as they have a negative impact on your microbiome.
  • Exercise – you didn’t think I’d get through an article without promoting exercise did you 😊? Apart from all the amazing things regular exercise can do to help us manage our musculoskeletal conditions, our weight, mood, and sleep…studies have shown that exercise can improve the quantity and quality of the microbes in our gut. To find out more, check out this article from The Conversation.
  • Manage your stress. Studies have shown that stress – including psychological and emotional stress, lack of sleep, and stress caused by our environment such as noise, or extremes in temperature – can negatively affect the microbes in our gut. To manage stress, you can try to manage any environmental causes, get good, quality sleep, and use stress management techniques such as distraction, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation and deep breathing.
  • Avoid antibiotics when they’re not needed, They should only be used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics can’t kill viruses, so they shouldn’t be used for illnesses like the common cold. But they do kill bacteria – including the good ones we need in our gut. So discuss the risks and benefits of using antibiotics with your doctor. Read this information from the National Prescribing Service about antibiotics.
  • Get outdoors and interact with your environment. Whether it’s a walk in the park or digging in your garden, exposing yourself to external microbes is good for your microbiome.
  • Stop smoking – it affects your overall health, including the microbes that call you home. Quitting is hard, but there are people and organisations who can help you.
  • Talk with your doctor and/or dietitian about how you can improve your diet, for better gut health.

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

References

  1. Sender R, et al. 2016. Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLoS Biology.
  2. Wells, P. M., et al. 2020. Associations between gut microbiota and genetic risk for rheumatoid arthritis in the absence of disease: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet. Rheumatology.
  3. Taneja, V. 2014, Arthritis susceptibility and the gut microbiome. FEBS Letters.
  4. Fletcher, J. 2021.Expert perspectives: Ankylosing spondylitis and the gut microbiome. Medical News Today.
  5. Fletcher, J. 2020. Psoriatic arthritis and the microbiome: Is there a link? Medical News Today.
  6. Mohammed, A.T, et al. 2017. The therapeutic effect of probiotics on rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials. Clinical Rheumatology.
  7. CSIRO, 2021, Resistant starch.
  8. Branca, M (2021). Plant-based diet may feed key gut microbes. The Harvard Gazette.
  9. Knights, D.et al (2014). Complex host genetics influence the microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease. Genome Med 6, 107 (2014).

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13/May/2021

Often when we go through times of enormous challenge and change we start to re-evaluate and prioritise what’s important to us: quality time with family and friends, taking care of our physical and mental wellbeing, and our feelings and goals when it comes to work.

Many Australians experienced, or are still experiencing, personal and financial stress due to loss of work because of COVID-19.

When you add a chronic musculoskeletal condition (or conditions) to the mix, the situation becomes more complicated. Living with a chronic condition is expensive, so if you’re no longer able to work – because of your condition, the pandemic or both – financial strain is almost inevitable. If you’re in this position at the moment, read our information on financial support – there are a lot of options to help you through this tough period.

Reconsidering work

When we conducted our 2020 national consumer survey, we asked people how their musculoskeletal condition/s had affected their ability to work. Seventeen percent of respondents said they had to change their job or profession to accommodate their condition/s.

If this sounds familiar, or you’ve lost work due to the pandemic, this may be the perfect time to reflect on what you value when it comes to your job. Ask yourself – ‘is my job still working for me’?.

If you answered no, there are many options to help you move forward and find a new job or career that satisfies you, provides you with an income and gives you a sense of fulfillment.

Job Outlook
This is a great website and a good place to start when contemplating your next career move. It has a range of very helpful tools including:

  • skills match – this tool helps you find new jobs that use your existing skills. You simply add your previous jobs, including unpaid or volunteer work, and it’ll give you alternative jobs that use your skills.
  • career quiz – this simple quiz gives you a range of work scenarios. You choose the ones that appeal to you the most. Based on your answers, the quiz provides a range of career paths that may interest you.
  • explore careers – provides all the relevant information about different occupations including tasks associated with the job, salary, future growth, skills and knowledge required, and the work environment (including physical demands of the job).
  • links to training courses, job vacancies and other useful resources.

JobAccess 
This is the Australian Government’s one-stop-shop for information and resources for people with disability, employers and service providers.

The section for people with a disability has a wealth of resources, especially on the Available Support page including:

Australian Job Search
This is Australia’s largest free online jobs website. Lots of useful info and resources for job seekers.

Job Jumpstart 
Provides articles and tools to help you find jobs that suit your interests. Information is tailored to where you’re at in life:

Department of Education, Skills and Employment – Australian Government
Provides services and support to help you overcome barriers and develop required skills to gain employment. including:

My Skills 
My Skills is the national directory of vocational education and training (VET) organisations and courses. It provides info on:

Careers counsellors
You can also get professional help making decisions about your career choice by talking to a careers counsellor. Careers counsellors provide information, advice and guidance to help you make realistic choices about work, including further training or upskilling. They can help you identify jobs that match your skills and interests, create a resume, provide info on where to look for jobs and more.

Visit Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA) to find a private career counsellor who can help you work out your best career options. Note – these services aren’t free. The CDAA advises that ‘all members are in business, they charge a fee for the services they provide. You are encouraged to contact 2-3 members and discuss your needs to make an informed decision about who could help you best.’

Contact our free national Help Line

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


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22/Apr/2021

Sex, intimacy and musculoskeletal conditions

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Note: This article was written from my perspective as a heterosexual woman in a long-term relationship. If you’d like to share your tips and advice about intimacy when you live with a musculoskeletal condition from a differing perspective, that we could share in another blog, we’d love to hear from you. Contact lisa@msk.org.au 

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Living with a musculoskeletal condition/s can sometimes interfere with your sex life. Pain, fatigue, body image issues and side effects from medications, can really interfere with this aspect of your life. Added to the physical and emotional effects of your condition, the everyday pressures of work/study, family, finances and COVID, can also affect your desire to be intimate.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. In our report Making the Invisible Visible, we revealed that 32% of people said their condition had affected their ability to be intimate with their partner.

The good news is there are many things you can do to overcome many of these issues and enjoy a satisfying and fulfilling sex life.

Tips for happy sexy times

Be open and honest with your partner about how you feel. Only you know what hurts – both physically and emotionally. Show them the positions that cause you the least pain. If you’re feeling sad or depressed about how your body has changed, tell them this. Not letting them in, and not telling them what’s going on, can put a strain on your relationship.

Be kind to yourself. When our bodies change it’s understandable to feel sad or a sense of loss about the things we used to be able to do, or the way we used to look.

But it’s important not to get in the habit of describing yourself in a negative way – both to yourself and your partner – such as ‘I’m fat’, or ‘I’m ugly’. It’s not constructive, and it just makes you feel worse. It certainly doesn’t make you feel sexy! I know this is hard – we really are our own worst critic. Instead focus on the things you do like or love about your body. Take time to really look at your body and be proud of it. Over time look at the parts of your body you haven’t been so happy with, and look at them without the super-critical lens. Admire it…our bodies are amazing! And they’ll continue to change as our health changes and we grow older. So it’s important we become comfortable in our own skin.

Be kind to your partner. They may be worried about hurting you, or self-conscious about their body, or changes to their own health and wellbeing. If you haven’t been communicating well recently, they may be worried that they’ve done (or not done) something. Communication is key.

Talk with your doctor. This may be a little embarrassing or uncomfortable, but your doctor can give you practical advice about pain relief strategies, as well as sexual positions you can try that won’t aggravate your condition. You can also discuss your medications, in case they’re causing loss of libido or issues such as vaginal dryness. You can then explore the potential of alternative treatments.

Have a massage. Book an appointment with your favourite massage therapist and have a relaxation massage to soothe any muscle tension away. Or better still, ask your partner for a massage. A little oil, some light strokes along your arms, and some gentle back rubs, and the next thing you know, things have taken a lovely, sensual turn ❤. Read this article for some tips: How to give your partner a super hot erotic massage.

Plan things. It doesn’t sound terribly romantic or sexy, but putting some thought and planning into sexy times can make things so much easier. Consider taking a warm shower or bath to loosen up your muscles, take a pain reliever, do some stretches, use your heat pack, have a massage, or take a nap. Basically do all the things you know relieve your pain.

By planning, you can choose a time when you’re feeling your best, the kids have been shipped to the grandparents, the phones are off, and there are no other distractions.

Planning also involves setting the mood, so light some candles, wear something that makes you feel desirable and self-confident, dim the lights and put on some music.

Get adventurous! Try new positions – you know your body and what makes it hurt – so avoid those positions, and find new ones. Versus Arthritis (formerly Arthritis UK) has a great booklet that provides a range of different positions for you to try.

Use pillows to provide some support if you need it.

Try sex aids and toys – there’s a huge range available including vibrators, lubricants, feathers, rings, sexy wear – so pop down to the adult store together and find things that excite you both. Or go online and order them if you don’t feel comfortable going into a store.

Read erotica or watch porn together – whatever excites you and gets you in the mood.

Don’t forget the romance. If you’ve been with your partner for some time, cast your mind back to the giddy days when you were getting to know each other. When every look, every slight touch was electric, and you went out of your way to do romantic things together. Now think about your life today, and how you can add some romance or spice things up. Whether it’s a date night, with dinner somewhere special, followed by dancing in your lounge or cuddling on your couch; sending your partner flowers or other love tokens; leaving little notes for them to find; or just surprising them with a good old fashion, toe curling pash (sigh ❤). Put in the effort – it’s well worth it, as it will make you both feel special and loved.

Keep a sense of humour. Inevitably things will go pear-shaped. Your back will spasm, your hips fail you, someone falls asleep, or the children/cat/dog make an appearance. All you can do is roll with it. It’s no one’s fault, so laughing about it, and moving on is your best option.

It’s not all about penetration. Cuddling, touching, oral sex, lying skin-to-skin, masturbation, staying in bed sharing your deepest hopes/dreams/thoughts are also so important when it comes to intimacy with your partner. While sex is great, these things add a layer of richness and depth of feeling that sex alone cannot give. So don’t forget to do the things that strengthen these intimate bonds with your partner.

And have fun 😉.

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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22/Apr/2021

13 strategies to get you through

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition sucks. It may only suck occasionally, or it may suck a lot of the time. But there’s no denying that living with pain, fatigue and uncertainty isn’t a fun day at the beach.

In our 2020 national survey, we asked people how their condition affected all aspects of their life. One thing that stood out dramatically was that of the more than 3,400 who took part, 52% said their condition affected their ability to enjoy life in general.

That’s enjoying life in general – not enjoying big life events or travel – but life in general. And that’s disturbing and very, very sad.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes for improving quality of life, or the enjoyment you get out of your day-to-day reality. Living with a musculoskeletal condition means that life isn’t always predictable. You can be going through a period of stability then suddenly – bam – you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. Or your emotions or mental health suddenly take a downward turn. Living with a chronic condition, or multiple conditions, is a tricky, complicated balancing act.

But there are some things you can do, if you feel you need something to help you get on top of the ‘blahs’ and hopefully start to feel more happy, optimistic and fulfilled. They’re the tried and true ones I use when life starts to feel a bit grey.

  1. Get on top of your condition and pain management (as much as possible)
    If your condition is affecting your ability to enjoy life in general, is it because it’s not well managed or you’re in constant pain? If so, it’s time to talk with your healthcare team about how you can get on top of this. Complete pain relief may not be an option for all people, but getting your pain to a level that you can cope with, and so it’s not severely impacting your ability to enjoy life is doable. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done. Talk with your doctor and healthcare team to develop a plan to get your condition and symptoms under control. And read our A-Z guide to managing pain for more info.
  2. Get some sleep
    One of the biggest factors that affects our mood and mental health is lack of sleep. It’s much more difficult to cope with every day stresses, family life, work/study, as well as managing your health, if you’re exhausted. After dealing with poor quality sleep for some months, I recently took time off work to try and get myself into a better sleep routine. I exercised, went to bed at a reasonable time, ensured I got up at the same time every day, and limited caffeine, alcohol and screen time for several hours before I went to bed. My sleep quality – while still not perfect – is much better. Taking time away from your responsibilities may not be an option for everyone, but there are other strategies you can try to improve your sleep quality. Find out more.
  3. Make time for you
    Ever had those days/weeks when you feel like your life is consumed by everyone else’s problems and issues, and yours keep getting pushed further and further back? If that’s the case – it’s time to take some time back for you. However much time you can carve out of your day, just do it. You deserve and need it. Take the time to rest/meditate/read/go for a walk/just breathe. You’ll feel much better for it and be more equipped to help others afterwards.
    “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
  4. Connect with your peeps
    It’s an easy trap to fall into. When you feel crappy, and everything seems too hard, staying at home in your safe and cosy cocoon feels like all you can bear to do. You don’t want to share your miserable mood, or let others see how you’re really feeling. But this can become a vicious cycle, and before you know it, you lose touch with family and friends, or miss out on fun times, and important events. If you don’t feel up to going out, call your people. Chat, catch up with each other over the phone or video. Share how you’re feeling (it’s up to you how much detail you go into), and just enjoy the connection. When you’re able to, even if it’s an effort, try to get out and see your peeps. They care about you, and you’ll feel happier for making the effort.
    “It’s not what we have in our life, but who we have in our life that counts.” – J.M. Laurence 
  5. Schedule time to relax
    It may seem crazy, but in this busy world we live in, if you don’t schedule time for relaxation, it often doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about the near comatose slouching on the couch at the end of the day, type of relaxing. But the things that actually refresh body, mind and spirit, and ease your stress and muscle tension. This includes meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, massage, a warm shower or bath, going for a walk or listening to music. So think about the things that relax and refresh you, and make time to do those things each week.
  6. Focus on self-care
    Take time to evaluate your self-care plan. Is it covering all aspects of your life, health and wellbeing? Not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well? Or do you need to create a self-care plan? For help to get you started, read our recent 7 pillars of self-care article. It has lots of info to help you understand self-care, as well as resources to help you create a self-care plan.
  7. Enjoy the small things
    One of the silver linings of the COVID lockdowns for me was that we were forced to live smaller, and as a result really take note and appreciate the little things in our lives. When we could only walk in our local area, I noticed amazing gardens and parks that I hadn’t known existed. It gave me the chance to enjoy the quiet as we worked on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle together. I read, I learned some yoga, I rode my bike. I talked with my young niece and nephew over the phone, and listened as they excitedly told me about their daily adventures. I enjoyed the breeze on my face when I went for a walk, the glow of the full moon, the smell in the air after a rainstorm. Taking a moment to enjoy, and be thankful for these little things, lifted my mood and made me smile. It’s simple, but so powerful. And perfectly segues into my next tip…
  8. Be grateful
    Sometimes we get so bogged down in what’s going on in our life – our problems and issues, family dramas, and the million things that need to be done at home and work – that we can’t see all the good things in our lives. The Resilience Project has a range of activities and resources exploring how we can feel grateful by “paying attention to the things that we have right now, and not worrying about what we don’t have”. Visit their website to find out more about being grateful in your everyday life.
  9. Write a wish list of the places you want to go
    I love to explore. Whether it’s overseas, interstate or my local area. And I subscribe to countless newsletters and alerts that provide info about interesting walks, galleries and exhibitions, cafes and restaurants, and upcoming markets and festivals. I add these to a burgeoning list on my phone, complete with links. This gives me a never-ending list of adventures. And nothing pulls me out of the doldrums like an adventure! Depending on what I’m doing, I do need to take into account my condition, how I feel that day etc. But a little planning, sharing the driving with others, and just being leisurely and not rushing, means that I get to enjoy some amazing things. Just seeing a list of opportunities is exciting, so I’d recommend giving it a go.
    “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss
  10. Be mindful
    How many times have you eaten dinner, but can’t really remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or gone for a walk but can’t remember much of what you saw, felt or experienced? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have heard of mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating or walking. It simply means that you focus your attention on the moment and the activity, without being distracted. So when you’re eating, really take time to focus on the textures, smells and flavours, and how the food makes you feel. Or when you’re walking, how does the ground feel under your feet, the sun on your face, the wind in your hair? Do you hear birds in the trees, are there dogs running in the park? Be aware and enjoy it all.
  11. Try something new
    From time to time we can get stuck in the rut of everyday life/work/study/home activities. And while having a daily routine is an important strategy for living with a chronic condition, sometimes we just need a little something extra, something new and exciting to get us out of the doldrums. What have you always wanted to do? What’s on your bucket list? Learning a language? Visiting a special place? Writing a book? There are lots of low and no cost online courses that can teach a range of skills from juggling, cooking, origami, geology, playing the guitar, speaking Klingon. And while we can’t travel to a lot of places – especially overseas at the moment – you can still travel virtually and whet your appetite for when the borders reopen. The point is, adding something new and interesting to your everyday life makes you feel more fulfilled and optimistic. Just head to your favourite search engine, and start searching!
    “Don’t be afraid to try new things. They aren’t all going to work, but when you find the one that does, you’re going to be so proud of yourself for trying.” – Anonymous
  12. Exercise
    I can’t get through an article without talking about exercise 😊. It’s just so important, and can improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional wellbeing. I find it’s the perfect thing to do whenever I’m feeling at my lowest. It can be hard to get up and go, but even if it’s a short walk outside, or 10 minutes of stretching exercises, or some yoga – just making the effort and getting the blood moving, immediately lifts my mood, and distracts from my symptoms. That’s because 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. So grab your walking shoes, or exercise mat, and let the endorphins flow!
  13. Seek help
    If you feel like your condition is significantly affecting your ability to enjoy life, and these basic strategies aren’t enough to change that, talk with your doctor. Be honest and open, and explain how you’re feeling. You may need to talk with a counsellor or psychologist so that you can explore some strategies, tailored specifically to you, to help you get through this rough patch.
    “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene

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 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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22/Apr/2021

I know, I know…we talk about self-care A LOT. But understanding and practising self-care is such an important tool for living your best life and getting the best health outcomes when you have a chronic condition. That’s why we talk about it so much.

Based on the findings of our 2020 national consumer survey, we know people with musculoskeletal conditions are practising self-care by exercising, eating healthfully, appropriately using medications, working with their healthcare team, using mind-body techniques and seeking peer support.

But they also told us they needed support to do this.

So what is self-care?

Self-care is vital and covers all aspects of our health and wellbeing. Things like exercise, visiting your specialist, taking your medication, mindfulness, learning about your condition/s, talking with a friend and even relaxing in a bubble bath; are all part of self-care

To understand the breadth of self-care, and how you can incorporate it into your life in a meaningful way, the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed a framework for self-care around seven ‘pillars’ or ‘domains’.

Let’s explore each of these.

Pillar 1. Knowledge and health literacy
Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power – so understanding your body, how it works, how it’s affected by your musculoskeletal condition/s, as well as any other health condition you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions and play an active role in the management of your healthcare.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care defines health literacy as the way we “understand information about health and health care, and how we apply that information to our lives, use it to make decisions and act on it”.

Together, health literacy and knowledge give us the tools we need to be empowered when it comes to our healthcare. By understanding our body and our health, we can discuss our options with our health professionals, we can critically evaluate information from a range of sources, make adjustments to our lifestyle and behaviours, understand risk factors and the appropriate use of treatments and tests.

In fact, research shows that people who have high levels of knowledge and health literacy have much better health outcomes.

If you want to know more about your health and musculoskeletal condition/s, or you need help to improve your health literacy, there are lots of people who can help you.

Talk with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team. Contact the MSK Help Line and speak with our nurses. Visit authoritative websites (like ours).

And don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how we all learn.

Pillar 2. Mental wellbeing, self-awareness and agency
Incorporating things you enjoy and that make you feel good into your daily/weekly routine – such as mindfulness, exercise, alone time, relaxation, massage, and staying connected with family and friends – is a simple thing you can do to look after your mental wellbeing and increase your resilience.

Self-awareness involves taking the knowledge you have about your condition and health in general, and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help with that, ensure you’re getting enough exercise each day. Or if you’re carrying more weight than you’d like, and this is causing increased knee pain, as well as issues with your self-esteem, talk with your doctor about safe ways you can lose weight. Or if you have rheumatoid arthritis and a family history of osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about how you can look after your bone health.

Agency is the ability and intention to act on your knowledge and self-awareness.

Pillar 3. Physical activity
OK, so this one’s fairly self-explanatory since we talk about the importance of exercise and being physically active all the time 😊.  Regular exercise helps us manage our musculoskeletal condition/s, pain, sleep, mood, weight, bone health – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It keeps us moving, improves our posture and balance, helps us stay connected and helps prevent (or manage) other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Pillar 4. Healthy eating
This one’s also easy to understand, as along with exercise, healthy eating plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Being overweight or obese increases the load on joints, causing increased pain and joint damage, especially on weight-bearing joints like hips, knees, ankles and feet. The amount of overall fat you carry can contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your entire body, including the joints affected by your musculoskeletal condition, increasing the inflammation in these already painful, inflamed joints.

Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, poor sleep and depression.

Being underweight also causes health issues. It can affect your immune system (meaning you’re more at risk of getting sick or an infection) and you may feel more tired than usual. Feeling tired and run down will affect your ability to be active, and do the things you want to do.

If you need help to eat more healthfully or manage your weight, talk with your doctor or dietitian.

Pillar 5. Risk avoidance or mitigation
Taking responsibility for our actions and doing all we can to reduce or avoid actions and behaviours that increase our risk of injury or death, is good for our health.

This includes things such as driving carefully and wearing a seatbelt, drinking alcohol in moderation, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, getting your vaccinations, protecting yourself from the sun, quitting smoking and practising safe sex.

It also includes seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly so that you can stay on top of any changes to your musculoskeletal condition/s.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene
Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition/s are more susceptible to bugs, germs and other nasties in the environment than other people. Their immune system is weakened due to their health condition and/or the medications they’re required to take. Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections.

Good hygiene includes things such as regular and thorough hand washing, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, appropriate and safe preparation and storage of food, cleaning your teeth regularly, staying home when sick, and having a clean home/work environment.

They all help us maintain good health and avoid spreading disease.

Pillar 7. Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines

ISF calls these self-care products and services the ‘tools’ of self‐care, as they support health awareness and healthy practices.

These tools include medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), complementary therapies, monitoring equipment (e.g. blood pressure and blood glucose machines), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and health services (e.g. smoking cessation programmes, physiotherapy, massage therapy).

ISF also states that the use of these tools should be ‘rational and responsible’. That means only using products and services proven to be safe and effective.

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So that’s it – the seven pillars of self-care. They provide a convenient, easy-to-understand description of self-care practises we can use to manage our health and musculoskeletal conditions.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” – Unknown

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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01/Apr/2021

Living with one chronic condition can be tough; however many people live with more than one chronic condition – and that can be really challenging.

In our report: Making the invisible visible, we revealed that:

  • 57% of the people who responded to our survey had 2 or more musculoskeletal conditions, and
  • 80% had other health conditions such as high blood pressure, mental health conditions, gastrointestinal conditions, respiratory conditions and diabetes.

So what does it mean to live with more than one chronic health condition?

It means that most of the time you have many balls in the air, and you quickly become an expert at juggling.

Your time, energy, and focus are on so many different things – how you’re feeling that day, your healthcare appointments, medications, exercise programs, diet, managing your mental health and emotions, dealing with work/study, managing family and social commitments, getting enough sleep, practising self-care. The list goes on and on.

This can be challenging – and exhausting. But there are some simple things you can do to prevent dropping any balls so you can get on with living your best life.

Juggling 101

Know your conditions. It’s important to be as knowledgeable as you can about all of your conditions. What causes them to flare? What things keep them in check or under control? What things can you do to manage them to the best of your ability? To find out more:

    • Talk with your doctor if there’s something you don’t understand about your conditions or health in general.
    • Call the MSK Help Line – 1800 263 265 or email helpine@msk.org.au – and speak with our nurses about your musculoskeletal condition/s.
    • Search the Australian Government Healthdirect website for information and links to websites for information on other health conditions.

Understand how your conditions may impact each other. Often the symptoms of, or treatments for, one condition can aggravate another. For example, if you’re not sleeping well because of back pain, your anxiety may become worse, as you feel tired and less able to cope with day-to-day stresses. Or the medication you take for one condition may affect your ability to focus or concentrate, which may add to the brain fog you already experience due to fibromyalgia.

By understanding how one condition may affect another, you can act quickly and get on top of any problems as soon as possible. Talk with your doctor as soon as you notice any worsening of symptoms or any new health issues.

Know the ins and out of each of your treatment plans, and follow them. That means knowing your medications (including the active ingredients and potential side effects), your exercise program, pain management strategies, dietary requirements, and the self-care practices that ensure your conditions are well-managed. Some of these things will overlap – exercise is important for musculoskeletal health, and for heart health, diabetes, mental health conditions, etc. But others may require more planning – for example, your medications may need to be taken at different times to avoid interactions. That’s why you should know as much about your own health as you can, and take an active role in managing it.

Work with your healthcare team. They’re your support team and provide information, support, treatment, and encouragement to help you keep functioning. And there are some easy things you can do to get the most out of your time with them:

  • Be prepared for your appointments. Take a list of any questions you have, and put them in order of most important to least, just in case you run out of time.
  • Take your condition/symptom tracker to discuss any issues you have around things like sleep, exercise, diet, medications, etc. If you don’t have a tracker, write down the things you’ve been doing, any changes you’ve noticed, before you go to your appointment.
  • Ask for a longer appointment if you need more time to discuss any issues or concerns.
  • Talk with your doctor about getting a Chronic Disease Management Plan and/or a Mental Health Care Plan (if you haven’t already done so).

Embrace alerts and routine. When you’re trying to manage multiple health conditions, and your other commitments, it’s easy to drop the ball if you’re not super-focused. Add a drop of brain fog and a pinch of fatigue, and things can go sideways very quickly. That’s when alarms/alerts, and routines come in.

  • Set an alarm or alert on your phone, watch or clock to remind you when it’s time to take your medications, go to appointments, take an exercise/stretch/meditation break.
  • Develop a routine around some of your daily activities. For example the timing of your exercise program – e.g. always before breakfast, or always after you’ve showered and loosened up. Or sleep – always going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 6.30am every day. Or looking after your mental health – e.g. practising guided imagery/mindfulness/visualisation 1 hour before going to bed.

By having a routine it becomes second nature and you’re less likely to forget to do these things or have other activities intrude on this time.

Ask for help when you need it. From your family, friends, healthcare team, or support organisations like Musculoskeletal Australia. None of us is invincible, and we all need help from time to time.

Take care of your mental health. Whether you have a mental health condition or not, we need to be aware of how we’re feeling. Trying to juggle multiple health conditions is stressful, and we can have days when we’re depressed, angry, anxious, sad or overwhelmed. Fortunately, there’s a lot of information and resources to help you manage. To start, check out Head to Health, Beyond Blue, and Smiling Mind. And if you think you need professional support, talk with your doctor about accessing a Mental Health Care Plan.

Seek help if you’re dealing with financial stress. Living with a chronic condition can be expensive. Medications, healthcare appointments, time off work (or not being able to work), exercise classes, complementary therapies, and aids and equipment, are costly on top of everyday expenses. When you multiply that by the number of conditions someone has, it can quickly strain the budget. If you’re worried about your finances, read our blog ‘Money, money’ money’ for tips and strategies to help.

Acknowledge how well you’re doing. Research has shown that people with multiple chronic conditions are resilient and are experts at practising self-care and becoming advocates for their own health. So give yourself a pat on the back. You’re working really hard. You should feel proud of how much you’re accomplishing – even on the days when getting out of bed was an effort. You’re doing it. Be proud.

Juggling is hard – but you’ve got this

Keeping all your balls in the air and providing them with time, energy and focus can be difficult. Sometimes it feels like the balls’ weight has changed and suddenly your evenly matched tennis balls have become a tennis ball, two bowling balls, three flaming batons, and a very angry cat.

Because in our everyday lives, the importance of our daily tasks – work commitments, family duties, social engagements – change all the time. And how you’re feeling, the symptoms you’re experiencing, how much pain you’re in, or how tired you are – that constantly changes too.

But unlike actual performance juggling, you can decide to put some things down. You can set them aside and focus on the activities or tasks that require the most focus and energy.

You’ll get back to the others when life returns to ‘normal’. But until then, you, the master juggler, will do the best you can with the circumstances and resources you have. You’ve got this.

You need not feel guilty about not being able to keep your life perfectly balanced. Juggling everything is too difficult. All you really need to do is catch it before it hits the floor. Carol Bartz

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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

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