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15/Jul/2021

It’s dry July, and with all promos on the radio and socials, you may be thinking about your own relationship with alcohol (or is that just me? 🙄).

We’re a country that loves a drink. Wine with dinner, beer at the footy, cocktails at the local bar with friends.

But what if your drinking is getting a little out of hand? What if you’re having too much of a good thing??

It may be time to take a break while you assess your relationship with booze.

What’s a safe amount of alcohol to drink?

The Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend that ‘to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol’.

The guidelines also recommend that children under 18 and pregnant or breastfeeding women don’t drink alcohol.

It’s important to note that consuming alcohol within the recommendations of these guidelines will reduce your risk, but there’s still a risk. Read the government’s info ‘How much alcohol is safe to drink’ to find out more.

How does alcohol affect your health?

There are many ways that regular alcohol consumption can negatively affect your health.

It can interact with your meds – including commonly used medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen) and disease-modifying drugs (e.g. methotrexate), causing problems such as ulcers, bleeding in the stomach and liver damage. Be aware of the risks, and always read the labels and consumer medicine information for all your medications about side effects and interactions. Talk with your doctor/pharmacist for more information about alcohol and your musculoskeletal or pain meds, as well as any other medications you take.

It increases the risk of a gout attack. If you have gout, drinking too much alcohol, especially beer, can increase your risk of a painful attack.

It affects your sleep. Getting sufficient quality sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. However, people with musculoskeletal conditions often struggle with sleep issues – getting to sleep, staying asleep and feeling fatigued when they wake up. So while the idea of a nightcap to help you wind down and relax in the evening may sound like a good idea, alcohol will actually affect the quality of your sleep. Even if you sleep through the night, you’ll likely wake up feeling unrefreshed and foggy. To find out more about the relationship between alcohol and sleep, read this article from the Sleep Foundation.

It increases your risk of developing cancers and other serious diseases – this includes heart disease, cirrhosis (or scarring) of the liver, diabetes, mental health issues, stroke and high blood pressure. For more info, read ‘What are the effects of alcohol’.

It increases your risk of getting injured. If you’ve been drinking, especially if you’ve become tipsy or drunk, you’re more likely to injure yourself. When you become drunk, you lose your balance and coordination, increasing the risk of falling. You’re also more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as driving, putting yourself and others at risk.

It can affect your mental health. Many people often turn to alcohol to relax after a stressful day or if they’re feeling a bit down. And it may provide a very temporary boost to their mood, but it doesn’t last. In the long run, drinking can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. It can also make it harder to deal with stress.

Benefits of putting a pause on the plonk

Whether you decide to reduce your alcohol intake, have a few alcohol-free days each week, or go without alcohol for a month or longer, you’ll immediately see some benefits. These benefits will be greater the longer you go without alcohol but will include:

Weight loss. If you’ve been struggling to lose weight, cutting your alcohol intake will definitely help. Alcohol is high in kilojoules, which provide no nutritional value. It can also make you feel hungry and may lead to choosing unhealthy foods to fill the hunger (hello 2am greasy kebabs smothered in garlic sauce 😋).

Improved sleep. As mentioned earlier, alcohol interferes with the quality of your sleep.

No hangover. A pounding head and nausea are the price we pay for a night of overindulgence. As are the recriminations and the ‘never agains’ 😣. Reducing/stopping your alcohol intake will take care of this. And just think of all the things you can enjoy on a Sunday morning without the morning after hangover!

You’ll save money. On the nights out at the pub/bar (wow, cocktails, cha-ching), on the cab/Uber ride home, or on the alcohol you buy to drink at home. It all adds up – to stacks of cash! Use the money you’d typically spend on grog and treat yourself to something special – like a massage, a new outfit or gold class movie tickets.

More meaningful time with family and friends. It’s amazing what you learn about each other when you take the time to listen and interact without alcohol getting in the way. Try doing different things together instead of sitting around drinking or hitting the pub – for example, going for a walk in the local park or bushlands, having a gaming marathon or making yummy mocktails.

Better performance at work. Waking up with a hangover or sleeping poorly because you’ve been drinking affects your ability to perform at your best at work.

Tips to help you reduce the hooch

Make a plan. Once you’ve decided you’re going to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink (or stop drinking entirely), you need a plan of attack. It can be tough going, especially if drinking has become a habit or an addiction.

Consider the following questions, and write down your answers. Put them somewhere prominent so you can refer to them when you need support or encouragement.

  • Why do you want to reduce or quit alcohol?
    Is it for health reasons? The impact it’s having on your personal relationships or work? Why is it important to you that you reduce or stop?
  • What are your limits?
    Are you quitting alcohol entirely or reducing the amount you drink? Choose a limit for how much you’ll drink, but make sure it’s within the safe drinking guidelines. And include some alcohol-free days each week.
  • What are your triggers?
    Why do you drink? And when? Do you always have a glass of wine while preparing dinner? Or have beers with your mates when you knock off work? Do you drink to help manage your anxiety? Or your pain? What makes you pour a drink or head to the pub?
  • What are your strategies to deal with these triggers?
    For example, if you always drink a glass of wine while preparing dinner, swap it for herbal tea or soda water with a slice of lime or lemon. If you always drink with mates after work, let them know you’re trying to reduce or quit drinking, and stick to non-alcoholic drinks, or suggest you all do something else together. If you drink to deal with anxiety or pain, it’s essential to know that alcohol can actually make it more difficult to manage anxiety and can make your pain worse, so finding healthier ways to manage your pain or anxiety will be better for you in the long run.
  • Who’ll support you?
    It can be challenging to quit or reduce alcohol alone. Tell your family and friends what you’re doing. They can encourage you and may even join you. Talk with your doctor and get information and advice to help you achieve your goal. If you’ve been using alcohol to manage your pain, discuss alternative pain management strategies. The same goes if you’re drinking to manage anxiety or depression.

Get professional help. Many people can help you if you want to reduce or quit alcohol. Your doctor is a great person to start with as they know you and your health conditions. There are also many support organisations to help you. DrinkWise has a range of resources to give you the facts about drinking and its impacts on you. They also have a comprehensive list of organisations that can help you. Check out their website for details.

Know a standard drink size. It’s very easy to drink too much if you don’t know what a standard drink is – whether it’s beer, wine or spirits. Read the ‘Standard drinks guide‘ to find out about drink sizes and see if you’re drinking standard drinks. The answer may surprise you.

Remove temptations. Don’t have alcohol out in the open, or remove it from your house altogether. If it’s not within easy reach, you’re more likely to stick to your goal.

Drink slowly. Sip your drink and actually enjoy the flavours. Take a break between alcoholic beverages and drink mineral water or a mocktail instead.

Finish your glass before you top it up. It’s hard to keep track of how many drinks you’ve had if it’s topped up before you’ve finished drinking.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. Any food in the stomach will slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed.

Get adventurous with low/no alcohol drinks. There’s such an enormous range available to try now, from wine to beers and mocktails (that are more than just soda water and fruit 😊). There’s a big world of delicious low and no alcohol drinks for you to enjoy.

Avoid people who aren’t supportive of your efforts. Sometimes people just don’t get it – the reason you want to give up or reduce your alcohol intake. They may have the ability to derail your goals, so avoid people that don’t support what you’re trying to do.

Give yourself a break. Quitting or reducing alcohol can be difficult. If you stumble and drink more than you’d planned, just brush yourself off and learn from that misstep. Don’t throw your hard work away over one mistake.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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15/Jul/2021

We’re halfway through winter, and lovely, summery days are months away. Brrr, it’s cold!

But it’s the perfect time to create delicious meals – hearty casseroles, pasta and soups – to warm you from the inside out. With bread fresh from the bakery (or fresh from the oven if you perfected your sourdough during 2020!). Yum…I’m drooling just thinking about it 😋.

However, we need to be careful with our food choices in winter, when we’re generally less active and comfort meals are calling our name. We may begin to put on some weight, which is no good for our joints, pain levels and health in general.

The good news is we can enjoy these foods as part of a balanced diet by making some healthy food swaps and choices.

Here are our top tips:

Watch your portion size

It’s easy to overeat when you use large plates and bowls as we tend to fill them to the edges or brims. So swap your large crockery for smaller dishes when plating up your meals.

Choose wholegrain foods over those that use refined or processed grain

They have more nutrients and fibre and are much better for you. Swap white bread or rolls for wholemeal or wholegrain, white rice for brown rice/quinoa/wild rice. And limit your intake of foods made using refined grains like white flour, such as cakes, biscuits, muffins. Treat them as a ‘sometimes’ food, not an everyday food. Read this article from the Better Health Channel to find out more about the benefits of cereals and whole grains.

Enjoy lean protein

Select lean cuts of meat and trim off any fat. Remove the skin from your chicken. Choose to buy sustainable seafood. And give tofu a go. Then bake, steam, grill or stir-fry your protein with lots of vegies.

Be adventurous!

    • Try swapping cream in soups for silken tofu. You’ll get a protein hit, a creamy soup, and it’s much lower in fat. If you need convincing, give this pumpkin and tofu recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly a go. It’s so easy and sooooo good!
    • Use sweet potatoes (also known as kumara) instead of white potatoes – for chips, mash, casseroles and stews, on the BBQ or with your Sunday roast. They’re full of nutrients and very tasty.
    • Instead of traditional pasta, use a spiraliser to make zucchini or carrot noodles. They’re light, healthy and add more vegies to your meal. If you don’t have a spiraliser, you can buy them ready-made from the supermarket. And don’t stop at pasta – you can use spiralised vegies in so many meals.
    • Swap white rice for cauliflower ‘rice’. It’s lower in carbs and super easy to make. As with spiralised vegies, you can also buy cauliflower rice at your supermarket. And it’s sure to become the base of so many favourite new recipes.
    • Swap salt for herbs and spices. We tend to have too much salt in our diet – from what we add ourselves to the salts already in the foods we eat. We know this is bad for our blood pressure, but it’s also not great for our bone health as it causes calcium loss. So when you’re cooking, try using fresh or dried herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, chilli or black pepper instead of salt.

Be wary of your sugar intake

Too much sugar in your diet can increase muscle and joint inflammation, as well as cause weight gain, tooth decay and a whole host of other health issues. Reduce the number of sugary drinks you consume (including fruit juices, soft drinks and alcohol), use sugar alternatives when you cook or bake, and read the nutrition panel on foods to see how much sugar is in them before buying them. This article from Choice lists some of the many names for sugar. Also, check out this article from Weight Watchers for more ideas on how you can reduce your sugar intake.

Fake it!

Instead of your usual Saturday night takeaway, try making your own ‘fakeaway’. There are many websites with recipes and inspiration to make healthier versions of your favourite takeaway meals. Check out these recipes from KidSpot, the CSIRO and our wonderful volunteer Melissa, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Seek help

Talk with your doctor and/or an Accredited Practising Dietitian for information and advice. Visit Dietitians Australia to find an APD near you.

Other tips for keeping healthy and well during winter:

Take your time

Eat slowly, and savour your meal. Notice the tastes and textures and how it makes you feel – after all, food is more than just fuel. Also, as you eat, take the time to assess whether you’re still hungry or if you’re just eating because there’s food on your plate. If it’s the latter, stop eating.

Stay active

We need to exercise and be physically active for our musculoskeletal health, pain levels and overall good health. But it can be tough to fit regular exercise in our days when it’s so dark and cold on these wintery days. And it can take some firm resolve to slide out of bed on a chilly morning to walk before work. Find out how you can stay active in the cooler months.

Drink water

It lubricates and cushions our joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps our temperature normal and helps maintain blood pressure. It carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells, flushes out toxins, and cushions the brain and spinal cord. It can also help prevent gout attacks, boost energy levels and fight fatigue. It also makes us feel full, which in turn helps us maintain or lose weight. It’s practically magic ✨. But if you, like many others, find it difficult to drink enough water, read our blog for tips to help.

Batch cook

When you’re feeling great, and have a lazy few hours to prep meals for the coming week, do it. You’ll have healthy, hearty food to go in your fridge or freezer that you can pull out when you need a quick meal – no muss, no fuss. Check out our recent blog on cooking hacks for more info.

Make your meals colourful

Fruit and veggies fall into five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. And each one has unique disease-fighting chemicals (phytochemicals). So when you’re making a meal, try and include as many colours as you can. It’s good for you, it looks appealing and tastes delicious!

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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15/Jul/2021

Staying active in winter

I love the idea of winter… cosy evenings on the couch reading a book, lying in bed on a Sunday morning listening to the rain, hearty soups for lunch with scrummy bread. Love, love, love. The reality however…well, that kind of sucks at times.

Trying to stay warm without energy bills skyrocketing. Trying to maintain a healthy weight range when I’m cooking lots of comfort foods. And the big one – keeping up the momentum when it comes to exercising.

It can be tough when it’s cold, dark and wet to brave the elements for a walk. Or to head out to the gym when a perfectly good couch is sitting there all warm and snug.

But we need to exercise. It’s vital in the management of our musculoskeletal conditions, our pain levels and our weight. Being active every day helps us get better quality sleep, and it improves our mood. It also helps us manage our other health conditions. And it gets us out of the house so we can connect with others – our friends, teammates, gym buddies, and other people walking their dog in the park.

Knowing all of that doesn’t make it easy though, so here are some strategies to help you get out there:

Dress the part

Your warm-weather exercise gear may not cut it when it comes to exercising in winter. You need to think layers. The clothes closest to your skin should draw moisture away from the skin (known as wicking) so that your skin doesn’t stay damp. It should also dry quickly. Look on the labels for mention of wicking or polypropylene, not cotton.

Then add an insulating layer of fleece or wool to keep you warm. Finally, add a layer that will resist wind and rain. The beauty of layers is you can take them off and put them back on if/when you need to. Choose bright colours so you’ll be seen even on the dullest, greyest days, through the fog and rain.

Next, you need to wear appropriate socks and footwear for the activity you’re doing – hiking boots, running shoes, walking shoes, gym shoes – they’re often not interchangeable.

It’s preferable for shoes you’ll be wearing outdoors to be waterproof or dry quickly. And make sure they have good traction – it can get very slippery out there! If you’ve got old shoes from last winter, check the soles to ensure they’re still ok.

It’s also a good idea to wear sock liners when hiking to wick moisture away from the skin and prevent blisters.

Finally, protect your extremities. Wear gloves (this is a must if you have Raynaud’s), a hat that covers your ears, sunglasses and sunscreen. Even in winter, your skin can be damaged by the sun’s rays.

Oh – and depending on your activity – don’t forget to take a lightweight backpack or bag for your water bottle and to store any of the layers you remove.

And one last thing – have a warm shower and get changed out of wet, damp clothes as soon as you get home, so you don’t become chilled. This can very quickly cause tense muscles, leading to pain. And no one wants that!

Stretch it out

Don’t just rush out the door if you’re in a hurry to get your exercise over and done with. Take time to warm up your muscles, and loosen up. Especially if you’re already feeling stiff. This will help prevent muscle strain and pain. Read ‘Effective winter warm up exercises’ from Diabetes NSW for more info.

Be careful of surfaces

Slips, trips and falls are enemies of anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. So we need to take care out there. Uneven surfaces, wet leaves or mud on footpaths and trails, slick tiles at the shopping centre or gym – they can all be treacherous. So be aware of the surfaces you’re walking, running, skipping or jumping on, and take care.

Choose activities you enjoy

It’s much easier to be active – whatever the weather – if you’re doing something you enjoy.

And mix it up

Trying new activities is fun and challenging all at the same time. And who knows? You may discover a new activity that you love. There’s so much out there to try:

  • bushwalking
  • rock climbing
  • dancing
  • Frisbee/football in the park with the kids/dog/friends
  • kayaking
  • joining a sports team – e.g. basketball, netball, footy, calisthenics
  • golf
  • gardening
  • yoga
  • swimming/water aerobics
  • boxing
  • cycling
  • skiing
  • trampolining.

The sky’s the limit!

Check with the Bureau of Meteorology

Before you head out, check with BOM to find out the weather forecast. And don’t forget to check the rain radar. That’ll help you dress appropriately and may also affect your timing. If you like walking in the rain, you may decide to head out regardless. But if you’re not a fan, the radar will give you an idea of when to go (just don’t forget your umbrella – just in case ☔).

Exercise indoors

If you’re not a fan of exercising in cold and wet weather, there are lots of ways you can exercise indoors. Join a gym, follow exercise classes online in the comfort of your lounge, do laps around your shopping centre, dance in your lounge room, jump rope, use a hula hoop, chase the kids, hit the indoor swimming pool, clean the house. There are many options for being active indoors.

Play some tunes…

Or podcasts to keep you motivated. Listening to upbeat, fast-paced music will help you move at a quicker pace, giving you a better workout. And podcasts can capture your attention and help you keep going. Especially if you’re hooked, and you’re bingeing one! Then it’s a matter of making sure you don’t overdo it (speaking from experience on this one!).

Drink water

Even though you may not be sweating as much as you would be on a hot day, your body is still losing water through your sweat and breathing. Take a water bottle with you and drink when you need to.

Set yourself a goal

If you’re still finding it hard to get motivated, set yourself a goal. It may be something like losing a certain amount of weight, being able to walk a certain distance without being out of breath or taking part in an upcoming fun run/walk. Choose something that matters to you, and make sure it’s a SMART goal – that is, it’s Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Timeframe. Read more about goal setting.

Reward yourself

When you’ve committed to exercising, and you’re actually doing it, congratulate yourself. It’s no small thing! Especially when it’s not only cold and miserable out, but you live with a chronic, often painful condition. So treat yourself. Give yourself a massage (or better still, have someone else massage you), have a warm bath or soak your feet, see a movie you’ve been wanting to see. Choose something that makes you feel good, and be proud of your achievements.

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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14/Jul/2021

I have been in pain for 60+ years. I started to have severe back pain in my early teens. I remember sitting at my desk propping myself up to relieve the pain by resting my ribs on the desk. The pain affected me academically and sports-wise at school. I found standing and walking difficult and still do. My back pain was not correctly diagnosed until I ruptured a disc some 25 years later and it was then that I was diagnosed with Scheuermann`s disease.

My ruptured disc was removed and the surgeon told me my back was a mess and to go home to bed and stay there. Thankfully, I decided I didn’t want to do that so found a very good physio and did 3 sessions a week with her and aqua exercises every day for 3 years. I was partially paralysed in the right leg but slowly I began to walk again. She said I needed to keep moving and to keep fit which was very good advice! So, I decided to start farming as I had always wanted to do this even though you have to be mad to do it with long hours and very little financial reward! This was the best decision ever.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with arthritis in both hips and had both replaced. It has since appeared in my hands, spine, left shoulder and just recently it has been diagnosed in both knees. It makes moving around difficult, but I know I must keep moving or I will seize up. My hands cause problems due to lack of strength so opening bottles and so forth can be very frustrating. I am still working full time as this gives me the motivation to get out of bed each day and keeps me mobile. I have also been diagnosed with osteomalacia, bursitis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel, Sjogren’s syndrome and neuropathic pain in both feet so my musculoskeletal conditions are wide and varied!

I have put together my top ten tips that I have found useful – I hope you find them so too.

My tips

  1. Keep pain where it is. Don’t let it get into your head.
  2. Don`t catastrophise. Pain is just an indication that something is not quite right. Don`t let pain be number one in your life. There are more aspects to you than your pain.
  3. Don`t ask “Why me?” as the answer is “Why not you?” More than 7 million Australians live with a musculoskeletal condition, so you’re not alone.
  4. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do. Grieve over the loss but don`t dwell on it. Unfortunately, we all naturally lose function as we grow older which can be hard to accept.
  5. Take the responsibility for your health into your own hands. Get informed and be your own advocate. You know your body best as you live with it so speak up when you know something is not right.
  6. Eat well. You only have one body so give it the best care possible.
  7. Keep moving and keep those joints active. Pacing can help you get through the day.
  8. Learn to do things differently, e.g. lifting or getting in and out of cars. Try other ways of doing things to see what works for you.
  9. Each new challenge gives us a choice between being bitter or better. Bitter is soul-destroying and unpleasant for others. I choose better because I want to grow personally and to be my best self.
  10. Be grateful every day for something.

Our guest blogger

Liz got in touch with us after taking part in our 2020 national consumer survey. She kindly shared her story and her tips for living well with pain.


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24/Jun/2021

Did you know that back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world? (1)  In 2017-2018, 1 in 6 Aussies reported having back pain – that’s almost 4 million people.(2)  And these stats don’t take into account people who have back pain caused by conditions such as osteoporosis.

With so many people affected by back pain, it’s likely that you’ve experienced back pain or you know someone who lives with back pain. Or both.

So it’s crazy to think that in 2021, people with back pain are still having to deal with disbelief or suspicion about the reality or extent of their pain and the impact it has on their lives.

We saw this reflected in the responses we received to our 2020 national survey from people with back pain. We also saw it played out recently in the media, with Victorian Premier Dan Andrews having to ‘legitimatise’ his back injury and the time he was taking to recover.

Why is this? Why is there so much stigma attached to back pain and back injuries?

Well, for one thing, like most musculoskeletal conditions, back pain is invisible. And it can seem to come and go for no particular reason. For someone who’s never experienced back pain, it may seem like a convenient excuse to get out of work or to receive sympathy. This is untrue and unfair.

It’s time to shine a light on the very real issue of back pain.

How your back works

To understand back pain, it helps to have a basic understanding of the structure of your back. It’s an amazing feat of engineering that provides support for your whole body.

The spine is made up of bones (vertebrae) stacked together to form a loose ‘S’-shaped column.

Each vertebra is cushioned by spongy tissue called intervertebral discs. They act as shock absorbers and give your spine its flexibility. Pairs of small joints (facet joints) connect vertebrae to one another. Ligaments, tendons and muscles, provide further support to your spine and help protect it from injury.

Your spinal cord runs through the centre of the vertebral column and connects your brain to the rest of your body.

Why do people get back pain?

The cause of back pain is not always clear. The good news is that most people with back pain don’t have any significant damage to their spine. The pain comes from the muscles, ligaments and joints.

Causes of back pain include:

  • non-specific back pain – this is the most common type of back pain. It has no ‘specific’ cause, such as a disease or infection.
  • arthritis – osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are two types of arthritis linked to back pain.
  • osteoporosis – is a condition where bones lose density and strength. Vertebrae can become so porous and brittle that they break easily, causing pain.
  • stress – a side effect of stress is increased muscle tension. This can lead to fatigue, stiffness and pain.
  • sciatica – is a painful condition that develops when the nerve that runs from the lower back into the leg is compressed or squeezed.
  • lifestyle factors – such as lack of exercise, obesity, lack of sleep and smoking can cause back pain.
  • accidents – including car accidents, workplace injuries, falls, sports injuries – can damage your back, leading to back pain, which may be acute (only lasting for a short time) or chronic (lasting for more than three months).

Diagnosing back pain

Because most people with back pain have no underlying condition or damage to their back, diagnosing will involve lots of talking with your doctor. Together you’ll discuss your back pain, including potential causes or triggers, if you’ve had back pain before, things that make your pain worse, things that make it better. Your doctor will then check out your back to see if there are any obvious causes or issues.

Your doctor may also refer you for some tests, especially if they think there may be a more serious cause for your back pain.

However, imaging (e.g. x-rays, CT or MRI scans) isn’t useful or recommended in most cases of back pain. Scans may seem like a reassuring thing to do so we can rule out anything scary. But unnecessary tests can be expensive, and some involve exposure to radiation that should be avoided unless absolutely essential.

A thorough examination by your doctor will decide whether more investigations are appropriate or helpful in developing a treatment plan that’s right for you.

It‘s also important to know that many investigations show ‘changes’ to your spine that are likely to represent the normal passage of time, not damage to your spine.

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

Managing back pain

Most cases of back pain get better on their own, and you won’t need to see a doctor. The following tips may help relieve your symptoms and speed up your recovery.

  • Understand your back pain. What makes it better, what makes it worse? Knowing as much as possible about your condition means that you can make informed decisions about your healthcare and play an active role in managing your condition. And remember, the good news is that most back pain isn’t caused by anything serious. It’s painful, but it will get better.
  • Rest your back (temporarily). Avoid strenuous activity but where possible, continue light activity (e.g. walking). Bed rest for more than a day or two isn’t helpful and will worsen your back pain.
  • Get back to your normal activities. Try to be as active as possible and get on with your day-to-day life, including work and exercise. If you’re returning to heavy manual jobs, this may take longer.
  • Move. Don’t stand or sit in the same position for too long. Get up and stretch, go for a walk, move about. There’s a reason physios say ‘motion is lotion’. Moving keeps your joints and soft tissues more flexible and less painful.
  • Learn ways to manage pain. There are so many strategies you can use to deal with your pain. Knowing what works best for you is essential when living with back pain. Read our A-Z guide to managing pain for tips and techniques you can use to relieve your pain. And check out the More to Explore section below for links to great videos on managing pain using your brain.
  • Try to manage emotions such as stress, anxiety and frustration. While it’s completely natural to feel these things when you’re in pain, they can actually make your pain worse. That’s because pain involves your perceptions, feelings and thoughts. The worse you think your pain will be, the worse it feels. This can become a vicious cycle. Talking with a family member or a close friend, or a health professional about how you’re feeling means you can start dealing with these feelings and break this cycle. Strategies such as breathing exercises, meditation, massage, heat, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and gentle activity like tai chi may also help you keep your stress and anxiety under control.
  • Apply heat and cold therapy. Hot and cold packs applied to the area of pain may help relieve pain temporarily. Make sure you protect your skin from the heat or cold (e.g. wrap your ice pack in a tea towel). Only leave on the affected area for a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes then allow the skin temperature to return to normal before reapplying as needed.
  • Eat a healthy diet and manage your weight.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Not getting enough good quality sleep can have an impact on your back pain. Read this article by The Sleep Foundation to find out ways you can sleep better with back pain.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Medications may help in the short term to get your back pain under control. Your doctor may prescribe a short course for you, or you may purchase some meds and/or liniments over-the-counter. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for more info.
  • Seek advice. If you’re concerned your back pain isn’t improving, make an appointment to discuss it with your doctor so you can develop a plan tailored to meeting your specific needs and goals.

What about surgery?

In most cases, the evidence doesn’t support the use of surgery to treat chronic back pain. Most people can manage their back pain with education, exercise and making lifestyle changes.

If your doctor suggests back surgery as an option, ask questions so you can make an informed choice. Choosing Wisely Australia has 5 questions to ask your doctor or healthcare provider to help you get started.

Final words

Back pain is a significant issue for so many Australians. But the good news is that it’s rarely caused by anything serious. And there are lots of things you can do to manage it, so you can get on with living your best life.

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.

Register for our free online lecture

Join us as Prof Peter O’Sullivan explains back pain and the practical things you can do to manage it in our upcoming community lecture: Making sense of back pain on 15 September 2021. Register today.

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References

(1) Musculoskeletal conditions
World Health Organization, 2021
(2) Back problems
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 


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24/Jun/2021

Tips for preparing meals with less stress

There are some days when the thought of preparing and cooking a meal is so overwhelming. You’re tired, you’re in pain, and it seems like too much effort. Curling up on the couch and ordering a pizza delivery seems like a much better option! However, one of the best things you can do to look after yourself when you have a chronic condition is to eat healthfully. Sadly (for me at least), that means having the local pizza joint 🍕 on speed dial isn’t ideal.

But there are things you can do to make cooking easier and less hassle when you’re not feeling your best. Here are our top tips:

Plan your weekly meals

It’s not a particularly exciting thing to do, but making a plan for your coming week is really helpful. It ensures that you have all the ingredients you need, and it stops you from wasting money on the things you don’t. And if a case of brain fog hits when you’re standing in front of the fridge, your meal plan will sort you out. Check out The Spruce Eats top meal planning apps for 2021.

Shop online

This pandemic has really made online shopping easier and more efficient (hello new shoes 😊). But as far as groceries go, it’s never been easier to order online and get exactly what you need delivered to your door. Or you can organise to click and collect, without having to leave your car. Perfect on a chilly winter’s day.

Give yourself a break

Not every meal has to be Masterchef worthy, using exotic ingredients and involving many steps. It just has to be tasty and healthy. Have a few recipes up your sleeve that you know you can cook with minimal effort or fuss and with the ingredients you have at home.

Organise your kitchen

Ensure the things you use regularly are within easy reach – that goes for ingredients and cooking utensils. And move the things you only use occasionally out of your way (e.g. lower cabinets, cupboard in the garage, sideboard). Don’t place heavy items on high shelves – it’s very easy to drop these things – especially if you’re tired. Use a kitchen trolley on wheels to move heavy pots from the bench to the cooktop or move meals from the kitchen to the dining area or lounge.

Take a load off

Keep a stool nearby so you can sit while you prepare your meals.

Clean as you go…or get others to do it for you

There’s nothing worse than cooking a lovely meal, relaxing while you eat it, then looking over to see a stack of dishes taunting you. So clean up the bulk of the mess as you go. Load the dishwasher, soak the stubborn pots and pans, and wipe down the benches. Or better still – rope in your partner/kids/housemates to help you. And it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with each other.

Frozen fruit and vegies are great time savers, packed with nutrients

You can buy them at the supermarket, or prepare your own. Find out how you can freeze fruit, vegies, bread and herbs in this article by Good Food.

Get prepped!

Food prepping has taken over the internet, and there are endless articles, apps, videos and blogs to help you. You can prep your meals days in advance, then all you need to do is pull the pre-chopped, washed and/or cooked ingredients out of the fridge or freezer to throw together a meal in no time. Frugal and Thriving has a great guide to meal prepping.

Batch cook

When you’re feeling inspired and you have the time and energy, put on some music or a podcast, and cook batches of food to freeze. Then it’s just a matter of reheating and eating. Perfect! Check out My Foodbook for some practical tips to help you when it comes to batch cooking.

One pot wonders

Save yourself lots of mess and dirty dishes by cooking your meal in one pot. There are many books and websites with tasty recipes you can try that only require one pot (or pan). Borrow some cookbooks from your local library or fall down the rabbit hole of Pinterest for lots of inspiration. Here’s Taste’s 21 healthier one pot recipes. They all look delicious and very hearty, but I think I’m going to have to try the pumpkin, silverbeet and mushroom bake this weekend! Yum.

Go, go gadget!

Use kitchen gadgets and other aids to save energy, protect your joints and make things much easier when cooking. Things like electric can openers, jar openers, tap turners and thick-handled knives can be lifesavers. We have a small range of products available from our online shop.

Make it a social occasion

Cooking doesn’t have to be a solitary event if you have other people in the house. So get them involved. It’s an excellent way for kids to learn about cooking and becoming self-sufficient. But it’s also an opportunity to spend time together and share the load.

Slow it down with a slow cooker

Prepare your evening meal earlier in the day when you have more energy. Pop all your ingredients in a slow cooker and let it do its thing while you work, rest, read a book or put your feet up. Hours later, you’ll have a flavoursome pot of goodness to enjoy. Check out these slow cooker recipes from The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Take breaks

Sometimes we push ourselves just so we can get a task or chore done, but we can end up pushing ourselves past our limits. Sigh – we’ve all been there and paid the price. So whether you’re making the evening meal or you’re prepping for the week ahead, take a break (or two) to stretch, get some air, drink some water, and just move around. Standing in one place for a long period is not conducive to happy, pain-free joints. So take a break.

Drink water

When we’re in the middle of a task and focused, we often forget to drink enough water. Don’t allow yourself to become dehydrated – have a glass of water nearby and drink regularly.

Cleaning up

We’ve already mentioned cleaning as you go and using only one pot, but there are other things you can do to make cleaning easier, such as:

  • use non-stick foil or baking paper to line your trays, as well as roasting bags; they’ll lessen the mess on your trays – which means less scrubbing
  • if you have a dishwasher, load it as you finish with dishes and cooking utensils
  • soak dirty pots and pans before you start scrubbing to loosen any baked-on gunk
  • clean up spills immediately
  • put ingredients away as soon as you’re done with them
  • keep a bowl nearby for scraps and rubbish, or bring the kitchen bin closer to where you’re working.

Call the pizza joint 🍕

Sometimes take away food is the option that’s best for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as it isn’t a regular thing. Takeaway foods are generally high in salt, sugar and/or fats and don’t give us all the nutrients we need in a balanced diet. Read the Dietitians Association of Australia’s takeaway food tips for more info.

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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24/Jun/2021

Why practising gratitude is good for you

At the start of 2020, I found a jar, a notepad and pen and started a gratitude jar. I’d read about them somewhere and decided to give it a go. Every day I’d write about something – big or small – that I was grateful for. Some days I wrote more than one thing. Then as 2020 rolled along, I wrote less and less. My last entry was just before we came out of hard lockdown in late October. The jar was pushed to the back of the cupboard and I forgot about it.

Until today. I’ve just re-read my notes, and they made me smile. They included things like:

  • Yay! Played with Helen’s tiny new kittens! Kittens!!!
  • Had a wonderful lazy, sunny, Sunday arvo reading by the river with Duncan.
  • The bus driver waited for me!
  • The hairdresser is open again. Thank the lords – I look like Cousin It!

There were lots of others, and as I read them, I was caught up in the moments. And I wondered why I’d let this practice go?

Stupid pandemic, that’s why. The impact it had on my physical and mental health, the lockdowns, the on-again off-again masks, concern for loved ones, too many quarintinis – it all took over my life. Well, to be honest, I let it. I focused on the negatives, so the positives were harder to find.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us often focus on the negative, especially when we’re in pain, frightened, worried about the future, or just because it’s Thursday (I never could get the hang of Thursdays).

But if we open ourselves up to the positives in life and become more grateful, we’ll feel happier, more fulfilled, and we may even improve our physical health.

9 ways to become more grateful

There are lots of ways you can become more grateful. We’ve selected a few to help you get started. Then it’s a case of – practise, practise, practise. Because as with any new skill or routine, practise makes perfect.

1. Write it down

Gratitude journaling is one of the most common ways you can practise being grateful. It helps you actively focus on the positive things in your life. All you need to do is choose a method that works for you. For example, write about what you’re grateful for on a piece of paper and pop it in a jar each day, write in your diary, post about it on your socials, or use an app. The physical act of writing it down makes you think about what it is you’re grateful for, reflect on how it made you feel and experience that feeling again.

2. Pay attention and be thankful for the people around you

The pandemic has opened our eyes to how meaningful our connections are. It’s been a wake-up call to savour the moments we have with the people that make up our world, especially those closest to us. So take time to really listen to them. Stop flicking through your phone, turn away from the TV, look up from the pile of laundry you’re folding and listen to your partner/kids/parents/friends. And be thankful that they’re in your life.

3. Be mindful of the things around you

We often rush about with our heads down, not taking note of our surroundings. But there’s so much beauty and wonder for us to enjoy and be grateful for. So next time you head outdoors, keep your phone in your pocket and look around you. Listen to the birds in the trees, notice how the trees sway in the wind, enjoy the dogs playing in the park, be in awe of the mountains or the sea. Take the time to pay attention, and you’ll feel the boost to your mood and a skip in your step in no time.

4. When you wake up or before you go to sleep…

Think of something or someone that you’re grateful for. Or focus on something that happened during the day that made you smile or lifted your spirits.

5. Thank someone…

In person, with a letter, call or DM them. Let them know about something they did that made you happy or really helped you out. Or just to thank them for being in your life. You’ll both feel happier for it 😊. It’s nice to know you’re appreciated and loved.

6. Surround yourself with gratitude cues

You’re probably doing this instinctively anyway. These are the photos, affirmations, quotes and jokes that make you happy, inspire you, remind you of beautiful people and times, and fill you with joy. No surface should be safe from gratitude cues – fridges, bookcases, walls, mirrors, windows, desktops, phones – they’re all fair game. So fill them up! And change them around – remove old ones, add new ones. That way you’ll have a constant array of things that make you grateful, and they won’t start blending into the background.

7. Meditate

It’s a great way to relax and gain some balance in a topsy-turvy world. But it’s also some ‘you time’, when you can take a few moments to shut out the world, breathe deeply and evenly, and focus your mind on positive thoughts.

8. On the job

We all have times when we feel a bit blah and uninspired about work. If that sounds familiar, try this: at the start of each workday, think of one thing about your job that you’re grateful for. It might be the quiz you do at lunchtime with your workmates, or the opportunity to learn new skills and stretch yourself, or the friendships you’ve developed with interesting people. Big or small – think of one thing each day that makes you feel grateful about your job.

9. Wander down memory lane

Check out your memories on socials, crack open your old photo albums or just allow your mind to drift back to past, happy times. There’s a lot of joy in our lives that we forget about when we only think of our current state or upcoming events. Or when we only focus on our anxieties or negative things. We’ve lived through some amazing times and met lots of lovely people. That’s something we can all be grateful for, and our memories and photos can help us relive them. And if you see the faces of those no longer with us, you may feel sad, but you can also feel grateful that you met that wonderful person and had them in your life. And that’s a blessing.

Before you get started

It’s important that you don’t get on the gratitude bandwagon to the detriment of your other feelings. Being grateful doesn’t mean that you can’t experience worry, sadness, anxiety or anger. You can be grateful and still experience a range of other emotions. These feelings are valid too, and we need to feel them. As with most things, it’s all about getting the balance right.

Try not to compare yourselves with others. It’s never a healthy thing to do. We all have our set of unique challenges and opportunities, so comparisons just don’t work.

You can be grateful for what you have, even if there are others in the world who you perceive to ‘have it worse’ than you do. If you feel that way, think about what you can do to enrich the lives of others. Do volunteer work, donate to charity, become a mentor; you can give back to the community in so many ways.

Or if you perceive that others ‘have it easier’ than you do, feel grateful for what you do have and the people and things that bring you joy and fulfillment. Focusing on the negative won’t bring you happiness, and won’t magically bestow on you the perceived riches that someone else has, so dump the comparisons and focus on your life.

And finally

We asked some of our consumers and staff what they’re grateful for. Here are some of the responses we received.

I’m grateful:

  • that I live near some beautiful running and walking tracks
  • that I can enjoy the outdoors, the scenery and the sunsets
  • for having the basics – a roof over my head, good food and warm bed on a cold night
  • for strawberry Freddo frogs…and pizza night
  • that my workplace supports me to work flexibly and put my condition first
  • for my sister sending me lots of pictures and videos of my niece and nephew who live overseas
  • for my partner, without whom I don’t know where I’d be
  • for my son, who is hard work but makes me laugh every day
  • that I can still do the job I love despite restrictions due to arthritis and age
  • that my desk overlooks a tree that’s covered in rainbow lorikeets most afternoons
  • that I have two fluffy indoor cats who deign to let me pat them from time to time.

What are you grateful for?

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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18/Jun/2021

A young person’s story of scleroderma

Meet Mabel. She’s 13 and has scleroderma, a chronic condition that affects the body’s connective tissue. She shares her story with Buffy.

How old where you when you were diagnosed with scleroderma?
I was 6, nearly 7 years old when I was diagnosed, and now I’m 13, so I just realised that is half of my lifetime ago!

Scleroderma’s a mouthful! Did it take you long to learn how to say it?
I knew how to say it but I didn’t really understand what it was at first. My little sisters, who were 3 at the time could also say it!

Can you remember how you felt when you were told you had scleroderma?
I was surprised, but at the time it really didn’t feel like that much. Now as a 13 year old, I can see how dangerous and scary it was.

What is the worst thing about having scleroderma?
All the medicine and appointments, because it meant that I missed a lot of school. I didn’t get to go to school as much.

Are there any good things about having scleroderma, or any ‘silver linings’?
The silver linings are that I’m not afraid of needles because I’ve had so many. When my friends and I have to have immunisations at school or a flu shot I’m not scared or worried.

You also meet a lot of kind, random people; people that you’ve never met before who give you gifts and are really nice.

What is one thing you wish someone had said to you, or wish you knew about scleroderma when you were first diagnosed?
That you don’t need to be afraid, as there are doctors and nurses who will be kind and help you, and other kind people who want to help you.

What would you say to someone else who has just been diagnosed with scleroderma?
I would tell them that all the needles are worth it, because they are going to make you healthy and your condition hopefully won’t get worse.

Take the medicine, even if you don’t know if it is going to help, your medicine will give you a better chance of improving.

What do you wish everyone else (teachers, friends, family, the big wide world) knew about scleroderma?
I wish more people knew what scleroderma is, rather than saying “what’s that?” when they either ask about my hands and arms, and I tell them it’s scleroderma and then they have no idea what scleroderma is.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Just because you have a medical condition doesn’t mean you are different, it means you have a different ability.

Appearances don’t matter because the outside is different to the inside.

If you’d like to share your story like Mabel did, about what it’s like to live with a juvenile form of musculoskeletal condition (e.g. arthritis, back pain, Perthes, fibromyalgia), contact Buffy Squires, Community Programs Coordinator at Musculoskeletal Australia.  


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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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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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