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03/Dec/2020

Medicinal cannabis and you

Marijuana, dope, pot, grass, weed, Mary Jane, doobie, bud, ganja, hashish, hash, wacky tobaccy…they’re just some of the common names for cannabis.

Whatever you call it, it’s been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, until it became a banned or controlled substance in most parts of the world.

But for decades there’s been renewed interest in its use in healthcare, with many countries – including Australia in 2016 – decriminalising it for medicinal use.

Last year alone the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted over 25,000 applications from doctors to prescribe cannabis, mostly in the form of an oil.

So let’s weed out some of the facts and explore the use of medicinal cannabis for pain and musculoskeletal conditions.

Is it marijuana or cannabis?

It’s both. They’re just different names for the same plant – marijuana is the commonly used name, cannabis is the scientific name. The preferred name for its use in healthcare is medicinal cannabis, to draw the distinction between medicinal use of cannabis and the illegal, recreational use of marijuana.

The tongue twisters – cannabinoids

It’s a tough word to say – far harder than musculoskeletal! – but an important one when we talk about the properties of cannabis. Cannabinoids are the chemicals found in the cannabis plant. They bind onto specific receptors (CB1 and CB2) on the outside of our cells and can affect things like our mood, appetite, memory and pain sensation.

Cannabis has more than 140 cannabinoids. The two major ones are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the cannabinoid linked with the sensation of feeling ‘high’ that’s associated with recreational marijuana use.

Cannabinoids also occur naturally in our body (endocannabinoids) and can also be created artificially (synthetic cannabinoids).

How’s it taken?

Medicinal cannabis, both plant-based and synthetic, comes in many forms including oils, capsules, oral sprays and vapours. Smoking isn’t an approved preparation as it can cause damage to the lungs and airways.

Does it work?

At the moment, evidence for its use to treat pain associated with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions is lacking.

Cannabis has been illegal for so long that we don’t have the thorough, scientific evidence we need about: side effects, which cannabinoids (e.g. THC, CBD or a combination) may be effective, dosages, the best form to use (e.g. oil, capsules etc), the long-term effects, or the health conditions or symptoms it may be beneficial for. Research is emerging, but we need a lot more.

Because of this lack of research, the Australian Rheumatology Association doesn’t support the use of medicinal cannabis for musculoskeletal conditions. Their concern is that we don’t have enough info to ensure cannabis is safe and effective for people with musculoskeletal conditions.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has also stated that there’s “not enough information to tell whether medicinal cannabis is effective in treating pain associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia”.

Possible side effects

As with any medication – and medicinal cannabis is a medication – it can have side effects. They include: dizziness, confusion, changes in appetite, problems with balance and difficulties concentrating or thinking.

The extent of side effects can vary between people and with the type of medicinal cannabis product being used.

How do I access it?

Unfortunately it’s a complicated process. We aren’t at the stage where a doctor can just write a prescription that you can fill at any chemist. Medicinal cannabis is an unregistered medicine, which means your doctor must be an Authorised Prescriber or must apply for you to have access to it through the TGA’s Special Access Scheme.

But if it’s something you’d like to try, talk with your doctor about whether it’s a possible option for you. Together you can weigh up the risks and benefits for your specific situation.

You need to be aware that medicinal cannabis is not on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), so if you can access it, you’ll likely have to pay significant costs.

Another option for gaining access to medicinal cannabis is to consult a doctor at a specialised cannabis clinic. This also comes at a price, however it may be an option if your doctor isn’t an authorised prescriber or they’re not well-informed in the use and prescribing of medicinal cannabis.

Driving and medicinal cannabis

If you’re using medicinal cannabis it’s important that you know exactly what’s in it. If you’re taking a product that you’ve obtained through legal prescribers that only contains CBD, you can drive. However if you’re using a product that has any THC in it, whether on its own or in combination with CBD, you can’t drive. It’s currently a criminal offence to drive with any THC in your system.

Talk with your doctor and/or pharmacist for more information.

Interactions with other medications

As with any substance you ingest, there’s the potential for medicinal cannabis to interact with other medications and supplements you’re taking. So before prescribing medicinal cannabis, your doctor will review your current medications to reduce the risk of any negative effects.

However if while using medicinal cannabis you experience any unusual symptoms, discuss these with your doctor.

Finally

For many people the use of medicinal cannabis could be a long way off. And unlike the way it’s often portrayed in the media, it’s unlikely to be a panacea or magic bullet that will cure all ills.

It also won’t work in isolation – you’ll still need to do all of the other things you do to manage your condition and pain, including exercise, managing your weight, mindfulness, managing stress, pacing etc.

The important thing is to be as educated as you can and be open in your discussions with your doctor.

And be aware that cannabis for non-medicinal purposes is still illegal in Australia.

For more detailed information about medical cannabis in Australia watch our webinar

Medicinal cannabis in Australia: Weeding out the facts 
Dr Richard di Natale, outgoing Senator and former leader of the Australian Greens, and Prof Iain McGregor, Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, University of Sydney discuss the use of medicinal cannabis in Australia – what it is, available forms, access issues in Australia and the current evidence for use.

Call our Help Line

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

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03/Dec/2020

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

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

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

Why detox?

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

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

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

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

Your digital detox plan

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

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

So ask yourself:

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

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

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

So think about what’s realistic for you:

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to help you detox

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

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

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

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

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

Call our Help Line

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

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03/Dec/2020

Tips for travelling well

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag.

With most of the state and territory borders reopened in Australia, many of us are itching to travel. And while we can’t leave the country – there’s still a ban on overseas travel – we can visit regional areas and head interstate. Yay! And just in time for the festive season and summer.

But for some of us, although we find the idea of travelling exciting, the practicalities of it can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. Especially if you’ve got a chronic, musculoskeletal condition. And unfortunately these feelings are only likely to be heightened because of the whole COVID thing.

So here are some tips and tricks to help you manage your condition so you can get the most out of your trip and have the best time.

Planning is vital

Take the time to plan your trip carefully. Being proactive before you go anywhere gives you the opportunity to plan around your condition, rather than have your condition disrupt your trip. So make sure you:

  • give yourself plenty of time to pack
  • get some rest before you leave so you have plenty of energy
  • make your itinerary realistic – and don’t try to cram too much into it (this is a hard one, because if you’re like me you want to see and experience everything!)
  • plan some downtime into your trip so you can rest, put your feet up and recharge your batteries.

Packing

This can be one of the hardest parts of travelling – what to take, what to leave at home – so if in doubt, leave it out! Lifting heavy bags out of cars, on and off trains and buses and through airports increases your risk of injury and fatigue. When you travel you also end up carting your luggage around far more than you realise. So:

  • pack light – take only what you need
  • use lightweight luggage if you have it (or can borrow it)
  • don’t forget to pack the things that help make life more comfortable e.g. your lumbar pillow, orthotics, splints
  • keep your meds in separate pieces of luggage to ensure you don’t lose it all if your luggage is lost or stolen.

Medical prep

Give yourself plenty of time to get medically prepared for your trip and:

  • ensure regular doctor visits, blood tests etc are done before you leave.
  • talk with your doctor about vaccinations – do you need any? Are you up-to-date with routine vaccinations like tetanus?
  • make sure you have enough of all of your medications to cover you while you’re away. Depending on where you’re going, you may not be able to access them at the local pharmacy.
  • store your biological meds properly – your rheumatologist or the pharmaceutical company can advise you on this.

Managing your pain while you’re away

Unfortunately pain follows us where we go, so be prepared. Have your pain medications, heat/cold pack, your lotions and rubs, special pillow – whatever you use to help you deal with pain.

Check out our resource Managing your pain: An A-Z guide. It’ll give you lots of practical information about ways you can manage your pain – many of which you can do wherever you are – at home, on a plane, in another part of the country.

Travel insurance

Even if you’re travelling in Australia and not overseas, travel insurance could be a good idea. It can cover things like lost or stolen luggage, car hire excess claims and cancelled flights. Make sure you know exactly what you’re covered for. And shop around and find insurance that’s best suits your needs. This article by Choice has some useful info to help you decide whether travel insurance is for you: Do you need domestic travel insurance? Will travel insurance cover you when things go wrong on an Aussie holiday?

And be aware that travel insurance is unlikely to cover you for anything relating to COVID now that it’s a ’known event’. Read this article by Choice to find out more: Does travel insurance cover the COVID-19 pandemic? What you’re covered for in the event of an epidemic or pandemic like coronavirus. 

And speaking of COVID

Make sure you follow the guidelines for wherever you’re visiting. Are masks required? Are there restrictions on how many people can gather? Do you need to quarantine? Do you need a border pass? Visit the health website of the state or territory you’re travelling within to get the latest info.

And continue to:

  • wash your hands regularly
  • physically distance yourself from others
  • stay home if you’re unwell and get tested
  • cough and/or sneeze into your elbow
  • wear a mask if you can’t distance yourself (or if it’s required)
  • use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water.

Just because numbers of active cases are low in most parts of the country, we can’t afford to be complacent. And doing these things keeps you safe and puts you in control, which can help you manage your feelings of anxiety or stress about COVID.

Coming home

  • Rest up. After your trip, give yourself a day or so to unpack and rest before leaping back into your daily schedule.
  • If you’re feeling stiff or sore consider getting a massage, or seeing your therapist of choice – physio/osteo/chiro/myo.
  • Talk the ears off your family, friends, doctor and work colleagues about your trip and the sights, smells and experiences you enjoyed. Before you know it you’ll be dreaming about, and planning, your next adventure.

Other options for travel

You may not be up to travelling far afield – physically and/or mentally it may not be right for you at the moment. This is completely understandable. It’s been a crazy year and we’re all dealing with it in the best way we can. But there are other options:

  • Take a day trip or two. It’s amazing how much you can see in a day. And we’re so lucky in Australia with all of the beautiful places we can visit. Just Google day trips and your location and you’ll find some great ideas for your next adventure.
  • Plan for the future. Just because you’re not ready to travel now, doesn’t mean you won’t be in the future. So dream about where you’d like to go. Do some research and start making plans. And when you’re ready to travel, you’ll be all set!
  • Vacation at home. Put your phone, computer and chores away and toss your normal routine out the window. Do fun things, creative things, relaxing things. Cook special meals. Relax in the garden with a book. Throw a dance party with everyone who lives in your house – or by yourself. Dress in fancy clothes. Build a fort in the middle of the lounge. Grab a colouring book and pencils and spend some quality time colouring. Do things that make you happy and make you feel like you’ve had a break. You deserve it.

Call our Help Line

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

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19/Nov/2020

Although it’s not a medical condition as such, most of us know what it’s like to have a foggy brain, to feel like your head is full of cotton wool affecting your ability to focus or concentrate.

It’s incredibly frustrating when you can’t find the specific word you’re searching for, or remember the time of a medical appointment, or why you walked into the kitchen so purposefully.

Brain fog. It affects a lot of people with musculoskeletal conditions, and is now getting a lot of media because many people who’ve had COVID are also experiencing it months after they had the virus.

But what is brain fog? And what can you do about it?

Brain fog is a term used to describe a bunch of symptoms – such as difficulty concentrating or focusing, forgetfulness and not being able to think clearly. It’s not a medical term, but it’s a very simple, effective term that we all use.

It can be caused by a number of things including:

  • medical conditions – e.g. musculoskeletal conditions, anaemia, depression, diabetes
  • medications – some meds used for managing musculoskeletal conditions, but also other conditions such as high cholesterol, can cause brain fog
  • poor quality sleep
  • poor diet lacking in essential vitamins and minerals
  • not enough exercise
  • stress.

How is brain fog treated?

If you’re experiencing brain fog on a regular basis, and it’s affecting your ability to do daily tasks, or to work, it’s important that you talk with your doctor.

Your doctor will look at treating any underlying causes. For example, if it turns out you’re anaemic you may be prescribed iron tablets. They may also review all of your current meds to see if brain fog could be a potential side effect. If they find that your medication is the issue, you may be prescribed alternatives medications. But having the discussion with your doctor as soon as brain fog becomes an issue is key to getting it under control as much as possible.

Other things you can do to decrease the effects of brain fog include:

Get enough good quality sleep. I know, I know, this is often really hard to do. It seems that when we’re at our most tired, it’s almost impossible to sleep well, with pain being a massive contributor to poor quality sleep. But working on getting a good night’s sleep is vital – not only to help combat brain fog but because it also has positive effects on our pain, fatigue, mood, weight and so much more.

Exercise and be physically active. Again, this has far reaching benefits beyond brain fog, but just getting up and moving your body, going for a walk, doing some tai chi or yoga, can help clear your mind. And exercising regularly will help improve your sleep quality, which will in turn reduce the risk of brain fog.

Look at your diet. Is it healthy and well-balanced? Are you drinking enough water and staying hydrated? If it’s lacking important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at its best, this may be contributing to your inability to concentrate or think clearly. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian if you need help assessing your diet and making healthy changes.

Manage your stress. It’s a significant cause of brain fog and the inability to focus and concentrate. Try things like mindfulness, exercise, deep breathing to help you relax and de-stress.

Track your brain fog. Being self-aware of your symptoms, including brain fog, means that you can be proactive in managing it. So if, for example, you notice that your brain fog is always worse Tuesday mornings, you can go back and look for causes. Maybe your favourite TV show is on late Monday night and you always stay up to watch it, getting less sleep as a result. Or perhaps you find that your brain fog is worse after you’ve put in long, stressful hours at work. By finding a pattern, you can then look for potential solutions – like streaming your TV show during the day, or managing your work stress better.

And if you can’t find a pattern, but know that, for example it’s worse mid-afternoon, you can plan around that. You can do tasks that require concentration and focus earlier in the day for when you’re at your sharpest.

Be kind to yourself. We can be really harsh on ourselves when we make a mistake or forget a name or can’t focus enough to finish a task properly. But this negativity can have significant impacts on our mental health, so be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can.

Brain fog hacks

Let’s face it – you can do all the right things to treat brain fog, but it can still strike. So here are some hacks and tips to help you get on with life.

Routine, routine, routine. Having a regular routine helps even the foggiest of minds get on with the day. Get up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time (this also helps with sleep quality). Have your meals at the same-ish time. Schedule time for exercise and relaxation. During your work days, stick to a schedule, even if you’re working from home. All of these things will help you get through your day more easily, with less “huh, what was I doing now?”

Make alarms and alerts your best friend. Whether it’s on your phone, computer, watch, or other device, set alarms to remind you to move, stop for lunch, take a break, meditate, go to bed. They’ll help you stay on track with your daily routine. They’ll also help you remember appointments, birthdays and other significant dates.

Use a pill dispenser. I can’t tell you how many times I used to wonder if I’d taken my meds in the morning. And rather than risk double-dosing, I wouldn’t take them. Which is not ideal because obviously there were days that I didn’t end up taking them. So get rid of this stress and just use a pill dispenser. They’re a lifesaver.

Take regular breaks. When you’re finding it hard to concentrate, give your brain a break. Forcing yourself to try to concentrate can be counter-productive. Instead, when you find you’re just not able to focus or finish a task, go for a quick walk, get some air, get a glass of water. Get away from what you’re doing and take a brief break. This will hopefully clear your head enough to continue.

Get away from distractions. If, like me, you’re working from home, consider where you’re set up. My desk was in front of a window but I found myself endlessly staring outside at nothing. So I moved my desk to face a wall. It’s not as picturesque, but when concentration is an issue, getting away from distractions really does help.

Get some fresh air. This is really helpful if you’ve been cooped up at home or in an office for hours. A dose of fresh air and sunshine can help blow some of the cobwebs out of the brain.

Do something else. Sometimes you just have to admit you can’t focus or concentrate enough on the task at hand, so put it away (if you can) and do something that requires less brain power. You can come back to the original task when you’re thinking more clearly, saving yourself lots of frustration and angst.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


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19/Nov/2020

I’ve just taken a week off from work. I was struggling mentally and physically, so I decided it was important to take time to pause, reflect and reconnect.

But it was really tough to do.

I think part of my problem was I felt like I needed permission to feel how I was feeling and to take a break. It felt self-indulgent to feel sad when there are people in a ‘worse’ situation than I am; who are working so hard just to make ends meet; who are facing relationship issues. How dare I feel this way? I have a loving partner, a home, a job, and wonderful family and friends. I can now move around freely outside of my 25kms and enjoy the spring weather.

I have all of these things, so I felt selfish for feeling sad and for worrying those around me.

But while catching up with friends and family last week, I found I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

So for anyone out there who needs to hear this, it’s ok.

It’s ok to take a break or to rest. You’re not a machine. You need time to recover – physically and mentally – from the things that are affecting you. That way when you do return to what you were doing, you’ll feel refreshed and more able to deal with everything.

It’s ok to say no. We all want to please others, so saying no can be a challenge. But you need to weigh up all the things you have going on and decide whether you can take on something else. If you can’t, then say no. And don’t feel you have to apologise for doing so.

It’s ok to listen to your body. In fact it’s a necessity. Living with a chronic condition means that you need to be self-aware of how you’re feeling. If you’re tired, rest. If your back hurts, move. If you’re feeling sluggish, get some fresh air. Whatever your body is telling you, listen and take action.

It’s ok to be kind to yourself. Our inner critic can be really loud at times. If yours is giving you grief, ask yourself – would you say those things to someone you love? The answer is probably no. So quiet that inner voice by making a list of three things you like about yourself and stick it on the fridge or bathroom mirror. Remind yourself of these things regularly.

It’s ok not to be perfect. No one is, no matter how they appear on social media.

It’s ok to let go of the things that drain you. For me, that was the news. I was watching it constantly and getting more and more depressed by the state of the world, and how people treat each other. So now I read the news highlights, get more detail on the things that matter to me, and discard the rest. Think about the things that drain you (and this may include people) and if you can, let it go. Or at least limit your exposure to it.

It’s ok to put yourself first. Sometimes we need to make ourselves our top priority – whether that’s physically, mentally and/or emotionally. You’ll be more able to help others when you’ve taken time to look after yourself.

It’s ok to talk about mental health. In fact it’s really important that we do. The more we talk about mental health and how we’re feeling, the less stigma will surround it. Which will lead to more people opening up about their mental health and getting help when they need it.

It’s ok to not watch the news. Take time to unplug from the 24/7 news cycle and focus on the world around you – your family, friends and environment.

It’s ok to forgive yourself. This comes back to our inner critic. We often beat ourselves up for the smallest of mistakes. If you made a mistake – and ask yourself if you really did make a mistake or are you being super-critical of yourself – look at what you did, learn from it and then move on. Don’t keep thinking about it – it’ll only drive you crazy and make you unhappy.

It’s ok to have a messy house. Or to have a pile of laundry that needs folding. Or for the grass to need mowing. Or for pet hair to cover ever surface of your home. Sometimes things get a little untidy as we prioritise our health and wellbeing over a perfectly made bed, sparkling bathroom or fluffed-up cushions. And that’s ok.

It’s ok to not be ok and feel sad/angry/vulnerable. Your feelings are valid and they matter. However if you feel like these feelings are taking over, talk with someone. A trusted friend or family member, or a healthcare professional. While it’s ok to feel like this from time to time, you don’t want to feel like this all the time. And you don’t have to. There’s help available.

It’s ok to cry. We all have difficult days and crying can be an outlet when we feel sad, stressed, overwhelmed, scared, angry or in pain. So grab a box of tissues and let it out.

It’s ok to do more of the things that make you feel good. Love a massage? A walk on the beach? Sitting in your garden with a cup of tea and a book? Whatever it is that makes you feel good is not an indulgence, but a necessity to help you recharge your battery and make you a happier person.

It’s ok to put your phone down or away. We look at them too often anyway, so put it away for an hour, a day, a week. Be present and be mindful of the people and the world around you.

It’s ok to admit you’re struggling. And it’s ok to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re not a capable person. It just means that in this time and place, or for this task you need some help. And that’s fine. We all need help every now and then.

It’s ok to take your time. We don’t always have to be in a hurry. Make space to breathe and be still, meditate and be mindful.

It’s ok to not have all the answers. You’re not Google or Encyclopedia Brittanica. Saying ‘I don’t know’ is a valid and human thing to say.

It’s ok to put down your ‘to do’ list and be spontaneous. Lists can help us feel in control and organised, but sometimes it’s freeing to toss the list aside and just do something unexpected, just because you can.

So it’s really ok to sing, to dance, to walk barefoot in the park, to hug the stuffing out of your partner/kids/pets. We’re living through a global pandemic, which is affecting us in so many ways, so it’s important and very much ok to find the joy and welcome it with open arms.

And remember, it’s ok to be you.

Call our Help Line

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

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.

More to explore


Christmas_blog.jpg
19/Nov/2020

OMG, did you know there are only 36 days until Christmas?!!

It seems like Christmas 2019 was just a few weeks ago, now Christmas 2020 is looming! Yikes!!

Ok, breathe. It’s important we don’t panic. There are lots of things we can do to prepare for the festivities without too much pain. After the year we’ve had, we deserve a wonderful Christmas with those near and dear to us.

So here are our top tips so you can enjoy some festive fun:

Shopping

  • Plan around your pain and fatigue. Wear comfy shoes (including orthotics if you have/need them), grab your walking aid, your shopping list (a foggy brain makes remembering almost impossible) and your shopping buggy/bags. Be kind to yourself as you may feel tired and exhausted for hours/days after your trip. If your battery was already low before you tackled this, it’s may take some time to recharge and feel yourself again.
  • Once you get to the store, hygiene and physical distancing is key:
    • Wear your mask if you live in an area where they’re mandatory or recommended.
    • Use sanitiser on your hands and disinfectant wipes on the handles on your trolley/basket.
    • Keep a least 1.5 metres between yourself and others.
    • Don’t touch your face.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.
  • Take breaks. Shopping is exhausting and stressful, so take breaks when you need them. Don’t push yourself too hard, or you’ll end up paying for that over the coming hours/days.
  • Use a trolley or a shopping buggy, even if you’re only getting a few things. It will do the heavy carrying for you, so you can avoid muscle and joint pain.
  • Use your assistive devices – walking aids, braces, orthotics. If you have them, use them. They make a big difference.
  • Shop online. We’ve learned through life in lockdown and iso that so many things can be purchased with a few quick clicks of your mouse. So visit your favourite stores online and save yourself some trips to shopping centre madness. Just be sure to check the shipping details to ensure your goods arrive in time.
  • Shop local. You don’t need to hit the big shopping centres to find unique gifts or fresh produce. Small, independent local stores often have most of what you need.
  • Be kind to others. Your fellow shopper isn’t the enemy. So be patient, give them space, and be tolerant. The staff at the store also deserve our kindness and empathy – they’ve been flat out all year trying to keep the shelves stocked so that we can get all the things we want or need.

Gifts

  • Take a leaf out of the big guy’s book – write a list and check it twice. Knowing what gifts you’re looking for before you hit the shops will save you time, energy and money.
  • Consider spending less. It’s been a tight year for many of us, so it makes sense to be economical and save some dollars. You don’t want to head into 2021 with massive Christmas bills.
  • Make your own gifts. Embrace your inner creative guru and bake, paint, draw, knit or sew your presents. Another option is to make some gift vouchers – e.g. 1 hour of babysitting or dog walking.
  • Embrace Kris Kringle or Secret Santa gift exchange. They’re popular for a reason. Make 2020 – the year of the ‘new normal’ – the time to try it out, and save yourself time, stress and frustrating shopping expeditions. It’s particularly good if you have a lot of people to buy for.
  • Give gift cards and vouchers. They’re always a great idea for the person who’s hard to buy for, or the person who has everything. And you can get a lot of them online – without the hassle of changing out of your pjs or leaving the comfort of your couch. Some companies such as Private Health Funds offer discounts online when purchasing gift cards.
  • Give to charity. There are so many worthy causes around and many have been struggling during this incredibly tough year. So follow your heart and make a donation instead of buying gifts this year.
  • When it comes to wrapping your gifts, gift bags are easier on sore hands than cutting wrapping paper and using sticky tape. They’re also a lifesaver for those of us who are hopeless at wrapping.

Decorating

  • Get the family involved. Put some Christmas music on and have fun with it. Decorating your tree, your home and garden for Christmas should be all about the joy of the festive season and being together.
  • Keep it simple. Remember what you put up you have to pack away after Christmas. So if that thought fills you with trepidation, choose the ‘less is more’ option.
  • Put decorations in easy reach on a table or bench so you’re not constantly bending over to pick them up.
  • Use a step ladder, rather than overstretching. And if you have any balance issues, ask someone else to do the high stuff.
  • Remember things don’t have to be ‘perfect’. That’s too much pressure. So don’t be a Monica Geller (sorry, couldn’t resist a Friends reference).

Having people over

  • Keep it COVID-safe. What you can do and how many people you can have over will depend on where you live. So visit your state/territory government health site for the latest info. Have plenty of soap and hand sanitiser available, avoid hugs (I know this is tough) and if you’re feeling unwell, get tested and stay home, or cancel your gathering. That last one will be incredibly tough, as we’re so used to soldiering on through our aches, pains and fatigue, but if you think there’s even the remotest chance you have COVID, get tested and keep everyone safe by isolating until you know you don’t have the virus. Use the Healthdirect symptom checker to find out if you need to be tested.
  • Keep it simple. As with decorating, keep your celebrations simple. Seriously after the year we’ve had, any celebration is epic!
  • Cook/bake things ahead of time. Many of the foods we enjoy for Christmas can be made days and sometimes weeks before the big day. That means you don’t have to work yourself into a cooking frenzy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And you’re more likely to enjoy yourself on the day.
  • Ask your guests to bring a plate. This shares the work, the cost and ensures those with special dietary requirements can bring food that accommodates their needs.
  • Pace yourself. When you’re hosting an event, it’s easy to get carried away and be constantly on the move. Gatherings can be a marathon, so pace yourself so you don’t run out of steam before the end.
  • Take a seat. Make sure you take time to rest and get off your feet.
  • Be medicine-wise:
    • Over-the-counter and prescription medication may help you manage pain and inflammation so you can enjoy your day. If you’re not sure what will work best for you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
    • Watch the alcohol. Many medications don’t mix well with alcohol, so find out if it’s ok to have a drink with your meds.
  • Stay hydrated. Christmas is often hot in Australia, so it’s easy to become dehydrated, especially if you’re busy making sure everyone is having a good time. So keep the water flowing – for yourself and your guests.
  • Give yourself a break when it comes to cleaning and packing up. Get the family and your guests involved – even if it’s simple things like folding up chairs, or bringing dishes to the kitchen. And ask yourself if you really need to do everything immediately? A lot can be done the next day after you’ve had a rest.

Manage stress

  • Christmas and the holidays can be a stressful time, but it’s important that you manage your stress as best as you can or risk having a flare. So pull out your best stress management strategies and use them as often as you need to.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


cycling.jpg
05/Nov/2020

“I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike; I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride it where I like” Freddie Mercury, Queen, 1978

I’ve always liked riding my bike. The feel of the breeze on my face as I coast downhill, the sun on my back and the world passing by in a blur. It’s lovely. And yet for some reason my bike always ends up in the back of the garage and I forget about it for months at a time.

But the pandemic has seen many of us rediscovering the joy of riding a bike. With limited access to our usual exercise venues such as gyms and pools, cycling has boomed. Which is great for those of us with a musculoskeletal condition because riding is a low impact exercise suitable for most people.

But as with anything you haven’t done in a while, you need to ease into it. Don’t be like me and just drag your bike out, dust the cobwebs off and hit the road. And I mean literally. One spin around my small suburban street and I crashed.

It seems my ability to ride a bike, like most things you don’t do on a regular basis, has disappeared. But the saying “it’s as easy as riding a bike” must exist for a reason, right? So I persevered, and while I’m still a little wobbly, and hills are a challenge, I’m doing it!

So here are my tips for getting back on your bike.

Get a bike – obviously tip number 1 for riding a bike is to get one.

    • If you’re buying a new bike, get advice from people you know who ride regularly. Or find a good bike shop and talk with the staff. And check out this Choice article for some really useful info on what to look for in a bike: How to buy the best bike for your needs.
    • Borrow a bike from family, a friend or neighbour. That way you can give cycling a go before you spend any money on a new bike. Obviously keep in mind COVID safe hygiene practices.
    • Hire a bike. Many bike stores have bikes for hire. Keep in mind that it can become quite expensive if you’re doing it for more than a few days. But it does give you the chance to try before you buy.
    • If you already have a bike, go over it to make sure it’s in good condition. If you’re not sure what you need to do, the Bicycle Network has some great resources to help you.  Or you can take your bike to the local bike shop for a service.

Make sure your bike is fitted with all the necessary bits and pieces you’ll need. Much of this will depend where/when you plan to ride, so seek advice from other cyclists or from the bike shop. But some of the things you will need are: comfortable seat (vital), light, bell, basket/rack, water holder, lock, pump.

Find the perfect outfit for you. This doesn’t need to expensive, but does need to be comfortable and brightly coloured so others can see you, made out of fabric that breathes, and if you’re riding at night or when it’s getting dark, reflective. Oh, and padding in bike shorts can help protect you from some unpleasant pain in sensitive areas! You’ll also need a good helmet that fits you properly. Remember it’s compulsory in Australia to wear an approved helmet when riding a bike.

Consider your environment – this is important. You’re more likely to ride more regularly if you feel safe and you’re in a pleasant environment. So depending on where you live, riding around your local streets may not be the best option. Taking your bike to a park or local bike trails may be the best way for you to build your confidence. Make sure the paths are easy to navigate, wide enough for you and others to get by, not too steep (at least while you’re relearning to ride) and have places where you can stop for a breather, have a drink and enjoy the surrounds.

Listen to your body. Cycling is a great exercise for people with a musculoskeletal condition. But you need to listen to your body. While cycling is low impact, your legs are going around and around in a repetitive motion. This may cause some aches and pains if you’re not used to it. So don’t go too hard too fast. Take time to stretch before and after your ride, and if you have wobbly legs after your ride, walk around for a bit to get everything working again.

Start small. It’s easy to get swept up in the ride – the nature around you, the hypnotic effect of turning the wheels around and around – and then you realise you have to cycle back to where you started. So be aware of the distance you travel. Start slowly and build up the time and distance you ride gradually. Starting small also gives you the time and space to relearn riding your bike – how the brakes work, the gears, steering, not crashing!

Grab the family and friends – exercising is often more fun when you do it with others. And riding a bike is a great activity for people of all ages and levels of fitness. During the pandemic it seems like every sunny day groups of people are out walking and riding together. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?

Be a responsible rider. There are a lot more of us walking and cycling at the moment. So ding your bell if you’re coming up behind people on foot and slow down. People rarely walk in a straight line especially if they’re not paying attention. So to avoid nasty accidents, take care of those around you.

Drink water. You’re exercising, so you’ll be sweating and losing fluid. Take regular breaks to rehydrate.

Don’t be embarrassed if you have to walk your bike for a while – especially uphill. It means you’re listening to your body – whether it’s saying there’s pain or you need to breathe – and you’re giving it the break it needs. So walk that bike proudly! And get back on when you’re ready.

Check out the networks – both formal e.g. Bicycle Network and local, informal cycling groups. You’ll get information, support and advice, and you’ll meet new people.

Enjoy yourself! Cycling is a really enjoyable activity – so get out there, check out the countryside and have fun.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore

  • Bicycles
    Choice
  • The best bike paths and routes in Australia
    Australia.com
  • Your local council website for cycling groups, paths and other resources
  • Your state/territory government parks websites for information on riding safely in parks, maps and much more.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1896


stiffness.jpg
05/Nov/2020

Do you wake up feeling stiff in the morning and find it hard to get moving?

You’re not alone. It happens to so many people with a musculoskeletal condition, especially when waking and after periods of inactivity like travelling long distances in a car/plane, binge watching a TV show for hours or sitting at your desk all day.

The stiffness you feel may be caused by inflammation in the joint, lack of movement preventing the ‘oil’ in your joints (also known as synovial fluid) from lubricating the joints, ageing or damage to the cushiony cartilage inside the joint or tight muscles and tendons.

With inflammatory conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout) this stiffness may last for over an hour. With conditions such as osteoarthritis it tends to go away more quickly.

Depending on how long it lasts and which joints are most affected, joint stiffness can get in the way of you being able to do the things you want and need to do.

So what can you do to manage morning stiffness and get on with your day?

  • Have a plan. If morning stiffness is something you have to deal with on a regular basis, it pays to be prepared. That means planning your morning the night before. Sort out whatever you and your family will need for the coming day – lunches, clothes, homework, permission slips etc. All of the things you race around madly in the morning trying to do. Try and get into the routine of having this done before you go to bed. Whether you wake up in pain or stiff or feeling fine – being prepared means you won’t feel stressed or pressured in the morning and you can pace yourself. And don’t forget to get the family involved in these chores.
  • Take time to stretch out. When you wake up feeling stiff, gently stretch your body. Depending on how you’re feeling, you can do this in bed or get up and stretch. Methodically work through all of your stiff joints and take them through their range of movement until you start to feel a bit looser and your joints and muscles warm up.
  • Use heat to help you get moving. When you warm up stiff muscles and joints, it encourages blood flow to the area, which helps your body relax and loosen up. You can do this by taking a warm shower or bath, turning on your electric blanket while you do your stretches in bed, use heat rubs, put your hands in a warm basin of water or use heat packs. There are so many options for heat therapy – just be careful you don’t make the heat too hot, or apply to an inflamed joint.
  • Do some gentle exercise. Once you’re up and moving, it can be really helpful to do some gentle exercise like yoga, tai chi, go for a swim or a walk around the block. As well as continuing the process of relaxing your body, it will help you relax mentally and prepare for the day ahead.
  • Get a massage. A massage from either yourself, your partner or a professional can also be a great way to loosen up. Read our blog about the benefits of massage to find out more.
  • Apply topicals. Another way to apply warmth to stiff and painful joints is to use heat rubs, gels, sprays and creams that are applied directly to your skin (topically). There are a lot of them available, in many different forms and using different ingredients. When you apply them you’re actually benefiting from two things – the product itself and the mini-massage you enjoy when applying the product. Topical products work in a variety of ways and use different ingredients. Note: Be careful when using topicals that you read the instructions carefully, wash your hands thoroughly and avoid contact with your eyes and other sensitive areas.
  • Use your gadgets. For many people, joint stiffness can last for some time. The self-care techniques we’ve looked at so far will help, but may not completely get rid of all of your joint stiffness. That’s where aids and other gadgets come in. Things that take the stress off your joints can be extremely helpful, and reduce the risk of damaging joints or increasing your pain levels. Think of things like jar openers, zip pulls, thick grip pens, walking aids, a swivel seat to help you get in and out of the car etc. There are a lot of options available, so it’s best to talk with an OT for information and advice that specifically tailored to you.
  • Medications may help. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help some people manage their morning stiffness. They’re available over-the-counter or with a prescription. Or taking your medications before you go to bed may reduce the risk of joint stiffness in the morning. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking any new medications or change your medication schedule.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


seated-at-register.jpg
22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call our Help Line

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

Making the invisible visible

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

Watch our webinar

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

More to Explore

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

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

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

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

Fatigue: Beyond tiredness
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


Woman-sitting-back-pain.jpg
22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call our Help Line

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

Making the invisible visible

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

Watch our webinar

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

More to Explore

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

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

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

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

Fatigue: Beyond tiredness
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 




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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