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Sunshine.jpg
13/Jan/2021

It’s warming up all over the country, and that means getting out with our family and friends and enjoying some much needed fun in the sun.

Aside from the enjoyment we get from being outdoors, exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun is vital for our bone health. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, which helps our body absorb calcium.

But we need to balance our desire to be outdoors and getting our daily dose of vitamin D, with protecting ourselves against sunburn, skin cancer, photosensitivity and flares.

So let’s explore each of these issues and look at how to stay safe this summer.

Sunburn and skin cancer

We all know the ‘slip, slop, slap’ message and the importance of protecting ourselves from the harsh Australian summer sun. After all the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is the major cause of skin cancer and we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

And yet we compliment people when they return from a holiday on how tanned they look. For some reason we associate tanned skin with good health.
However the Cancer Council advises us that “there is no such thing as a safe tan…tanning is a sign your skin cells are in trauma.

So protecting our skin is vital, but we still need some exposure to the sun to produce vitamin D.

You can do that safely by exposing your hands, face and arms to the sun most days. But you’ll need to take into account factors such as where you live, the time of the year and the complexion of your skin. They all affect how long you can be exposed to the sun safely. Osteoporosis Australia has developed a chart to help you work this out.

As well as the length of time to expose your skin, you also need to know the safest time of the day to do so. Whenever the UV index reaches 3 and above, most people need to use sun protection.

You can check your local UV Index by visiting the Bureau of Meteorology website or downloading the SunSmart app.

Photosensitivity and flares

Exposure to the sun can be an issue for many people with conditions such as lupus, dermatomyositis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Sun exposure can cause rashes, lesions and flare ups.

Some medications used to treat musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other, more general medications, can also cause your skin to be sensitive to sunlight. This includes antibiotics, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (such as methotrexate), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as diclofenac and ibuprofen), antidepressants and oral contraceptives.

So that sucks. Especially when you’re gazing out your window at a lovely summery day.

The good news is you can enjoy the sun despite all of this

There are lots of things you can do to enjoy the sun safely, without risking your skin. And most of the things you do to protect your skin from sunburn and skin cancer, will also help prevent photosensitivity and rashes.

  • Embrace sunscreen! It’s your new best friend. Make sure it’s broad spectrum – this means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays – and that it has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
  • Slather it on. We really don’t use enough sunscreen. The Cancer Council advises that we need to apply it 20 minutes before we go outside. And that we use about a teaspoon for EACH arm, leg, front of our body, back of our body, as well as our face (including lips, neck and ears). That works out to be seven teaspoons of sunscreen. And you need to reapply at least every two hours. Find out more from the Cancer Council.
  • If you wear makeup, apply your sunscreen before you moisturise and put on makeup.
  • Choose your summer clothing and hats carefully. Not all fabric provides the same sun protection. To block more of the sun’s rays, choose clothing that has a thick, dark fabric with a tight weave and covers most of your skin, especially when the UV levels are high. Make sure your hat shades your whole face, neck, ears and head. Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of at least 7.5cm provide excellent protection.
  • Seek out the shade. Make sure you have places to go where you can retreat from the sun.
  • Keep a sun umbrella handy – or be fancy and use a parasol 🌂 – just in case you’re out in the sun unexpectedly or shady places are hard to find.
  • Try to stay out of the sun when UV levels are high (check your SunSmart app or BOM).
  • Avoid highly reflective surfaces such as sand or water.
  • Talk with your doctor about your medications if you think they’re making you photosensitive. You may be able to use an alternative medication.
  • Don’t forget your sunglasses 😎. We also need to protect our eyes from the UV rays, as the sun can cause serious eye damage. So make sure you grab your sunnies before heading out the door.
  • During warmer weather, you should also ensure that you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

As the mercury soars, summer presents us all with a number of challenges, but also a lot of great times.
Remember to pace yourself, stay well hydrated and protect yourself by following the simple rules of slip, slop, slap, seek, slide. Most importantly, make the most of our warmer weather and enjoy 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.

More to explore


sugar.jpg
13/Jan/2021

It’s the start of 2021 and many of us are feeling the effects of consuming too many yummy things during the holidays. Trifles, honey glazed hams, wine, pavlova, cheesecakes, rum balls, cocktails, pudding, soft drinks, fancy salads with sweet dressings, crackers, lots and lots of lollies…and that was just one day 😉🍩🎂🍹!!

But sadly while we may love these high-sugar foods, they don’t love us back. And if we don’t consume them in moderation, they can have some very negative impacts on our health and wellbeing.

So let’s take a look at the delicious, but bittersweet world of sugar.

Did you know?

Consuming too much sugar can increase muscle and joint inflammation. It can also lead to weight gain, an increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, high blood pressure, acne and dental disease. Which means Mary Poppins had it all wrong with her spoonful of sugar – it doesn’t help the medicine go down ☹.

How much sugar should we aim for?

Because of the many health issues linked to a diet high in sugar, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a guideline that states “in both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake”. (i)

By free sugars they’re referring to the sugars “added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”. (ii)

For an adult with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), 10% works out to be about 12 teaspoons (or 50 grams) of sugar, in all its forms, per day.(iii) While that sounds like a lot, there’s a lot of hidden sugar in our food. Apart from what we add when cooking or making a cuppa, there’s the sugar that’s in our processed, packaged and pre-prepared foods, soft drinks, fruit drinks, bread, crackers, alcohol etc. So it all adds up very quickly.

In the 2018 report Nutrition across the life stages, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that “more than half of the population in each age group up to 19–30 have intakes of free sugars that are greater than the WHO guideline. While this decreased slightly with older age groups, it remains high, with between 35% and 50% of the population with intakes greater than or equal to 10% of energy intake”.(iv)

The main contributors to added sugars intake include: “fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, soft drinks, cakes and muffins, cordials and sweet biscuits”.(v)

But we can change our eating behaviour to reduce the amount of sugar we consume. We don’t have to be a slave to our sweet tooth or our eating habits. And in a short period of time we can experience the improved health benefits of eating a balanced diet, low in sugar.

Did you know?

Sugar has many different names. You may be familiar with some of the ones ending in ‘ose’ – glucose, fructose, dextrose – but there are many that don’t even sound like a sugar, like demarara and turbinado 😐! That’s why it’s a good idea to become familiar with the different names of sugar, so you know what to look for. Choice has a helpful list of 42 different names for added sugar to help you.

Let’s get started – some tips for reducing your sugar intake

  • Get help. You don’t have to do this on your own. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian for advice and strategies to help you reduce your sugar consumption. And get the family involved. It’s more than likely that if one person in the household is consuming too much sugar, then others are too.
  • Read the nutrition information panels and ingredients lists on your packaged foods. EatForHealth.gov.au has some great resources to help you understand what you’re looking at. And remember, sugar has several names that may be listed in the ingredients list – so one product may list sugar, invert sugar, malt extract, glucose solids, golden syrup, and honey – all in the one item! That’s a lot of sugar.
  • Compare similar products. Once you’ve wrapped your head around reading nutrition panels and ingredients lists, compare products before you buy them. For example, compare different yoghurts – one may have a much higher percentage of added sugar than another.
  • Decide how you’re going to do this. You may decide to go cold turkey and stop consuming anything with sugar. This sounds really hard to me 😐 but it works for a lot of people. Or you can make changes gradually and consistently. This can also be tough, so getting help from a dietitian is a really good idea.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary drinks, including alcohol. We know soft drinks are full of sugar, but so too are flavoured milk drinks, fruit and vegie juices and store bought smoothies, slushies, milkshakes etc. Drink water – plain or sparkling instead. And if you want a flavour hit, add some lemon or lime slices, or some mint leaves.
  • Think about why you’re eating that ice cream after dinner or mid-afternoon chocolate bar. Are you actually hungry or is it a habit? If you’re hungry choose something that’s not full of sugar like unsweetened Greek yoghurt with some passionfruit or berries, or a small handful of unsalted almonds. If you’re eating because it’s a habit, do something else. Take the dog for a walk, talk with your kids, fold the laundry, clean your teeth. Distract yourself until you’re no longer thinking about eating.
  • Make sure you’re eating enough fibre and protein. They’ll make you feel full and satisfied, so you’re less likely to snack. Fibre is also important for a healthy digestive system, while protein has many health benefits including providing energy, growing and repairing cells and keeping your immune system healthy.
  • Manage your stress. We often reach for the comfort foods when we’re feeling anxious or stressed because they make us feel better. Find other ways to deal with stressful situations that don’t involve sugary food or drinks.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Being tired or feeling fatigued is one of the many reasons we crave sugary things because we know it’ll give us a quick burst of energy. But that energy doesn’t last. You soon go back to feeling tired and needing more sugar to keep you going. And lack of sleep is also linked to weight gain; when coupled with a diet high in sugar, it’s not a great combo 😣. Read our information on sleep for more information about how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity.
  • Be prepared for the potential for sugar withdrawal. Sugar is addictive, and some people may find they experience symptoms such as headache, fatigue and lack of concentration when they reduce their sugar intake. But it will pass. Have some strategies in place in case this happens to you such as: going for a walk, calling a friend, having a cup of tea or coffee (minus any added sugars or syrups), drinking some water, getting some fresh air, doing a crossword. Whatever works to distract you from the symptoms you’re experiencing.

In the end, it’s up to you how much or how little sugar you want to have in your diet. There are definite health benefits for having a diet low in sugar, but that doesn’t mean no sugar.

So if you’re struggling with the idea of giving up all of the sweet things that you enjoy, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your favourite sweet every now and again.

And you’re more likely to really savour it because you’re eating it because you enjoy it – not because you’re tired, stressed, bored or because it’s a habit. So take some steps today to reduce your sugar intake. Your body will thank you for 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.

More to explore

References

i-ii WHO Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children, 2015.
iii Food Standards Australia & New Zealand: Sugar, 2019.
iv-v AIHW Nutrition across the life stages, 2018.


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13/Jan/2021

We all know that when our muscles and joints are stiff or painful, it can be hard to move. But we also know that regular exercise is essential for managing musculoskeletal conditions. It helps reduce pain and stiffness, and improves joint mobility and strength. It can also improve balance, sleep quality, lower stress levels, improve mood and help us maintain a healthy weight. It’s practically magic!

But when you’re in pain, exercise can feel like the very last thing you want to do. So what to do?

Just add water!

There are so many benefits to exercising in warm water:

  • the warmth is soothing and helps relieve pain and stiffness
  • the buoyancy supports your body and lessens the strain on your joints
  • water resistance enables you to gradually build up flexibility, strength and stamina
  • anyone can do it – no matter your age or level of fitness.

What is water exercise?

A water exercise program is much more than just going for a swim. Swimming regularly is an excellent way to improve your heart and lung fitness without putting too much strain on your joints, but for a complete workout you need to do a range of exercises which move all your joints and work all your muscles. You can easily do this in a warm water pool.

There are different ways you can exercise in water

1. Water exercise classes
You can enjoy the fun, motivation and social interaction of exercising with others in a class that suits your capabilities and fitness level. In these classes all participants follow the same general exercises.

Many recreation and fitness centres run water exercise classes and cater to a wide range of abilities and fitness levels.

Contact your local centre and talk with an instructor to find out what’s available and to discuss your exercise goals. And ask if you can visit the centre and observe a class before you sign up so that you can be sure it’s the right fit for you.

2. Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is specialised exercise therapy run by a health professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist in a specially heated warm water pool. The exercises are tailored to you and your specific needs. You can do hydrotherapy on your own with the health professional or in a small group.

3. Going solo
You can do your own water exercises in a warm water pool at home or in recreation centres, fitness clubs, swimming schools and retirement villages.

Here are some tips for getting started with your own program:

  • If you’re not sure what exercises to do, talk with a qualified instructor or health professional. We’ve also included links to some general exercises in the More to explore section below.
  • Choose a time when the pool is fairly quiet so you can move safely and confidently around the pool area and you’re less likely to be knocked by enthusiastic swimmers and others enjoying more boisterous water activities.
  • Check the ease and safety of access into the centre, around the dressing area and into the pool.

Swimming is also a good form of water exercise you can do on your own. While it doesn’t work all of your muscles and joints through their range of movement, it’s excellent for your heart and lungs.

What if you can’t swim?

If you can’t swim, that’s ok. Water exercise classes take place in water that’s about chest height. So you can stand with your head above the water. You can also use flotation devices to give you the confidence to get moving in water if you’re feeling a bit apprehensive.

Tips for exercising in warm water

Whether you’re exercising at home or in a community pool, participating in a class or doing your own exercises, you’ll get the most benefit from your exercise session and ensure your safety and wellbeing by following these tips:

  • Don’t go into the water if you’re sick, have any wounds or skin irritations/infections.
  • Check out the venue to see if it’s suitable for you. For example, is the pool easy to access? Are the change rooms accessible and comfortable? Is the venue close enough for you to go to regularly? Do the class times and opening hours of the venue work for you?
  • Begin your exercise program with short sessions and gradually build up over time.
  • Perform each movement as gracefully and smoothly as you can.
  • Keep the body part you’re exercising under the water. This may require you to squat or bob down at times.
  • Come out of the water immediately if you feel light-headed, dizzy, drowsy, extremely fatigued or nauseous. These reactions are possible if you spend too long in very warm water. Drink some water and sit or lie down for a while.
  • Stop doing an exercise which causes severe pain or discomfort. Consult your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist if your joint symptoms increase significantly after an exercise session.
  • Ease up if you experience mild to moderate joint or muscle pain for more than a few hours after your exercise session. Some increased pain is normal after exercise, especially when you’re starting out, but if you’re in pain hours after your visit to the pool, you’ve likely overdone it. Reduce the intensity next time – but don’t stop.
  • If you’ve had a joint replacement, keep in mind the movements you were instructed to avoid by your surgeon or physiotherapist.
  • Consider wearing water shoes if you find you’re slipping and sliding in the pool. They’ll give you some grip to help you keep your balance.
  • Have a drink after a water exercise session to replace the fluid you’ve lost through perspiration.
  • Take care when moving in wet areas around the pool, including in change rooms, to avoid slipping and falls.
  • Rest afterwards if you feel tired. Exercising in warm water can be quite draining.

And as always, follow COVID-safe practises and abide by any rules that are in force in your state or territory.

So there you have it. Exercising in the water. It’s a great addition to your exercise routine that’s effective, fun and safe. Why not give it a go?

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


true-love.jpg
17/Dec/2020

With Christmas and the festive season just around the corner, and a tough year almost behind us, it’s the perfect time for a wellness challenge!

And before you roll your eyes, this challenge is fun, it’s easy and we‘ve tied it in with song The 12 days of Christmas… so it all begins on Christmas day 🎄.

So strap yourselves in, it’s a weird and wacky song! But we hope you’ll have some fun with the 12 days of wellness challenge.

Happy holidays, stay safe, and keep well!

25 December

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree…🍐

While a partridge in a pear tree doesn’t sound like cause for celebration, the fact that we’ve made it to Christmas Day certainly is! So let’s celebrate!! Dance around your lounge room, sing carols, toast your family and friends because we made it! We’re with our loved ones – hopefully in person, but if not, virtually is good too. Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy this day.

26 December

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me, two turtles doves… 

Get outside and walk off some of the Christmas yumminess. See if you can spot some turtle doves (might be a tad tricky as they appear to be European) 😂.

Any-hoo, see if you can at least spot a pigeon while enjoying your walk. Enjoy the sunshine and vitamin D and breathe in the fresh air – how good does it feel without a mask?

27 December

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me, three French hens…🐓🐓🐓

What’s with all the birds? Weird, but we can use the French vibe for our third day.

Catch up with friends and do something fun together. Channel your inner Parisian, grab some baguettes, cheese, wine and eclairs (yum), and have a picnic in the park. Or visit a café and enjoy a cafe au lait while you watch the people stroll by. Finish with a promenade along a river or visit a gallery for the perfect end to your day.

28 December

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, four calling birds…

More birds! But they’re on the right track as far as calling goes.

Today call or face time someone you haven’t spoken with for a while. Catch up on their lives and let them know how you’re doing. If this year has taught us nothing else, it’s that our connections are vital. We need them for our physical, mental and emotional health. So pick up the phone and call someone.

29 December

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, five gold rings…💍💍💍💍💍

Now we’re talking! Only joking, I prefer silver 😉.

Today the challenge is to take photos of three things that make you happy. The sky’s the limit – so it may be some gold rings, or your family, your dog, some flowers, a sunset, a meal, or the clouds in the sky. Whatever makes you happy – point and click. And save them so you can look at them whenever you’re feeling a bit down and need a boost.

30 December

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, six geese a-laying…

Come on, seriously? This true love was mad for birds!

Today, let’s hit the trails. Grab your bike, borrow one from a friend, or hire one…and let’s go for a ride. Riding is a low impact and fun exercise that’s suitable for most people. Read our blog for some tips to make your ride a fun, enjoyable outing without the pain.

As usual keep your eye out for birds – especially of the geese variety who may or may not be laying.

31 December

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, seven swans a-swimming…🦢🦢🦢🦢🦢🦢🦢

More birds – sigh. But the swimming part is a great idea! Nothing says summer like hitting the beach, pool, river or watering hole for a swim to cool down. And it’s a wonderful exercise for anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. Your body is supported by the water and the resistance provided by moving through water builds muscle strength and endurance.

And since it’s New Year’s Eve, while you’re floating around in the water, take some time to reflect on 2020 and three things you’re grateful for. It’s been a tough year, but there have been some highlights. What were yours?

1 January

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eight maids a-milking… 

Hello 2021! It’s a new year, and we often start a new year with some resolutions. Instead of doing the usual – lose weight, get more exercise, quit smoking (although we can still do these) – let’s use the new year to a set a goal to do that ‘one thing’ we’ve always wanted to do. And make a plan to achieve your goal.

So if you’ve always wanted to milk a cow, get those milk maids involved and find a cow 😂.

But seriously, most of us have something that we’ve always wanted to try or accomplish. Write a novel, play an instrument, become conversant in another language, take up pottery, learn to cook…whatever it is, write it down, then work out the steps you need to achieve your goal. Check out our info on goal setting for tips and advice. And good luck!

2 January

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing…💃💃💃💃💃💃💃💃💃

Today it’s all about unplugging and a digital detox. Put your phone aside for an hour, 2 hours, the whole day! Dance with nine ladies, or just by yourself 😂, go for a walk, talk with your neighbor, do some yoga/tai chi/stretching, curl up on your couch with a book, de-stress with some guided imagery. Whatever you do, avoid using any tech or gadgets for the time you’ve put aside for your detox…and enjoy!

3 January

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, ten lords a-leaping…

This true love had some wacky gift ideas, but hats off for the creativity!

The tenth day challenge is to do some mindfulness meditation. With Christmas and New Year done and dusted, many of us will be feeling tired from all of our commitments and celebrations. This may have aggravated our pain and fatigue, and made us feel a little overwhelmed. So let’s do something that will help us focus and be mindful. Find yourself a comfy spot, read our info on mindfulness meditation and do the simple body scan we’ve provided.

Or if mindfulness isn’t your thing, what about some visualisation? It also uses the power of your mind to reduce pain and stress, but it’s free flowing and allows you to use your imagination. Remember the details of a past event, visualise a future event, or think of something completely out there…like 10 lords a-leaping 😉.

4 January

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eleven pipers piping…

Today seems like a good day to go all out and make a meal that fills you with joy. Whether it’s something your mum or dad used to make for you when you were little, that brings back happy childhood memories, or a meal that you love but never make because it’s too complicated/decadent/full of calories…cook it! And take time to savour it. Really enjoy each mouthful. And then blow your own trumpet about how good it is (😉 – that’s the closest I could get to pipers!).

5 January

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, twelve drummers drumming…🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁

Drumroll please- let’s go out with a bang!

Today is the day to do whatever you want. So it’s not a hard challenge at all 😊.

Put your favourite music on and sing, dance, do your best air guitar/air drums or just sit back and listen. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment – in a salon or at home. Read a book or magazine, put your feet up and relax. Go for a hike with friends. Pull out the Lego and let your imagination go wild. Build a fort in your lounge. Stay in your PJs all day. Explore a gallery/museum/library – in person or virtually. Go hot air-ballooning. Buy a drum kit and go crazy – like Animal from the Muppets playing with Dave Grohl, or the True Love’s twelve drummers.

Take this day to do something that makes you happy and fill you with joy. Life’s short – let’s make every moment count.

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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17/Dec/2020

…when it comes to complementary, alternative and ‘natural’ treatments

Many Australians use complementary or alternative treatments to manage their health condition (e.g. arthritis, anxiety) or to improve their overall health and wellbeing. But what are these treatments and what do you need to consider before trying them?

Complementary and alternative treatments include a wide range of therapies, medicines, products or practices that aren’t currently considered to be a conventional or mainstream medical treatment. They include acupuncture, meditation, massage, herbal treatments, yoga, aromatherapy and naturopathy.

The word complementary usually refers to treatments that are used alongside conventional medicine, whereas alternative usually means the treatment is used instead of conventional medicine.

To make things easier (and less wordy), we’ll use the term complementary treatment when referring to all types of complementary or alternative treatments in this article.

Why do we use complementary treatments?

People are attracted to these treatments because they often have a more holistic approach and treat the entire person, rather than just their condition or symptoms. They also appear to be more natural and safer than conventional medicine.

But it’s important to understand that as with any treatment, complementary treatments may cause harm and make you unwell if they’re not taken correctly, if they interact with one of your other medications, or if the practitioner you see isn’t properly trained or qualified. That’s why you should discuss your use, or intended use, or any complementary treatments with your doctor.

Do they work for musculoskeletal conditions?

While many people feel that using complementary treatments has been beneficial for their health and wellbeing, there isn’t as much evidence to support its use for musculoskeletal conditions as there is for conventional medicines.

For many complementary treatments there just aren’t enough well-designed randomised controlled trials to show whether or not these therapies are effective. And if they are effective, for which conditions or symptoms.

However some types of complementary treatments show promise and may be helpful for managing your condition. More and more research is now focusing on these treatments. But at the moment the evidence is still lacking so it’s best to take your time, do your research and make sure the treatment is right for you.

Tips for starting a new complementary treatment

Let your doctor know what you’re doing. Keep them informed about any things you’re taking or considering taking (e.g. supplements, homeopathic treatments, herbal medicines) as well as any other therapies you’re trying or considering trying (e.g. acupuncture, yoga).

Continue taking your medications as prescribed. Don’t stop taking any medications without first discussing it with your doctor. Some medications need to be gradually reduced, rather than simply stopped, to avoid side effects.

Think about what you want to get out of the treatment. Are you hoping to control symptoms like pain or fatigue? Sleep better? Reduce or stop taking certain medications? Manage your anxiety? When you have a clear goal from the beginning of your treatment, you can monitor your progress and see if there are any improvements. After starting a new treatment, write down any changes you notice for a month – remember to include any medication changes, changes in your exercise program, the amount of sleep you’re getting and anything else that could affect your symptoms. At the end of the month, you’ll have a clearer picture of whether or not the treatment is working. If it’s not, it may be time to look for an alternative.

Do your research and ask lots of questions. Some treatments may help you manage your condition or symptoms, while others will have no effect. Visit websites such as MedlinePlus and The Cochrane Library to learn more about the treatment. And talk with your doctor and the therapist. Find out if:

  • there’s any current evidence that the treatment is effective and safe for people with your condition?
  • the treatment’s been shown to be effective in repeated scientific studies with large numbers of people?
  • the research used a control group? A control group is a group of people who don’t have a particular treatment compared with a group of similar people who do. This helps to show that any results are due to the treatment and not some other factor.
  • potential risks, side effects and interactions with other treatments are clearly identified?
  • you can continue to use your current effective treatments, as well as the complementary treatment?
  • the treatment’s something you can afford and can access easily?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you should be wary of the treatment. Discuss it with your doctor or specialist before you go any further.

Check the qualifications of the person providing the treatment.

  • Do they receive regular training and updates?
  • Have they treated other people with your condition or health issues?
  • Are they a member of their peak body?
  • Are they accredited?

Buy Australian. Australian complementary medicines are subject to strict safety and quality regulations. This may not be the case in other countries. In Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) ensures the safety of medicines and other therapeutic treatments.

Call Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). As well as information on your prescription and over-the-counter medicines, they can also help you find out more about herbal medicine, vitamins and minerals.

After doing your research, if you have any doubts about the treatment, don’t use it.

Talk with your doctor or contact our MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 helpline@msk.org.au for information about other treatment options.

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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17/Dec/2020

Smoking is bad for your health. There’s no denying it. And as we come to the close of a very stressful year, and we start thinking about our resolutions for the New Year, quitting smoking is a good choice.

As well as the obvious links to cancer and lung disease, smoking’s linked to back pain, neck pain, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Smoking also causes fatigue and slower healing, which can make your pain worse. And it can make some of your medications less effective.

So quitting smoking has many health benefits. Within weeks of quitting you’ll breathe easier and have more energy, making it easier to exercise and do your day-to-day activities.

Quitting can be really tough, and it may take several attempts, but you can do it. And it’s so worth it.

Tips for quitting

Get help. You don’t have to do it on your own. There are lots of people and organisations who can help you. Talk to your doctor, contact Quitline (137 848) or ICanQuit and get your family involved.

Decide on a strategy. Are you going to use medication, nicotine replacement, coaching or a combination of strategies? Or are you going to go cold turkey? There’s no ‘one size fit all’ strategy for quitting. Learn more about the many different ways you can quit smoking.

Choose your day to quit. Mark it in your diary, put a big note on your fridge and get ready. Toss out any cigarettes you have in the house, car, office or garage. Fill your pantry with healthy snacks and get your walking shoes ready.

Talk to your family and friends. Let them know what you’re doing and why, and ask for their support.

Write down the reasons you want to quit and put this list in prominent places to encourage and motivate you.

Be prepared for withdrawal. It can make you tired, cranky, anxious, hungry and interfere with your sleep and concentration. These symptoms will eventually go away over the next 2-4 weeks, but you should be prepared for them.

Know your triggers. Each smoker will have different triggers, like smoking when you’re stressed or unhappy, or after you’ve eaten, when you’re drinking with friends, or watching TV. So it’s important to know your triggers and have some strategies in place for when you’re hit with the urge to smoke. Find out about triggers and the different things you can do to manage them.

Calculate the cost. Smoking is really expensive! Use this calculator from ICanQuit to work out just how much money you’ll save if you quit smoking. It’s sure to be a motivator!

Manage your weight. Some people find that they gain a little weight when they quit smoking. This can be for many reasons – eating becomes a substitute for smoking, food tastes better so you eat more, eating becomes a new way to manage stress or anxiety. But knowing this may be a problem means you can be prepared. Make sure you have healthy snacks on hand, watch your portion sizes, make sure you get plenty of exercise and learn new ways to manage your stress.

Get some exercise. It’s vital for overall good health, and it’s a great way to manage the pain and symptoms of your musculoskeletal condition. And how much easier is it when you’re not smoking?

Use some of the money you save and treat yourself to something special. You’ve worked hard – spoil yourself with a massage, visit a favourite restaurant, buy that outfit or pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on. Treat yo’ self!

Be kind. Quitting can be difficult and you may have a slip-up or two. It’s not the end of the world, or the end of quitting. You can get back on track. So be kind to yourself.

For more tips to help you stick with quitting, check out the great info on the Quitline and ICanQuit websites.

Quitting smoking is hard – but there are so many rewards.

Take your first step today – talk to your doctor, get your family and friends on board to support you, and contact Quitline on 13 78 48. You’ll feel so much better.

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

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.

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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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