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15/Sep/2021

This is the third in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

What is a specialist in healthcare?

A specialist is exactly what it sounds like. A person – in this case, a medical doctor – who has undergone additional training to become a ‘specialist’ or an expert in a specific area of medicine.

Specialists work in clinics and in hospitals, both in the private and public health systems. To see a specialist, you’ll need a letter of referral from your general practitioner (GP) or another specialist doctor.

As far as musculoskeletal conditions go, the most common specialist that people will see is a rheumatologist. But many other specialists help people manage their condition. Let’s explore each of them.

Whether you see any of these specialists will depend on your condition, symptoms, and their effect on your overall health and wellbeing.

Seeing a specialist

To see a specialist, you’ll need a referral letter from your GP or another specialist doctor. This will include information about your symptoms and test results.

You can visit a specialist in a clinic or a hospital. Depending on various factors such as where you live, the number of specialists available, the urgency of your situation, and if there’s a waiting list, you may see a specialist quickly, or you may have to wait.

Talk with your GP about the costs involved when discussing your referral. Medicare will cover part of the fee to see a specialist but not all of it. Specialist fees can be high, and depending on your circumstances and eligibility, this may influence whether you see a specialist at a bulk-billing hospital or in a private clinic. If you have private health insurance, this may also cover some of your costs. However, it’s essential to ask about fees and your choices before seeing a specialist.

The Better Health Channel suggests asking the following.

Does the specialist:

  • work within the public or private health system?
  • bulk-bill via the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS)?
  • require gap payments?
  • have a payment plan?
  • accept my private health cover?

Before your first appointment

When making your appointment, ask what information or test results you need to bring with you. The specialist may already have access to all or some of this information via your health records, but it’s a good idea to double-check.

You can also be proactive and create a file containing all of your results, records, medications and other treatments. Take it with you when you visit the specialist. That way there’ll be no potential delay in your assessment and treatment if your specialist can’t access some of your information. And make sure you include your referral letter.

Write down a list of questions about the things you want to know. This may be about diagnosis, treatment options, the benefits and risks of different treatments, costs, things you can do to manage better etc. Put them in order, with the most important questions at the top of the list. That way, if you run out of time, they’ll have been answered first.

Make sure you have an up-to-date list of your meds to take with you. This can be extremely helpful if your specialist hasn’t been able to access this information through online channels. You may want to use an app to keep track of your medicines so you always have this information with you. The MedicineWise app from the National Prescribing Service is free to download. You can create a list of your medicines by scanning their barcodes, set reminders for when to take medicines, store your test results and much more.

Consider taking a family member or friend with you. Healthcare appointments can be stressful, and having an extra set of eyes and ears can help you take it all in. They can also provide emotional support before, during and after your appointment.

During your appointment

The specialist will ask you about your symptoms and examine you.

Be open and honest when answering their questions. The specialist needs all the relevant information about you and your health to have an accurate idea of what’s happening and how best to treat you. They’ll need information about your medical history, other health conditions, treatments (both conventional and complementary) and lifestyle factors (e.g., how often you exercise, if you smoke, your diet etc.).

You may have one or more visits to your specialist before they have all the information they need. They may also send you for further tests. Once they have all the necessary information, they’ll explain your condition to you and what treatment they think you should have.

If you don’t understand what they’re suggesting, or you need more information, ask the specialist to explain further. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for this. Musculoskeletal conditions and treatments are complicated, so the more you understand, the better. And don’t be afraid to ask them to write things down for you.

After your appointment

Follow the treatment plan that you and your specialist have agreed upon. If they’ve requested you have further tests or book more appointments, make sure you do this as soon as possible.

If you’ve been prescribed medication, take it as instructed. If you can’t remember, or you’re not sure how to take it, talk with your pharmacist or call your specialist.

And for information and support between visits to your healthcare team, call our national Help Line on 1800 263 265 weekdays.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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15/Sep/2021

Ever had a moment when you’re so enraged you feel like you’ll explode?

I was watching the news recently, and something made me furious. It flicked a switch in me, and I wanted to throw my glass at the wall. Such an OTT soap opera moment 😂. Fortunately for my wall and my glass, I didn’t follow through. But it was a close call.

Many of us are angry at the moment. We may put on a happy face, but it’s simmering just below the surface. And it only takes a tiny thing to release it, leading us to do or say something impulsive we’ll regret later.

Where’s this anger coming from?

The last 18 months have been exhausting. We’ve been living with constant stress, anxiety and frustration. And there’s no end in sight yet. This has had a significant impact on our mental health. And one of the ways this can manifest is as anger.

What’s changed?

Last year we were all in it together – sort of.

But now, it seems like it’s every person for themselves. Us against them. State vs state. Community vs community. Politicians who can’t work together, constantly fighting 😤.

We’re so over everything that we’re losing empathy and tolerance for others.

So it only takes something minor to make you lose it 😤 😡 – someone cutting you off in traffic, unsolicited text messages from MPs, another appointment/event/freedom cancelled because we’re STILL in lockdown, or just stubbing your toe against the bedside table – ARGH 😤!

And when it happens, we often take it out on those least deserving of it. Our loved ones who’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the retail/hospo worker just doing their job.

Apart from the negative impact our anger has on ourselves and those around us, being angry all the time, or not addressing this anger, affects our physical health. It can cause high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, depression, insomnia and digestive issues. It also makes us unhappy, and no one wants that. So here are some tips to help you manage your anger before you have an OTT soap opera moment.

13 tips for managing anger

1.Breathe

Pause and take some calming breaths. If you can, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Slowly take a deep breath. Fill your lungs to a capacity that’s comfortable for you. Then slowly release this breath. Don’t release it in a sudden exhale, but control it so it’s slow and smooth. Continue to take slow, even breaths…in and out. You’ll feel your muscles start to relax, and your mind will begin to calm.

2. Step away from the situation or put away your phone.

Our reactions when we’re angry can be out of character, and we can regret our actions once we’ve calmed down. So if you can, physically remove yourself from the space until you calm down. And put away your phone. Text messages or phone calls made in anger are the worst. And you can’t take them back.

3. Acknowledge how you’re feeling

Don’t suck it up. It’s okay to not feel okay. When you’ve had a chance to calm down, examine why the situation/person/event made you angry. Was it a rational response? Or was it an overreaction? Think about other ways you could handle the situation if something similar occurs.

4. Write it down

This can be really cathartic. Write down how you’re feeling in a journal or on a piece of paper. This lets you get it out and then reflect on your feelings, which can help you understand why you react in a particular way. It can also help you get a better handle on your emotions.

5. Then let it go

In the end, holding on to anger only makes us and those close to us unhappy.

6. Be kind to yourself

Use simple strategies to reduce stress; try exercising, talking with a friend, meditating, making a cup of tea, doing something creative. Whatever relaxes you, do it! It’ll help you put your stress and anger behind you and make you feel more energised and positive.

7. Be kind to others

Nothing makes you feel better than being kind to others…letting someone in front of you at the checkout, holding the elevator, complementing a colleague on their work, thanking the delivery person, hugging your kids. These small acts of kindness are easy to do and go a long way to making us all feel better and less angry.

8. Create a daily routine to increase feelings of control

A regular daily routine gives you control in a time when so much is out of our control. Separate work and non-work time. Prioritise your connections with others, healthy eating, sleep and exercise. Have a work/school week routine and a weekend routine.

9. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t

At the moment, many of us can’t visit our friends and family. We can’t travel or have a meal in a restaurant. We can’t celebrate together. And that all sucks. But we can call our friends and family. We can travel through books, virtual tours, revisit past travels and plan future trips. We can send cards, presents and tokens to celebrate milestones and occasions. It’s not the same, but it is still doing something. So focus on the things you can do.

10. Agree to disagree

Don’t let your differences affect your relationships with others. We’re all feeling heightened emotions, and we’ve all got our opinions. A lot has been thrown at us in the last 18 months! But if there’s tension or anger when discussing certain viewpoints, agree to disagree, and move on.

11. Monitor your social media use and limit your news intake

Too much media can increase feelings of frustration and anger. It certainly did for me! So I now skim through the paper once a day, and instead of watching the evening news, I’m watching old episodes of Friends (it’s on all the time 😊). With this routine, I’m in control. I’m aware of what’s happening in the world, I’m avoiding the most sensational stuff, and I’m enjoying spending quality time with old friends 😉. I’m also limiting my time on socials and spending the time doing other things that are more enjoyable and relaxing.

12. Be careful with drugs and alcohol

While it might seem like an easy way to unwind when you’re stressed or angry, drugs and alcohol won’t solve the issues that make you angry. So just be careful here. It’s an easy habit to fall into and a hard habit to break.

13. Seek help from a professional if your anger becomes overwhelming or feels unmanageable

Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling and ask them for help.

Anger is an important emotion, but if you start to feel it more and more, it can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing. So next time you start to get worked up, try these strategies to get you through. It’ll take practice, but it’s worth the effort.

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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15/Sep/2021

Guest blog written by: Polly Bongiorno and Mathew Richardson

Have you heard people talking about myotherapy but don’t know what it is?

You’re not alone. Myotherapy is a relatively new treatment method for pain which has been rapidly growing in popularity in recent years.

What is myotherapy?

Myotherapy is a health care profession that focuses on assessing, treating and managing pain associated with musculoskeletal conditions.

Myotherapists are known for being hands-on with their treatments, and one of their great strengths is their soft tissue skills.

The treatment skills of a myotherapist can be classified broadly as either ‘active’ or ‘passive’.

Passive treatments are those that are ‘done to you’, providing short-term relief of pain to restore preferred movements. These can be incredibly helpful when working to change protective muscle spasms, movement patterns, fears and stress.

Active treatments are longer lasting, and involve you changing behaviours that will lead to long-term health benefits. These include exercise, education, lifestyle modifications and exploring the many different contributors to your pain.

In essence, myotherapy helps people in pain move better and live their best life. A myotherapist will foster a relationship of respect, care and trust with you to form a unique plan to get you back to doing the things you love.

So, what sets myotherapy apart from the rest?

Myotherapy treatment sessions are often longer than those of other allied health providers. This gives the therapist time to develop and implement a comprehensive, individualised plan for care and recovery and still have ample time for strong hands-on therapy and exercise rehabilitation. It also allows time to nurture the relationship with you.

Myotherapists are uniquely placed to offer a wide range of personalised treatments that can help to reduce pain and get you moving again. Myotherapists understand that no two people are the same, and so no two people should be treated the same when it comes to pain.

What does a typical session with a myotherapist look like?

One of the greatest benefits of a myotherapy session is longer treatment time. Time that is essential to ensuring your myotherapist will listen to you and your personal pain story. The myotherapist will ask you lots of questions to get a complete picture of your medical history and to understand your expectations and treatment goals.

They’ll listen carefully to understand the nature of your problem and its impact on your life. This will include all aspects affected by your pain. These can be:

  • physical – e.g., work, exercise, lifestyle
  • psychological – e.g., anxiety, stress, beliefs
  • social – e.g., access to health care, support system, family relationships.

The myotherapist will then assess your body – muscles, tendons, nerves, ligaments, joints – and movements, to rule out serious conditions that may require referral to another healthcare professional, before moving ahead with treatment.

They’ll use a range of interventions, tailored to you and your goals. This may include soft tissue therapy to calm an over-protective nervous system, as well as exploring lifestyle and stress reduction strategies, exercise and movement interventions. They’ll also help you find ways of getting back to doing the things in life, that pain may have disrupted or affected.

Finally, they’ll help you make sense of why you hurt, and what to expect on your journey of recovery. Understanding what’s happening to you and why, can be a powerful pain reliever.

How is myotherapy different from physio or osteo?

By definition there isn’t a lot of difference between musculoskeletal health professionals. Myotherapists use many of the same orthopaedic assessment techniques as physiotherapists and osteopaths, and many of the same treatment techniques. Apart from minor differences in approach, the differences mainly lie in the scope of practice, rather than the quality of treatment.

For example myotherapists commonly treat general musculoskeletal pain and movement dysfunction, whereas physiotherapists also extend their treatment to cardiovascular and serious neurological pathologies.

Accessing a myotherapist

You don’t need a letter of referral from your doctor to see a myotherapist.

They typically work in settings such as private clinics, sporting clubs or community health services.

Myotherapists may work closely with other allied health professionals, general practitioners and specialists to get the best outcomes for people living with pain, regardless of the complexity of their problems.

Cost

The cost to see a myotherapist may vary, so ask about costs when you’re making enquiries about booking an appointment. You may be able to claim your treatment through your private health insurance. Check with your health fund to find out if myotherapy is covered, and if so, how much of the treatment is covered and how many sessions you can claim.

In summary

Myotherapy treatment aims to help you become confident that you can return to moving your body in ways that best support your lifestyle and what you value. It’s all about you.

Consider myotherapy the next time you’re in pain. Myotherapists are health professionals with a deep understanding of the human body and can help you on your journey to wellness and vitality. If you’re in pain and want to try myotherapy, contact your local myotherapist or visit www.myotherapy.org.au to experience the difference.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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26/Aug/2021

This is the second in our series exploring the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

Mental and emotional support professionals

Being diagnosed with a musculoskeletal condition can be overwhelming. You may feel a range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, stress, loss, worry and anger.

And living with a condition that causes ongoing pain and fatigue, and has the potential to change the way your body moves and functions can cause you to feel an array of emotions too.

If you feel these ups and downs, you’re not alone. Many people living with musculoskeletal conditions find that their emotional and mental health is affected from time to time. In fact, anxiety and depression are more common in people with musculoskeletal conditions than in the general population.

It’s important to recognise signs of these conditions and seek help as early as possible. Together with your healthcare team, you can develop a treatment plan that fits your needs physically, emotionally and mentally.

Your support team

Depending on your needs and whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, or you’re seeking support to help manage your emotions, you may see one (or more) of the following professionals:

Your general practitioner (GP) – is usually the first person you see when you have a health issue. As well as helping you manage your musculoskeletal condition, they coordinate your care and help you access other health professionals and services. If you require specific support for your mental health, they’ll work with you to create a mental health treatment plan. This plan entitles you to Medicare rebates for certain mental health professionals and care via the Better Access initiative.

A psychologist – can help you work through your feelings, particularly if you’re feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. They can also help you set goals and work through any problems that may be preventing you from achieving your goals.

A psychiatrist – is a medical doctor who’s undergone further study to specialise in diagnosing and treating mental illness. They tend to treat severe and complex illnesses. They’re able to prescribe medication, such as anti-depressants, if appropriate.

A mental health nurse – is a registered nurse who’s undertaken additional training to care for people with mental health issues. They work in the community and hospital settings to support people in managing their mental health and treatment.

A mental health occupational therapist (OT) – OTs help people learn better ways to do everyday occupations (or activities). Those working in mental health help people lessen the impact their condition has on their quality of life and their ability to do their everyday activities.

An accredited mental health social worker – specialises in assessing, treating, and preventing mental health conditions. They help people manage their condition and its impact on their family, friends, work, and education.

A counsellor – is someone you can talk through your problems with. They can help you find clarity and solutions. A trained counsellor has usually spent three or more years studying counselling; however, there’s no requirement in Australia that counsellors have any qualifications or experience.

Wow, that’s a lot of support! How do you choose who to see?

Several factors will influence your decision:

Your mental health issues/condition. It can be challenging to know what to do or where to go when you’re struggling with mental health issues. This is where your GP comes in. They’re trained to help people with their mental health issues. By talking with you about your situation, they’ll be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist to get the care you need. They can also assess whether you’re eligible for a mental health treatment plan.

Your history. Have you seen a mental health professional before? Do you have a good relationship with them? Have you experienced good outcomes from your sessions with them? If so, you may decide to go back to them. If not, discuss your options with your GP.

Cost. If you’re able to access subsidised treatment via the Better Access initiative, you’ll be able to see a mental health professional at a reduced cost. However, health professionals set their own fees, so be sure to ask about out-of-pocket costs when you’re booking your appointment. If these costs are an issue for you, even with Medicare rebates, talk with your GP.

Access. If you live in a rural or remote area, you may not be able to see a mental health professional in person. In this case, you may be able to access them via telehealth. Telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp) on your smartphone, tablet or computer. You can choose phone or video consultations, depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it.

Treatments

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when treating mental and emotional health issues. Treatment will be tailored to your unique situation and the goals you have. But treatment will commonly include:

Lifestyle factors – regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good quality sleep, managing your stress and limiting your use of alcohol and drugs are practical things you can do to improve your physical, emotional and mental health.

Psychological therapies – also called psychotherapy or talk therapies – explore the feelings, thoughts and behaviours that are distressing you, and work towards changing them. It can be used by people with mental health conditions and people who want to understand themselves better.* There are many different forms of psychological therapies, including:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this helps people learn to identify and change negative or unhelpful thoughts that have a harmful effect on behaviour and emotions, and replace them with more objective, realistic thoughts. People learn practical coping strategies such as goal setting and problem-solving that they can use in the current situation and in the future.
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy — combines cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness strategies.
  • acceptance and commitment therapy – focuses on acceptance to deal with negative thoughts, feelings, symptoms, or circumstances. It also encourages a commitment to positive, healthy attitudes.

Medication. For some conditions, such as moderate to severe depression, you may be prescribed anti-depressant medication. This will work alongside treatments such as lifestyle changes and psychological therapies. Find out more about anti-depressant medications.

Other support is available

  • Your family and/or close friends can be a great source of support and understanding.
  • Peer support groups, or people in similar situations, can also be a valuable resource. Talking with someone who really understands what you’re going through and has lived experience and practical info is priceless. Groups meet in person and online. For specific mental health groups, check out this list by the Black Dog Institute. https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/support-groups/
  • Mental health organisations provide a considerable amount of information and support to help you manage your mental and emotional health. See the list below for details of these groups.
  • Online therapy. There’s also a lot of information online that you can access whenever and wherever you want. Healthdirect has some information to help you find out more about eTherapy, including links to useful sites.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

Mental health organisations and resources

Reference

* Psychotherapy, healthdirect, September 2019.


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26/Aug/2021

Have you noticed how much more fun and rewarding exercising is when you do it with others? Whether with family or friends, in a team or in a class, in person or online, exercising together has many benefits.

It motivates you.
It’s much easier to hit snooze and roll over in bed if you’d planned to go for an early morning walk on your own. But if you’re meeting a friend for a walk or a workout, knowing that they’re waiting for you can give you the push you need to get up and pull on your workout gear. If you’ve paid for a class or gym membership or you’re part of a team, the same goes. You don’t want to waste your money or let the team down.

It’s a way to connect with others.
Exercising together is a way to spend quality time with people who are important to us, or share our interests. It’s also a great way to meet new people. And this interaction often extends beyond the gym, sports field or walking trail with pre or post-exercise catch-ups.

It provides support and encouragement.
This is particularly important when feeling tired and sore, but we know exercise (at a reduced intensity) can help us manage these symptoms. Our exercise buddy can provide encouragement to start exercising or to keep going.

It can challenge you to push yourself harder.
When you’re exercising with others, especially if you’re similarly matched in terms of fitness levels, you’re more likely to push harder and spur each other to increase the intensity of your exercise or the distance you walk/run/cycle. This continual challenge provides the best health outcomes over time.

Fitness leaders provide structure and form.
Exercising with a qualified instructor – in person or online – ensures your workout has a proper structure. That includes a warmup, workout and cool down. The instructor can also make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly to get the most benefit and make sure you’re not going to injure yourself.

It’s fun and makes you feel good!
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into your bloodstream. They’re sometimes called ‘feel-good’ chemicals because they boost your mood and make you feel good. They also interact with receptors in your brain and ‘turn down the volume’ on your pain system. Combine that with the company of your bestie or your partner/kids/neighbour, and it can be a fun time for all 😊.

Finding an exercise class, group or centre that suits you

OK, so you’re motivated and want to join an exercise group. How do you find one that suits you?

First – you need to be COVID safe and follow the specific rules in your state or territory.

If in-person classes aren’t possible at the moment, you have other options.

There are lots of free exercise apps, YouTube channels and websites with free online exercise programs. These can be especially helpful when you need or prefer to exercise from home. There’s a class or group to suit all fitness levels and tastes. Read our blog about online exercises for more info and links.

If you can exercise together in person, try these sources to find an exercise class, group or centre that suits you:

  • Neighbourhood houses and community centres are ideal starting points to find exercise options close to you. Visit the Australian Neighbourhood Houses and Centres Association Members page to find your state or territory’s website, where you can then search for local houses or centres and find exercise programs they offer.
  • Local councils are also a good source of information about exercise programs. Go to your local council’s website and search ‘exercise classes’ to see what they offer.
  • Some larger gyms and physio centres have heated indoor swimming pools where you can swim laps or join a warm water exercise class. You can also search online for classes held at community swimming centres.
  • Walking groups are a fun way to get active, meet new people and socialise. The Heart Foundation has over 1200 walking groups around Australia, you can search for one close to you here.
  • parkruns are free, weekly community events are held all around the world with 5km walks and runs in parks and open spaces on Saturday mornings. Everyone is welcome, there are no time limits, and no one finishes last!
  • Fitness Australia has an online directory of personal trainers and businesses. If you’re looking for an exercise class in your area, select Find a Business, click on Group exercise classes and type in your suburb. It’s that simple!

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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05/Aug/2021

The thought that you might need surgery one day because of your musculoskeletal condition can be a frightening one. The good news is that most people can manage their condition with the usual treatments of medical care (e.g. GP, specialist, medications and allied health) and self-management (e.g. exercise, weight management, relaxation, aids and equipment).

Surgery is usually only required when all other treatments have failed to bring any relief.

Reasons for surgery

For some people, surgery may be an option to:

  • relieve pain that’s no longer controlled with treatments such as medications, heat and cold, massage or exercise
  • improve joint movement
  • improve mobility and independence
  • correct the position of joints that have become misaligned
  • improve their health and wellbeing if joint pain affects their sleep, mental health, ability to work or take part in other important activities or events.

Is surgery right for you?

That’s something only you can answer, after consultation with your doctor and an orthopaedic surgeon, and weighing up the benefits and risks. In the end, it’s your choice whether you have surgery.

If you’re not sure or don’t feel comfortable about the information you’re receiving from the surgeon, ask your doctor to refer you to another surgeon for a second opinion.

Types of surgery

There are many types of surgery that people with musculoskeletal conditions may undergo. Your surgeon will discuss which one is right for you. We’ve focused on the most common and provided links to websites with information on others in the More to Explore section.

  • Arthroscopy – allows surgeons to look inside the joint and see any damage. The surgeon makes a small cut (or incision) into the site (e.g. your ankle) and inserts the arthroscope. It has a tiny camera that provides images from inside the joint. The surgeon can then diagnose the problem (e.g. damage to the ligament or cartilage) and/or treat the problem. Arthroscopy is most commonly used for conditions affecting knees, shoulders, elbows, ankles, hips and wrists. It’s important to note that arthroscopy is not recommended to treat osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. Evidence shows that it’s not effective in improving OA knee pain.
  • Joint fusion (arthrodesis) – involves fusing two or more bones in a painful joint together. This essentially turns them into one bone and relieves pain because the joint no longer moves. Joint fusion is often done in the ankles, spine, feet, fingers, thumbs and wrists.
  • Joint replacement – is exactly what it sounds like. A damaged joint is replaced with a metal, ceramic or plastic device (prosthesis). The entire joint may be replaced (total joint replacement), or only a section (partial joint replacement). The replacement is designed to replicate a healthy joint and allow you to move it freely and without pain. The most commonly replaced joints are the hip and knee; however other joints such as shoulders, elbows, fingers, ankles, toes can also be replaced.
  • Joint resection – involves removing part of the bone from a joint, or the entire joint, to improve the range of motion and relieve pain. Resection is often done in toes, thumbs and shoulders.
  • Joint revision – involves a prosthesis from an earlier joint replacement being removed and replaced. This may occur because the joint has worn out (most modern prostheses last 15-20 years), an infection has developed at the site, or the replacement has become unstable.
  • Osteotomy – is surgery that involves cutting, shaping and repositioning bone. This may be done if, for example, a knee joint is wearing unevenly, and there’s more pressure on one side than the other, causing pain and instability. The surgeon will cut and reshape bone in the knee so that pressure is distributed more evenly across the joint. Osteotomy is most commonly used for knees and hips but can also be helpful in other areas such as the spine or jaw.
  • Synovectomy – is the removal of tissue (synovium) from the inside of a joint. In inflammatory forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, the synovium can become inflamed and excessively thick. This causes pain and may limit joint movement. A surgeon can remove some of this synovium, relieving pain and improving joint function. This surgery is often performed using an arthroscope. The most commonly treated joints are ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, wrists and fingers.

Understanding your surgery

All surgeries have an element of risk and the potential for complications. That’s why it’s essential that you know as much as you can before you have surgery. And while it can sometimes be intimidating asking questions, it’s your right as a patient to be fully informed.

You should discuss the risks of your specific surgery with your surgeon and anaesthetist before you decide whether to go ahead with it. And if you don’t understand something, ask them to explain it some more.

As well as understanding the procedure and what to expect, don’t forget to ask your doctor about any rehabilitation required, the costs involved with surgery and for an idea of how long you may be waiting for your surgery. Both may factor into whether you decide to go public or private (if you have private hospital cover with your health insurance).

You should also find out if you can do things before surgery to minimise these risks – for example, lose weight or quit smoking. Knowing and understanding potential risks enables you to make an informed decision about surgery.

Finally, it can be helpful to take someone with you to these consultations. There can be a lot to take in, so an extra set of eyes and ears can help you make sense of it all. They can also provide you with support if you feel anxious or stressed (which is completely understandable!).

Getting ready for surgery

Once you’ve made the decision to have surgery, you need to get ready. You’ll have the best outcomes from surgery if you’re at your healthiest and fittest. Your GP and healthcare team (physio, dietitian, exercise physiologist, psychologist) can help you do this safely. Depending on your own circumstances, you may need to:

  • Meet with your surgeon and healthcare team – they’ll give you information and advice so you know what to expect during and after surgery. Depending on your surgery, you may need to undergo an assessment before you have surgery.
  • Exercise – to strengthen your body and help you manage your pain and mental health before surgery. An exercise physiologist or physiotherapist can provide you with an exercise plan to suit your needs.
  • Lose weight – if you’re overweight, losing some extra kilos will aid your recovery. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is the best way to lose weight and get the nutrients you need for good health. Talk with a dietitian for a dietary plan to help you lose weight, or join a weight loss group.
  • Quit smoking – as smoking can increase your risk of complications during and after surgery.
  • Have some meals prepped in your fridge and freezer – so you don’t have to worry about cooking healthy meals when you come home after surgery.
  • Prepare your home – remove any trip hazards (e.g., rugs, loose cables, cords), ensure your lighting works in all areas, and if necessary, install handrails in your shower, beside the toilet and beside any steps or stairs to provide you with extra support.
  • Get your family or friends involved – you may be in some discomfort when you return home from the hospital and may need help. Enlist the aid of your family and/or friends to help with things such as taking you to medical appointments, running errands, getting dressed, doing housework, or cooking.

After surgery

  • Monitor your wound as instructed by your surgeon.
  • Talk to an occupational therapist about aids and equipment – depending on the surgery you’re having, you may require some aids to help you out in the short or long term, such as walking aids, shower stools, tap turners etc. They can also give you information and advice about things such as your bed and chair heights and ways to save your energy while recovering from surgery.
  • Stay active – exercise is essential after surgery, especially those prescribed by the physiotherapist at the hospital. Perform these exercises as instructed and check in with the physio as required. This will ensure you get the most benefit out of your surgery.
  • Take any medication as prescribed.
  • Look after yourself – eat healthy, balanced meals, drink plenty of water, sleep well, don’t smoke and deal with your emotions. It’s ok to have some ups and downs after surgery, so acknowledge how you’re feeling.
  • Write down any questions you have for your surgeon, doctor and allied health team, so you don’t forget them when you get to your appointments.

What are the costs of surgery?

If you’re a public patient having your surgery at a public hospital you don’t pay anything for your medical treatments.

Costs for many private treatments are also fully covered by Medicare and private health insurers.

However, you may have to pay out-of-pocket costs if you have medical treatment as a private patient in a private or public hospital. This can include costs for:

  • doctors or other health care providers
  • hospital charges such as accommodation and theatre fees
  • costs incurred outside a hospital, for example for appointments or diagnostic tests.

For more information on out-of-pocket costs visit the Department of Health Website.

If you have health insurance and you plan to go through the private health system to have your surgery, contact your health insurer to find out if your procedure is covered by your level of cover, and if you’ll be facing any out-of-pocket costs and waiting periods. We’ve listed different levels of cover and what they include on our website.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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05/Aug/2021

Humans have evolved to be an incredibly social species. That’s why our connections are so important to us – with family, friends, work colleagues, teammates, walking buddies, fellow book clubbers and staff at the local coffee shop. They all play a role in shaping who we are and how we get on in the world.

So when we can’t see these people in person due to lockdowns, restrictions, quarantine and the general chaos of COVID, it’s really hard on us.

The last 16 months have been so wearing – both physically and emotionally. We’re living with heightened feelings of anxiety and stress – what will the case numbers be today, when will I be able to visit loved ones, how long will we be homeschooling, when will life go back to ‘normal’??

Unfortunately, there aren’t any simple answers for any of these questions – especially the last one.

But there’s a simple thing you can do to combat the loneliness, lethargy, emotional fatigue and general feeling of ‘meh’ that COVID is causing us to feel. And that’s staying in touch with your peeps and extended community.

How to stay connected when you have to stay apart

First, we should never forget that restrictions and social distancing measures are all about physical distance. We need to remain separate from others so that the virus can’t spread. But that doesn’t mean we have to be socially separated or isolated.

Even before the pandemic, we used technology to remain connected. COVID has just put that on the fast track, and we’ve become familiar with video chats, long phone calls, and messaging.

So what else can you do to ensure you remain connected with the people and places important to you?

Check in. And no, there’s no QR code involved in this one 😀! Take time daily to check in with yourself. How are you doing? If you’re feeling anxious or lonely, or overwhelmed, reach out to others for support. If you’re feeling fatigued or in pain, what can you do to deal with this? Taking a few moments to check in with yourself each day helps you deal with any issues before they become significant problems.

Take time to connect with those in your own home – your partner, kids, parents, siblings, housemates, pets, plants🌷😊. How’s everyone doing? Share your experiences and feelings about the day. And if you want to go beyond the small talk, try these ‘36 questions for increasing closeness’ from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley (USA).

Phone a friend. Make a regular time to call/video chat with those important to you. And make that day/time sacred – nothing (other than an emergency) should get in the way of this contact.

Get everyone involved. Call your nearest and dearest for a group chat and…watch movies, listen to music, make dinner, enjoy happy hour, fold the washing, discuss a book, play online games. You can still do things together even if you can’t be together.

Get out and walk. Exercise is essential for our physical and mental health, so get out and breathe in the fresh air. Take the family for a stroll, or meet up with a friend in the park. If you can’t walk with your usual crew, link your fitness apps and compare how many steps you’ve done for a little friendly competition 😉. Go on a scavenger hunt. Or send pics to your network of the things you see on your walk. Walking isn’t just a good form of exercise – it can become an adventure, or a mindfulness exercise, or a chance to see other people in the flesh (and safely distanced).

Connect with your neighbours. Have a chat over the fence as you do your gardening or peg out the laundry. Or sit in your separate yards/driveways/balconies and just natter the afternoon away. Take note of any neighbours who live on their own and reach out to them. See if they need any assistance, groceries, someone to take the bins out, or most important of all, simple human interaction. It’s what we all need to get through this.

Immerse yourself. There are lots of online support/hobby/social/exercise groups that you can access from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can learn new things and meet new people without stepping out your door. And the beauty of online groups is they don’t even have to be in the same city, country or continent! Befriend Inc has created a handy guide to help you find and attend social groups online.

Send a care package. To someone you care about, or someone you know is having a difficult time. Send books, jigsaws, flowers, yummy food, a handwritten note. Anything that lets them know you’re thinking of them. It’ll be a lovely surprise and a boost for them, and for yourself. “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way” – Mary Anne Radmacher.

Give thanks. Even though we’re tired, frustrated, anxious and sick of the stupid virus, there are still things to be thankful for. Taking time to reflect on these things helps us feel more positive and more fulfilled. Find out how you can become more grateful in your everyday life.

Volunteer your time and skills – from home. Volunteer work can be rewarding for yourself and your community. And there’s a lot of volunteer work that can be done online or remotely. So think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit GoVolunteer and search the database for volunteering opportunities.

Learn something new. There are so many organisations providing online learning courses, and many of them are free or low-cost. Just search online using your favourite search engine, and explore what’s available. Also, check out Laneway Learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses), TAFEs, colleges and community houses. You’ll come out of this pandemic with so much knowledge you’ll wow everyone at your next trivia night 😉. And you’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people. Win-win!

Worship. Attending churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship with our family and friends isn’t an option for many people at the moment. The good news is that a lot of them are now online. Contact your place of worship or search online to see what events are being streamed and when. Gather with your extended family and friends virtually after worship to celebrate together.

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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05/Aug/2021

This is the first of a series of blogs that will explore the different groups of health professionals and therapists who’ll help you live well with a musculoskeletal condition. For ease of reading, we’ll be referring to them all as practitioners.

Managing a chronic musculoskeletal condition – or multiple conditions – can be complicated. To help you get the best health outcomes and maintain (or improve) your quality of life, you’ll probably see a variety of different health professionals and therapists.

Who you see and how often will depend on your condition/s, symptoms and how they affect your life.

Physical or manual therapies

These therapies provide a hands-on approach to help relieve your pain and stiffness and improve your mobility, movement and joint function.

They’re often referred to as physical, manual, manipulative or hands-on therapies. The most common are:

  • Chiropractic – this involves manipulation and manual adjustment of your spine. It’s based on the premise that if your body, especially the spine, is out of alignment, it can affect the health and function of other parts of your body.
  • Massage – involves rubbing and manipulating the soft tissues of your body, especially your muscles. Massage can improve blood circulation, ease muscle tension and help you feel more relaxed. There are a variety of different types of massage available.
  • Myotherapy – involves assessing, treating, and managing the pain associated with soft tissue injury and restricted joint movement caused by problems with your muscles and the tissue surrounding your muscles (the fascia).
  • Occupational therapy – helps you learn better ways to do everyday activities such as bathing, dressing, cooking, working, eating or driving. An occupational therapist can also provide information on aids and equipment to make everyday jobs easier.
  • Osteopathy – is based on the premise that your body’s wellbeing depends on your bones, muscles and other soft tissues functioning smoothly together and correctly aligned. It uses physical manipulation, massage and stretching.
  • Physiotherapy – uses physical means (e.g., exercise, massage, heat and cold) as well as education and advice to help keep you moving and functioning as well as possible. Physiotherapists can also show you pain relief techniques and design an individual exercise program for you.
  • Reflexology – involves pressure applied to specific points of your feet or hands. These points are believed to match up with other parts of your body.

All of these therapies will provide additional support apart from the hands-on treatment. This may include specific exercises for you to do at home, relaxation techniques and pain management strategies. Some practitioners (e.g., chiropractors, physiotherapists and myotherapists) may also use medical devices such as ultrasound, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or dry needling alongside their hands-on treatment.

Talk with your GP and/or specialist

Before seeing any new practitioner, it’s best to discuss the treatment with your GP and/or specialist (e.g. rheumatologist). They may have some cautions about a treatment as it relates to your specific health condition/s. For example, they may recommend that you not get a treatment if you’re going through a flare or have active inflammation. Or, if you have fused joints or osteoporosis, they will likely advise against treatments that manipulate or adjust your joints or spine.

On the flip side, they may also provide you with recommendations of practitioners they’ve worked with or who have a particular interest in your condition.

Do your research

When making enquiries about a potential practitioner, ask lots of questions. For example:

  • How does the treatment work?
  • What are the possible side effects or risks?
  • Have you treated other people with my condition or health issues?
  • Do you need to see any of my recent medical tests (e.g., x-rays)?
  • How long does it take for this treatment to work?
  • How will I know if it’s working?
  • What can I expect during a treatment session?
  • How often will I need to see you?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Can I claim this treatment on my private health insurance?
  • What are your qualifications?
  • Do you receive regular training and updates?
  • Are you a member of the professional association for this treatment/practice?

You can also contact the professional association and check their list of members to ensure the practitioner is registered. Or visit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency website and search for the practitioner.

What to expect at your first appointment

Regardless of the type of practitioner, you can expect to have a detailed discussion about your musculoskeletal condition and medical history, symptoms and what you hope to get out of the treatment.

Be wary of any practitioner that doesn’t give you this time and attention to understand your situation and your needs. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to healthcare.

Keep track of your progress

It can be helpful to keep a daily diary tracking your symptoms so you can see if the therapy is working for you. Write down any changes in your pain levels, fatigue and other symptoms for a period (e.g., a month). Also include any changes to your medications, exercise routine, the amount of sleep you’re getting and anything else that could affect your symptoms. After a month of tracking, you’ll have a clearer picture of whether or not the therapy is working.

And keep your GP and/or specialist informed about how you’re going with the physical therapy.

Be careful

All treatments – from hands-on physical therapies to medications and vaccines – have benefits and risks. You need to weigh these up to make an informed decision as to whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks for you.

And if you have conditions such as osteoporosis or inflammatory arthritis, you should avoid manipulative treatments such as chiropractic and osteopathy.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

Professional associations


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15/Jul/2021

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

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

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

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

What’s a safe amount of alcohol to drink?

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

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

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

How does alcohol affect your health?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of putting a pause on the plonk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to help you reduce the hooch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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15/Jul/2021

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

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

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

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

Here are our top tips:

Watch your portion size

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

Choose wholegrain foods over those that use refined or processed grain

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

Enjoy lean protein

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

Be adventurous!

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

Be wary of your sugar intake

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

Fake it!

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

Seek help

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

Other tips for keeping healthy and well during winter:

Take your time

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

Stay active

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

Drink water

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

Batch cook

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

Make your meals colourful

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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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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