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12/Sep/2018

As someone who wears a lot of black you might be forgiven for thinking that adopting a ginger coloured cat was probably not the smartest thing to do. Sure, it’s a little frustrating when you’re in a hurry and you notice the fur coating your clothes. Or when your house looks like a giant fur-ball.

But armed with my new best friend – the lint roller – I know that the benefits of owning a pet (in my case two very cute cats) was one of the best things I could do for my health and happiness.

When you live with a chronic condition, you often go through periods when you’re up, and then you’re down. It’s just the nature of the beast. But sometimes those downs can be really down. You’re in pain, things can look bleak, and it can be hard to ‘turn that frown upside down’.

But I find that the crazy antics of two young cats – chasing after toys, wrestling with each other, ninja fighting something only they can see – has a great impact on my mood. Sure, the pain is still there, but the distraction they provide, and the unconditional love, has real health benefits.

Research has shown that owning a pet can:

  • decrease cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • decrease feelings of loneliness
  • reduce stress
  • improve mood
  • increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities.

I’m sold – let’s go shopping!

Hold your horses for just a minute. If you’ve been thinking of getting a pet, and you think now’s the time, it’s important that you do your research. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of adopting a pet, and you want to make sure the fit is right for you and the animal. The RSPCA has several resources to help you decide on the right pet for you. Check the More to explore section below for links.

I love animals, but I can’t have a pet 🙁

Sadly owning a pet isn’t an option for everyone. They can be expensive, you may live somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you don’t have space, or you work long hours and aren’t home very much.

If that’s the case, but you want to be around animals more, there are other options:

  • offer to walk a family members/friends/neighbours pet (I saw a person walking an alpaca on a lead recently!)
  • volunteer time at an animal shelter – there are lots of things you can do – grooming, feeding, playtime socialisation, patting cats, walking dogs
  • look after a family members/friends pet when they go on holidays
  • think outside the litter box – there are others pets you can adopt that may be an option – fish, birds, spiders, mice and rats. They may provide a bit more flexibility than the traditional cat or dog ownership
  • watch videos online. The internet is practically one big animal video…cute cats, playful pups, sneezing pandas. It’s all there waiting for you to find. And even though you’re not in physical contact with an animal, this connection can boost your mood and relieve stress.

More to explore


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02/Aug/2018

Written by Thalia Salt

My name’s Thalia and I’m twelve years old. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis when I was five years old, which was caused by a joint infection in my left hip when I was ten months old. I like to sing and act, and I love hanging out with my friends after school.

Living with arthritis from such a young age is hard, but it has some advantages. I’ve been finding different ways to cope for my whole life, which means I have some quite effective strategies up my sleeve. But there are many things that aren’t so great. I learned to walk with arthritis, so my gait was awkward. I don’t know what it’s like to have no pain, and sometimes when I do have lots of pain my body tunes out of it until it’s unbearable.

The arthritis has also gotten in the way of my life outside of school activities. I have to sit down when I sing, and I’ve had to do several performances in my wheelchair. When I’m with my friends, we have to limit our activity accordingly. I haven’t been able to participate fully at school and have had to resort to a mobilised scooter in the past just to get around.

This story has a happy ending though. In June 2017, I had a total hip replacement. Since then, I‘ve been walking up to 3km, running, getting around school without my walking aids. I’ve also been swimming and riding my bicycle.

Something else that’s changed is the amount of medication I’m taking. Before, I was taking a large range of medications, including some very strong painkillers. Now I take hardly any medication. My personal lifestyle has also been greatly altered. I’ve been able to move around the house freely, participate in my outside of school activities like any other person, although I’m still not up to standing up for more than a few minutes. I’ve been discharged from the physiotherapist and have started to see a personal trainer.

In the future, I should be able to participate in P.E. at school, stand up for as long as I like, walk around my neighbourhood with my friends after school. I should have no pain, which is something that I’ve not experienced before. I can’t wait to go to the beach without my crutches and being able to do whatever I want when I get there, without worrying about the consequences.

My top 5 pain management tips

  1. Heat packs. Something that affected me a lot was the cold in the dead of winter. A heat pack when relaxing can often ease the pain, particularly when I go to sleep.
  2. Crutches. These help take the stress off your joints. Obviously this only works for pain in your legs.
  3. Reducing movement before a large amount of exercise. If I know that I’m going to participate in an activity that requires a lot of physical movement, I’ll take it easy for a few days, as if I’m “saving” the soreness for later.
  4. Not constantly being on all the meds. That way, when you’re in a lot of pain you have something you can take.
  5. Stretch constantly. I know that maintaining the right amount of exercising and protecting your joint is hard, but a large cause of pain is stiffness from not moving enough. So, you need to stretch. A lot.

Our guest blogger

Thalia is a positive ambassador for young people living with arthritis and chronic pain.

She’s worked tirelessly to raise the profile of arthritis in young people and how it affects them. She’s held fundraising events, received many awards, created a Facebook page, a vlog on YouTube about her surgery and much more.


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02/Aug/2018

Gathering your all-star support team

Written by Amanda Sobey 

Attempting to take control of your chronic condition can at times be a daunting and uncertain challenge. Ensuring you have a strong team around you to help tackle each milestone, step by step, can make it feel achievable.

So who might be in your personal support team?

Health professionals

Depending on your individual needs, your team may be made up of a variety of health professionals. These could include your GP, rheumatology nurse, specialist, pharmacist, physiotherapist, rehabilitation practitioner, occupational therapist, nutritionist or dietitian, physiotherapist, remedial massage therapist, acupuncturist, health coach, counsellor, podiatrist, or your exercise physiologist. Share your goals with your health practitioner up front to maximise the limited time in your appointments and so they can help you progress.

Your personal cheer squad

Surrounding yourself with people who lift you up and encourage you to take charge of your condition can be empowering.

Family and friends

Let them know how they can help you and keep them in the loop as you go along. Let them celebrate the small wins with you. Examples could be receiving positive results of reduced inflammation from your latest blood test, that you managed to walk around the block comfortably, or that you had a pain-free night’s sleep. They might be able to help you hang out that load of washing or put a home cooked meal in your fridge. They can provide a second pair of ears when you need to off-load, question information you’ve been given or accompany you to your next medical appointment. They can also be great companions for a belly laugh, keeping active and getting out of the house!

Peer support group contacts

Being able to connect with people who are going through the same challenges can mean the world. This might be through online social networks or contacts you’ve made at meetups. Group members will be at various stages of their conditions. Some will be newly diagnosed, others may be long-time chronic illness warriors. They’ll be happy to share their experiences and provide insight based on what has helped them.

Studying?

Consider letting your teacher or course convenor know about your condition, so that they can provide assistance if you need to ask for an extension, or are unable to attend a class. It’s also worth finding out about other support services available at the school or university you are studying with.

In the workplace

If you feel comfortable, let your employer or HR Manager know about your condition so that they can provide flexibility, if and when you need it. They’ll be appreciative of any information you can share with them about your condition, so they know how best to help.

On the road to wellness

With the right support around you, taking control of your chronic condition can feel even more possible. Keep your care team in the loop, share your highs and lows and be sure to celebrate each milestone on your wellness journey.

Our guest blogger

Amanda Sobey is a co-founder of Young Adults with Arthritis+ (YAWA+), an online peer support network for young adults in Australia aged 18-35 with arthritis and related chronic conditions. Amanda was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 22 and is passionate about raising awareness and helping others on their wellness journey.

For more information please visit the following links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/yawaplus
Twitter: www.twitter.com/yawaplus
Instagram: www.instagram.com/youngadultswitharthritisplus


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22/Jul/2018

Tips for getting back on your bike

The Tour de France is on again. And there’s nothing like watching great athletes race through the French countryside – past beautiful chateaus, idyllic villages and madly cheering fans. If you’re like me, it’s enough to make you drag your bike out of the shed, dust the cobwebs off and hit the road. Literally.

One spin around my small suburban street and I crashed.

It seems my ability to ride a bike, like most things you don’t do on a regular basis, has disappeared. Along with my ability to roller skate, climb trees and bounce out of bed fresh as a daisy after a late night out.

But the saying “it’s as easy as riding a bike” must exist for a reason, right? So I persevered, and while I’m still a little wobbly, and hills are a challenge, I’m doing it!

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

  1. Get a bike – obviously tip number 1 for riding a bike is to get one.
    • If you’re buying a new bike, get advice from people you know who ride regularly. Find a good bike shop and talk with the staff. Check out the Choice guide to help you know what to look for.
    • Borrow a bike from a friend or neighbour. That way you can give cycling a go before you spend any money on a new bike.
    • If you already have a bike, go over it to make sure it’s in good condition. If you’re not sure what you need to do, enrol in a basic bike maintenance course. Just Google it, and you’ll find places that run these courses in your area.
  2. Make sure your bike is fitted with all the necessary bits and pieces you’ll need. Much of this will depend where/when you plan to ride, so seek advice from other cyclists or from the bike shop. But some of the things you may need include: comfortable seat, light, bell, basket/rack, water holder, lock, pump.
  3. Find the perfect outfit for you – this doesn’t need to expensive, but does need to be comfortable, brightly coloured so others can see you, made out of fabric that breathes, and if you’re riding at night or when it’s getting dark, reflective. Oh, and padding in bike shorts can help protect you from some unpleasant pain in sensitive areas! You’ll also need a good helmet that fits you properly. Remember it’s compulsory in Australia to wear an approved helmet when riding a bike.
  4. Where to ride – this is an important one. You’re more likely to ride more regularly if you feel safe and you’re in a pleasant environment. So depending on where you live, riding around your local streets may not be the best option. Taking your bike to a park or local bike trails may be the best way for you to build your confidence. Make sure the paths are easy to navigate, wide enough for you and others to get by, not too steep (at least while you’re relearning to ride) and have places where you can stop for a breather, have a drink and enjoy the surrounds.
  5. Grab the family and friends – exercising is often more fun when you do it with others. And riding a bike is a great activity for people of all ages and levels of fitness.
  6. Start small. It’s easy to get swept up in the ride – the nature around you, the hypnotic effect of turning the wheels around and around, the wind in your face – and then you realise you have to cycle back to where you started. So be aware of the distance you travel. Starting small also gives you the time and space to relearn riding your bike – how the brakes work, the gears, steering, not crashing!
  7. Drink water. You’re exercising, so you’ll be sweating and losing fluid. Take regular breaks to rehydrate.
  8. Check out the networks – both formal e.g. Bicycle Network and local, informal cycling groups. You’ll get information, support and advice, and you’ll meet new people.
  9. Enjoy yourself! Cycling is a really enjoyable activity – so get out there, check out the countryside and have fun.

More to explore

  • Your local council website for cycling groups, paths and other resources
  • Your state/territory government parks websites for information on riding safely in parks, maps and much more.

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28/Jun/2018

Many of us are using complementary medicine. It may be to help with a specific health condition or to improve our overall health. But what is complementary medicine and what do you need to think about before trying it?

Complementary medicine is a wide range of treatments that generally aren’t considered to be mainstream or conventional medical treatments. Complementary medicine includes acupuncture, vitamins and minerals, aromatherapy, herbal treatments, yoga and naturopathy.

We’re often drawn to these treatments because they appear to be more natural and safer than conventional medicine. But that’s not necessarily true. As with any treatment, they 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.

Our top tips

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).

Do your research and ask lots of questions. Some treatments may help you manage your pain, while others will have no effect. Is there any current evidence that says the treatment is effective and safe for people with your condition? Is the treatment affordable? What are the possible side effects? Will the treatment interact with your other treatments or medications?

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.

If in doubt, don’t take it. Talk with your doctor or contact our MSK Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265, or email helpline@msk.org.au.

More to explore


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28/Jun/2018

And stay focused and motivated

It’s important to have goals in life. Whether it’s a goal involving travel, a new career, financial security or a goal relating to your health and fitness, having a clear goal – or an endpoint – gives you something to aim for.

But if you find it hard setting goals, and putting in place the steps you need to achieve them, you’re not alone. Here are a few pointers for setting a goal. I’ve used a weight loss goal as an example:

Be as clear as possible about what it is that you want to achieve, and how you’ll do it.

A common acronym used for goal setting is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time frame.

Be specific. What is it you’re aiming for? Ask yourself the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, why. What do you want to accomplish? Why? Who will be involved to help you? When and where will you do this?

You need to be able to measure your goal so that you know when/if you’ve achieved it. Losing weight is not a measurable goal, but losing 5kgs in 8 weeks is. You’re able to track your weight loss and the time frame.

Your goal needs to be something that’s achievable for you. It should challenge you and stretch you a little, but should be something that’s attainable, e.g. losing 20kgs in 2 weeks isn’t achievable, however, losing 5kgs in 8 weeks is.

You need to be realistic – your goal needs to be doable – for you and for your own circumstances. Losing 5kgs in 8 weeks is realistic for you because you’ve discussed it with your doctor, you’re committed (you know it’ll help ease your pain), you’ve enrolled in a weight loss class for information and support and you’ve joined a water exercise class so that you can exercise without making your knees more painful.

Your goal should have a time frame. Losing weight someday is not a timed goal. Having a time frame, e.g. 8 weeks, gives you motivation and helps keep you on track.

Using the SMART system, write down your goal and the steps you need to get there. Stick it on your fridge, bathroom mirror or someplace you’ll see it often. Refer to it regularly. If you have any hiccups along the way, that’s okay, don’t give up. Just refer back to your goal and move on.

Now that you know how to set a goal, it’s time to think of one of your own. What is it that you want to do or achieve?

Remember to think SMART and you’ll get there in the end! Good luck.


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28/Jun/2018

You know what it’s like. It’s 3.00am and you’ve just woken up. Again. You glance at your clock and do the maths – only 4 hours until it’s time to get up. This is really taking a toll on you – your mood, your performance at work, and your pain levels.

So what can you do?

  1. Avoid using technology in bed. The blue light from laptops, tablets and smartphones suppresses the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy at night. So be sure to stop screen use at least one hour before bed.
  2. Get out of bed. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. Have a warm drink (e.g. milk, no caffeine), do some gentle stretches or breathing exercises and go back to bed when you feel more comfortable.
  3. Develop a sleep routine. There’s a reason we do this with babies and small children – it works! As often as possible, go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Your body will become used to this routine and you’ll find it’s easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  4. Don’t look at the clock. Constantly checking the time can make you anxious, which makes it hard to sleep. Try removing your clock from the bedside, or cover it up at night.
  5. Try some relaxation techniques. There are as many ways to relax as there are stars in the night sky (well, almost) so there’s bound to be something that suits you. Consider trying mindfulness, visualisation, deep breathing or a warm bath before bed. These techniques will help you become more relaxed and may help you manage your pain better so that when you go to sleep, you sleep well.
  6. Be active during the day. As well as the many other benefits of regular exercise, it’ll help you fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
  7. Seek help. If pain is constantly keeping you awake at night, talk with your doctor about other things you can do to manage your pain and get some decent sleep.

And check out our A-Z guide to managing pain. It’s full of tips and strategies to help you manage your pain.


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27/May/2018

A book by people like you

Chronic pain is a common and complex problem that affects 1 in 5 Australians.

It’s exhausting, a bit tricky and hard to know where to start.

Fortunately, with our book Managing your pain: An A-Z guide you can start anywhere!

Medications, sleep, laughter, fatigue, breathing. Think of it as a ‘choose your own adventure’ to getting on top of your pain.

The book emphasises practical strategies tried and tested by people like you – consumers living with musculoskeletal conditions. There are also a bunch of quotes and useful insights to keep it real.

You might also like…

We also have a helpful kids pain book called The worst pain in the world. It’s beautifully illustrated and loaded with practical advice for children living with pain (not just those with arthritis). It also gives kids who don’t live with pain an understanding of what their friends or family are going through. Copies can also be ordered through the our online shop.


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27/May/2018

Do you get enough calcium and vitamin D? Along with regular exercise, they’re important for bone health.

Calcium

Almost every cell in your body uses calcium in some way.

Most of the calcium is stored in your bones. They act as your calcium bank. You need to make regular ‘deposits’ to cover the ‘withdrawals’. The rest is found in your blood and body fluids.

If you don’t have enough calcium in your diet to maintain adequate levels in the blood, then your body withdraws calcium from your bones. If calcium is constantly taken from your bones, they’ll become weaker over time.

For adults the amount of calcium required each day is between 1000 – 1300mg – the exact amount depends on your age and gender.

Calcium can be found in lots of foods – including dairy food, oranges, sardines and salmon, almonds, tofu, baked beans, green leafy vegetables.

Calcium is listed on the nutrition panel of packaged foods – so check to see how much is in the foods you buy.

If you can’t get enough calcium in your diet, talk with your doctor about whether a calcium supplement may be necessary.

Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones for many reasons. It helps increase the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the small intestine, helps regulate the amount of calcium in your blood and helps strengthen your skeleton. It can also assist with muscle function and reduce your risk of falls.

The main source of vitamin D is sunlight so you need to expose your hands, face and arms to the sun every day. The amount of time you need to do this depends on where you live, the time of the year and the complexion of your skin. Osteoporosis Australia has developed a chart to help you work this out.

In Australia we have high levels of skin cancer, so you also need to make sure you expose your skin to the sun safely. SunSmart has developed an app which will help work out when it’s safe.

Vitamin D can also be found in small quantities in foods such as: fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel), liver, eggs and fortified foods such as low fat milks and margarine, but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get enough vitamin D through your diet alone.

If you aren’t able to expose your skin to the sun regularly (e.g. you’re a shift worker, you have a condition that makes your skin sensitive to sunlight), you may be deficient in vitamin D. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor. Vitamin D supplements may be needed.

Take action for the health of your bones and find out more about calcium, vitamin D and osteoporosis.

Contact our MSK Help Line on 1800 263 265 and speak with a nurse or our trained volunteers for information.


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26/May/2018

Not just a fashion statement from the 70s!

From time-to-time many of us experience a flare, when symptoms like pain, inflammation and fatigue are worse, or more intense. This is a flare.

Flares are temporary, but can be frustrating and painful while they last. We don’t always know why they happen – and sometimes they seem to come out of the blue.

So it’s important that you have a plan for how you manage a flare when it happens.

Your flare plan

  • Write down what you were doing before the flare as this can help you identify potential triggers.
  • Talk with your doctor about what you should do when you have a flare. You may need to adjust your medications, or alter the dosage during a flare.
  • Have a plan in place for how you will deal with your commitments – family, work, social activities – when you’re in the middle of a flare. Can you alter your work hours, work from home, get your family to help out?
  • Prioritise your tasks and activities. This can reduce the risk of overdoing things.
  • Pace yourself. If the flare is the result of overdoing things, think about getting people to help you, or spread the activity over a greater period of time, e.g. if you want to clean your house, get the family involved and give each person a room or zone that they’re responsible for; or spread the job over a few weekends and assign yourself a room, a zone or a period of time to clean that’s achievable for you. When you’ve cleaned that area, or reached that time limit, stop. You can go back to it later.
  • Manage your stress, it can increase your pain levels. If you feel yourself becoming stressed, try relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and visualisation, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Pull out all of your pain management strategies. Use heat or cold packs, get a massage, go for a walk, distract yourself…use all the things you know help you manage your pain.
  • Rest when your body needs it – but not for too long. Going to bed and not being active during a flare can make your pain and fatigue worse. Continue to exercise, but at a lesser intensity than usual. Listen to your body.
  • Use aids and other gadgets when your joints are painful and swollen. This will help protect your joints, and reduce some of the pain you feel when doing everyday tasks.

Some of the suggestions listed here are easy, however others involve a bit of thought, as well as input from others. But taking the time to work out a plan that works for you will help you manage your flares better, and with less disruption to your life.

Get advice from your doctor, and others in your healthcare team. Contact our MSK Help Line on 1800 263 265 and speak with a nurse or one of our trained volunteers.




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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