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Spring-clean-image-web.jpg
10/Sep/2020

Last issue we talked about spring cleaning our physical environment. There’s nothing like a thorough purge of your home or office, and the sense of satisfaction when everything is clean and organised just the way you like it 😊.

But it’s also a really good time to start thinking about how you can spring clean yourself – your body, mind and spirit.

2020 has been a really tough year and it’s not over yet.

We’ve been isolated, locked down, separated from loved ones, working from home (or lost work 😢) and home schooling. Through it all we’ve done the best we can to cope with a really difficult situation. But that takes a toll on us – physically and mentally – especially if you’re living with a chronic condition, pain and fatigue.

So let’s take advantage of the warmer days and the extra downtime many of us are dealing with and look at how we can sweep away the cobwebs and make ourselves sparkle this spring!

  • Unplug. We’re always connected these days, immersed in the news, social media, video chats, work/school, phone calls. We’re never far away from a phone, tablet or computer – and we need to step away. Schedule time to put it all aside: perhaps after dinner, or for an hour during your day, or for your entire Sunday. Whatever works for you and your commitments. Just make sure you take some time away from the digital world, step outside and breathe in the fresh, sweet smelling spring air 😊.
  • Say no. We’re wired to want to please others, so we often find it difficult to say no. But that can make us become overwhelmed and stressed with the number of commitments we have. That’s why we need to look after ourselves and start saying no. The next time someone asks you to do something, give yourself a moment. Don’t answer immediately with an automatic ‘yes’. Ask yourself if this is something you want to do? Are you able to do it – physically and mentally? Do you have the time to do it? Will it bring you happiness? If you answered no to these questions, then you should say no to the request. You may disappoint some people and they may be a little unhappy with you. But you need to be true to who you are and stand firm. And don’t feel the need to give detailed reasons for saying no. Saying no is really hard, but it will become easier.
  • Change your routine. Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rut? I know it feels like Groundhog Day at times! So look at your routine. What can you change? Take your work/school commitments out of the equation for now. Do you spend your evenings on the couch? Or weekends doing the same old things? Stop and really think about what you would actually ‘like’ to do with your free time. Go for a bike ride? Take up painting? Visit a new place each week? Find things that you enjoy, and fill you with anticipation and happiness, and do them. Now think about your work routine. There may not be things you can change about work – but why not put on your favourite outfit/earrings/shoes/lipstick – even if you’re working from home. Or use some new stationary or bit of tech. It’s amazing how these small changes give us a mental boost 🤗
  • Focus on the basics – eat well, move, sleep – repeat. This time of the year we have access to amazing fresh produce that’s just crying out to be made into delicious salads and stir fries. The days are getting longer and warmer so we can get outside more for our exercise. We can shed the heavy blankets and adjust our sleep habits. There’s never been a better time than now to focus on these basics and make improvements if needed. And finally, make sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking enough water each day.
  • Surround yourself with positive, upbeat people. Positivity and happiness is contagious. And in the midst of a pandemic – this is the kind of contagion we need 😉. These people will inspire you, make you feel good about yourself and the world in general. Too much contact with negative people (in person and via social media) does the opposite and makes the world a gloomy place. So seek out the happy, positive people and enjoy their company. And if you can, ditch the negative people.
  • Take some time out to relax. Try strategies like mindfulness, visualisation and guided imagery. Or read a book, listen to music, walk the dog, create something, play a computer game, have a bubble bath or massage. Whatever relaxes you. And make sure you do these things on a regular basis. They’re not an indulgence – they’re a necessity and vital to our overall happiness and wellbeing.
  • Let’s get serious – sugar, fats, alcohol and drugs. Many of us have been seeking comfort in sugary and/or fatty foods more than we’d like. Or we’ve been using alcohol and/or drugs to make us feel better. Over time this becomes an unhealthy habit. So it’s time to get serious. Ask yourself if your intake of these things has changed or increased? If it has – what do you need to do to fix this? Can you decrease their use by yourself? Or do you need help from your family, doctor or other health professional? The sooner you acknowledge there’s a problem, the sooner you can deal with it.
  • Nurture your relationships. It’s easy to take the people around us for granted, but these people support and care for us day in and day out. They deserve focused time and attention from us. So sit down and talk with your kids about their day. Make time for a date night with your partner and cook a special meal to share together. Call or visit your parents and see how they’re really doing. Reminisce with your siblings about childhood antics and holidays. Our relationships are the glue that holds everything together for us – so put in the effort. You’ll all feel so much better for it ✨.
  • Quit being so mean to yourself. You’re valued and loved 💖. But sometimes we forget that. And the negative thoughts take over. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m lazy”, “I’m a burden” 😢. If you wouldn’t say these things to another person, then why are you saying them to yourself? Ask yourself why you even think these things? And how can you reframe these thoughts? If, for example, you tell yourself you’re fat – are you actually overweight or are you comparing yourself to the unrealistic media image of how a person should look? And if you do know you need to lose weight, and want to make that happen, put those steps in motion. Talk with your doctor for some guidance and help. And congratulate yourself for taking action. And as you make these changes be kind to yourself along the journey. There will be stumbles, but that’s expected. You can pick yourself up and move on. Kindly.
  • Throw away the ‘should’s. This is similar to the negative self-talk…we need to stop should-ing ourselves to death. This often happens after we’ve been on social media and seen someone’s ‘amazing’ life. You start thinking “I should be better at X”, “I should be doing X”, “I should be earning X”, “I should look like X”. Remember that most people only put their best images on social media, so everyone’s life looks wonderful. But you’re just seeing the superficial, filtered person, not the whole, and they probably have just as many insecurities as the rest of us. Instead of thinking “I should…”, be grateful for who you are and what you have.
  • Be thankful and grateful. You exist! And yes, the world is a strange and sometimes frightening place at the moment, but you’re here to see it. People love and care for you. Focus on the people in your life and the things you’re grateful to have in your life. Celebrating these things – both big and small – reminds us why we’re here. To bring joy and happiness to those around us, and to make the world a better place 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧👨‍👨‍👦‍👦👩‍👧👪.

Call our Help Line

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

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10/Sep/2020

If you live with a musculoskeletal condition, chances are you’ve had a flare at some stage. Your body turns up the dial on your pain-o-meter and wow…that hurts 😢. As well as increased pain you may experience increased joint stiffness, inflammation and fatigue. As a result everyday activities – getting out of bed, showering, looking after the kids, working, cooking – become much more difficult.

Flares are frustrating and painful. You don’t always know why they happen – and sometimes they seem to come out of the blue. How long they last is also uncertain and can in part depend on how you deal with them.

What causes a flare?

Flares can be caused or triggered by a number of things including:

  • stress
  • changes in medications
  • overdoing it physically
  • changes in weather
  • poor sleep
  • illness, infection or injury.

Knowing the triggers that cause you to have a flare can help you be prepared and take control.

Your flare plan

Be prepared

  • Talk with your doctor about the things you can do to manage a flare when one occurs. This may include pain relieving medications to help you get through the worst of it, as well as self-management strategies, including rest, gentle exercise and the use of heat and cold. You may also need to adjust your medications, or alter the dosage during a flare.
  • Have a plan in place for how you’ll deal with your commitments when you’re in the middle of a flare – family, work, home life, social activities. Can you alter your work hours, work from home, get your family to help out with chores?
  • Manage your stress. Many people find they’re more prone to flares when they’re stressed. Unfortunately we’re living through a particularly stressful time at the moment 😷. But there are things you can do to deal with stress. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and visualisation, avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes. And talk to someone – whether it’s a family member, friend or a mental health professional. Talk through what’s stressing you out so you can deal with it, and hopefully avoid a flare.
  • Don’t overdo things. We’ve all done it. Countless times. We’re feeling great so we decide to go for the extra-long walk. Or clean the house from top to bottom. Or weed the entire garden. Afterwards we’re proud of our achievements…until we wake up and can’t move 😣. And we tell ourselves never again 😉. But we really need to follow through with the ‘never again’. So when you’re feeling great, pace yourself. Go for the walk – but don’t go too far, or stop for a coffee break and a rest. Do the cleaning or gardening – just don’t get carried away, and get help from others. By managing your activities, energy levels and pain, you can hopefully prevent a flare from occurring.

Take control

Even when you do all you can to prevent a flare, you can still have one. Some flares we can predict, but sometimes they seem to happen for no reason at all. Or they may be triggered by things we can’t control – such as changes in weather or changes to meds. So you need a plan for dealing with them in the moment.

  • Over-the-counter and/or prescription medications may help you manage the pain and inflammation of a flare. As we mentioned earlier, discussing this with your doctor before you have a flare means that you can act quickly as soon as a flare strikes. You’ll have the medications you need, when you need them. But if you haven’t had the opportunity to have this discussion, now’s the time. Make an appointment as soon as possible. Don’t try to soldier on. This will only make life miserable, and can potentially make your flare last longer and cause more damage.
  • Write down what you were doing before the flare. It might seem like it came out of the blue, but there may be triggers you aren’t aware of. Tracking your activities, sleep patterns, stressors, diet and even the weather each time you have a flare may help you identify potential triggers. This will help you reduce your risk of future flares.
  • Prioritise your tasks and activities. You still need to be able to get through your day and commitments, so you need to prioritise what’s most important. You may not be able to do everything if you’re in a lot of pain or you simply can’t focus because you’re so tired. So be realistic – what really, seriously needs to be done? Only do those things. You can get to the other things when you’re feeling better.
  • 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 being inactive during a flare can make your pain and fatigue worse. Continue to exercise, but at a lesser intensity than usual. It’s important you listen to your body.
  • Use aids and other gadgets when your joints are painful and swollen. Aids include splints, walking sticks, jar openers, tap turners and pick-up reachers. They’ll help protect your joints, and reduce some of the pain you feel when doing everyday tasks. Check out our online shop to view some of the items we have available to make life easier.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Not enough sleep or poor quality sleep has a negative effect on our mood, our physical wellbeing, pain levels and our energy. It can also trigger a flare. Unfortunately it’s easy to say ‘get a good night’s sleep’ but it’s often hard to do when you’re in a lot of pain. The good news is there are lots of things you can do to improve your sleep. Find out more.
  • Track your flares. Keep an accurate record of when you had a flare (or flares). Also note down the symptoms you experienced and rate them. For example if you have increased fatigue, how would you rate it compared to the fatigue you feel when you’re not having a flare? Do this with all of the symptoms you experience. All of this information is valuable to help you and your doctor understand how your condition is progressing, if it’s being well managed or if your treatment plan is providing the best results.
  • See your doctor. If your flare is lasting longer than usual, your symptoms are much worse, you’re experiencing unusual symptoms or you’re having more frequent flares, go and see your doctor or specialist. You may need your medications to be adjusted. Or you may need an assessment of your current treatments to see if there’s an alternative that will help you gain control over your condition.

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.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


Spring-cleaning.jpg
27/Aug/2020

Have you noticed that the mornings are becoming lighter earlier? The weather’s improving and there’s the smell of spring blossoms in the air. It’s lovely. Take a moment to breathe it in – you’ll definitely feel a lift in your mood 😊 (unless you have allergies – sorry about that 😣).

But with the change in the season, the extra light and the warmer weather, we often use this time to do a spring clean. Of our home, office, garden, garage. Many of us have been tackling some of these jobs while we’ve been in iso. But as we’re staying at home more than ever before, it seems that some jobs continue to pile up – there are kids toys and clutter everywhere, the home office/dining table has become a mess, the pets are shedding on EVERYTHING, and why are there so many pairs of shoes heaped near the front door?!?! It’s definitely time to do a spring clean 😁.

But cleaning and re-organising can take a toll on you when you live with a musculoskeletal condition and chronic pain and fatigue. So we’ve put together some tips and hacks to help you with Spring Clean 2020.

General tips

  • Planning, prioritising and pacing. First, make a plan. You can’t do everything at once. So write down all of the things you want to do. Now prioritise the jobs. What’s most important? And when you consider this, remember your home doesn’t need to be a home magazine or Pinterest version of ‘perfect’. That takes a lot of styling and constant effort. It just needs to be your version of ‘perfect’ – comfortable and cosy for you and whoever you live with. Now on to pacing. Take your time when you tackle your cleaning. Break it into smaller tasks. For example don’t decide you need to organise and clean your entire bedroom cupboard in one go. Break it up. Just deal with your shoes today. Tomorrow you can focus on the things stored on shelves. Make it achievable and realistic for you and how you’re feeling at this moment.
  • Take breaks. Often the temptation is to get as much done as you can while you’re feeling good or you’re feeling motivated. But you need to take breaks so that you don’t overdo it. Otherwise before you know it your back’s sore, you can’t move your neck and exhaustion hits you like a sledgehammer. To prevent this happening, and the potential of having a flare because you’ve done too much, set an alarm. Give yourself a specific amount of time to work and when the alarm goes off, take a break. Do some stretches, drink some water, go outside for some air and vitamin D and if you’re hungry, have a healthy snack. Do this regularly throughout the day and you’ll feel much better by the time you finish than if you’d pushed through.
  • Get the right tools for the jobs. Use light-weight brooms, mops and vacuums. Many people swear by the robotic vacuums because they don’t require you to bend over a vacuum or drag it throughout the house. Just be aware of where they are so you don’t trip on them 😐. Use long-handled dusters so you don’t have to stretch or reach your arms above your head if you find that painful. If you don’t have one you can secure your duster to a ruler or even the empty roll from some wrapping paper to give you the extra length.
  • Choose your battles. If you need to vacuum, but you’re not feeling up to doing your entire home, don’t. Just do the high traffic areas. Or a high traffic area. If your bathroom needs cleaning, do the high use areas. Your shower screen doesn’t need to sparkle, but you do need clean towels and a clean sink.
  • Let the cleaning products do the hard work. How often do you read the instructions on your cleaning products? Or do you just spray and wipe away? I know I’m guilty of that! But many cleaning products need time to work on the grunge and grime. Then you can wipe it and the dirt away, with far less effort.
  • Beware of dust and toxic smells. Many people with musculoskeletal and other chronic conditions are sensitive to chemicals, strong smells and/or dust. Some alternatives to the usual cleaning products include bicarb soda, vinegar, tea tree oil, lemon juice and water. There are many websites that provide details for making your own cleaning products. You can also buy a large range of more natural and plant-based cleaning products online and from the supermarket. As far as dust goes, dusters can just move it from your surfaces to the air around you. Use a slightly damp cloth over surfaces to remove dust completely, and clean it regularly.
  • Use your dishwasher for more than dishes. Did you know you can clean plastic toys, exhaust covers, scrubbing brushes, oven racks and dog toys in your dishwasher? Check out this article: Can you wash it in the dishwasher? The big list of things you can and can’t wash in the dishwasher from Choice for more info.
  • Consider reorganising your pantry, laundry or kitchen. These are the areas we use a lot. And they often have heavy things we use regularly – e.g. heavy packets of rice, canned goods, pots and pans, detergents and cleaning products. Put these items at waist level (if you have the space) so you aren’t constantly bending or stretching to access them.
  • Get some wheels. A basket of wet washing and buckets full of water and detergent are really heavy. Instead use a laundry trolley and a mop bucket with wheels.
  • Repackage it. We often buy cleaning products in bulk as it tends to be cheaper that way. But that can end up being several kilos or litres. So when you buy the big box or big bottle of cleaning products, put a quantity into smaller, easier to use containers. You can top them up when you need to. And make sure you label the new containers clearly.
  • Alternate your cleaning activities. If you’ve spent some time doing physically tiring cleaning, take a break and do something more passive, like sitting at your desk and cleaning out your email inbox, or going through receipts for your tax return. Or take a break and read a book or do some guided imagery. Then when/if you feel up to more physical work you can go back to it. But you’ve given your body a chance to rest.
  • Get the family involved. This is an obvious one, but often such a drama many people just do the chores themselves. But that’s not sustainable. Also, as everyone contributes to the mess, everyone needs to contribute to the cleaning. Make a game of it if you can 😊. Check out this article: 15 cleaning games that make even the most boring chores fun from Mumtastic for some suggestions.
  • De-clutter. When we have a build-up of clutter and just everyday things invading our space, they become a trip hazard. And when you have lots of stuff around you, you may feel disorganised and out of control. While not everyone will feel this way, here are some ways to tackle the clutter.
    • Make a plan and start small. Don’t tackle a big job, especially if you’re not feeling your best, or you can easily become overwhelmed.
    • Organise the clutter. Put like things together so you can see what you have and what’s been hiding at the back of cupboards and drawers. That’s when you realise you’ve got 5 staplers and 6 vegetable peelers.
    • Decide what you want to keep, and what’s just taking up valuable space. Then you need to decide what to do with the things you no longer want. So donate, give away, sell, repurpose or throw away (only if it’s damaged/worn out/soiled/beyond repair – let’s not add to landfill if we can help it).
    • Now put away the things you’ve decided to keep. Everything should have its own place.
  • Hire someone. This isn’t an option for everyone, or not for every time, but there might be occasions you decide it’s worth the cost. Consider hiring a local handy person/business to help you deal with your lawns/gardening, or cleaning your carpets, curtains or blinds.
  • Distract yourself with music, podcasts and audio books. This can make the cleaning more enjoyable, just don’t become so distracted you overdo things.
  • Give your medicine cabinet a spring clean too. Get rid of out of date or unnecessary items. But don’t throw medications in the bin – take them to your local pharmacy for disposal.
  • Things don’t have to be perfect. So give yourself a break. This is one thing that as a clean freak I’ve struggled with. Listening to your body and doing things that are realistic for you is more important than some idea of perfection that’s unsustainable (or unattainable). Accept that and just enjoy being in your home 😊.

Hacks

  • Save your hands. Use cleaning mitts instead of cleaning cloths. There are a lot available – for dusting, cleaning the shower, kitchen and the car. Or you can use odd socks – we all have plenty of those 😁. Wear the mitts or the socks on your hands as you clean, rather than clutching a cloth. It’s much easier on the joints in your hands.
  • Add soft grips to the handles of brooms/mops if you find them painful to grip. An easy hack is to use pipe insulation foam. This is just a tube shaped foam. You can pick it up at the hardware store, cut it to size and slide it onto your broom or mop handle.
  • For easy cleaning of louvre or Venetian style blinds, put a couple of old socks on a pair of kitchen tongs and secure them in place with elastic bands. You can then run them over each of the slats of the blinds to remove dust.
  • Remove dust and pet fur from lamp shades with a lint roller.
  • Store your sheet sets in the matching pillow case. This keeps them together as a set, keeps your closet tidy and you know you have all the pieces when you make your bed.
  • Rubber gloves are great for removing pet fur from fabric furniture. Just put them on and slide your hand over the fabric. You can then peel the fur off the gloves and throw it in the bin.
  • Dirty microwave? No problems. Put some water in a cup or bowl and microwave it until the water boils. You can also add some white vinegar for a better clean. Carefully remove the water and clean the steam from the inside surfaces of the microwave. Any grunge should come away at the same time, without scrubbing. If you want you can add some lemon juice to the water before you microwave it for a fresh smell.
  • Smelly bin? Empty it and clean the inside with a damp cloth and some bicarb soda. Rinse it out. When it’s dry, add a little bicarb and paper towel to the bottom of your bin to keep it smelling fresh and to sop up any liquids. Bicarb is also good if your fridge is a bit on the nose. Clear your fridge out, getting rid of anything out of date, clean the inside properly, then add an open box of bicarb to the back of your fridge. It’ll absorb odours. Don’t forget to change it regularly.

Got some tips or hacks to share? We’d love to hear them.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


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27/Aug/2020

…in books, movies and TV?

One in three people lives with a musculoskeletal condition. 1 in 3. But it was almost impossible to find any decent books, TV shows or movies that feature realistic portrayals of people living with these conditions, or living with chronic pain. Even when you extend it to people living with chronic illness in general, which is an even bigger proportion of the community, it’s a tough slog through mediocrity.

I was astounded at the lack of characters living with these conditions. And when I did find some, I found many to be annoying, improbable and insulting.

Many of the stereotypes used include:

  • the person addicted to pain medications 😑
  • the person who’s just too good to be true – nothing turns their frown upside down because they’re amazingly brave and stoic – they conquer all 😒
  • the person who’s angry all the time, hates the world and everyone in it 😣.

Few real people are like this all the time. Some elements may appear in our personalities and our lives, but no one is this one dimensional. So it’s sad that this is the way we’re portrayed.

It was also really depressing to see how some conditions – particularly fibromyalgia – are disparaged and often treated as a punchline. That’s so unfair 😢.

So here’s my call to action – before I even delve into the stories I did find – let’s get our stories out there!

We can create stories and characters that are multi-faceted – we know people have more than one side or feature – because we are those people. We’re good, bad, positive, negative, strange, unique, parents, siblings. We work, we study, we get sad, we love, we hurt. We are and do all of these things, often at the same time! There’s so much more to a person that an addiction or stoicism.

So use whatever medium inspires you – fiction, film, photos, art, humour – and share it with us. We’d love to see it 😊.

And if you’ve come across some great characters that we’ve missed in this list – let us know. We’ll add them to our blog.

Ok, rant over 😉.

Here’s the list of the books, movies and TVs I did come across that featured more interesting characters. And a confession here –I’ve only seen/read a few, but have added lots to my enormous ‘must watch list’ and my towering ‘to be read’ pile.

Renoir (movie)

Based in the summer of 1915 in the French Riviera, this movie features an ageing Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Bouquet), dealing with the loss of his wife, the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, and the terrible news that his son Jean (Rottiers) has been wounded in action. But then a young girl (Théret) enters his world and Renoir is filled with a new, unexpected energy as the beautiful Andrée becomes his last model. Then Jean returns home to recover from his wounds and queue the love story 💖.
Director: Gilles Bourdos
Year: 2012
Stars: Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret, Vincent Rottiers
Language: French (English sub-titles)
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2150332/

Words and pictures (movie)

In this romantic comedy, an art instructor (Binoche) with rheumatoid arthritis and an English teacher (Owen) form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important.
Director: Fred Schepisi
Year: 2014
Stars: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2380331/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

The Good Doctor (TV)

This popular TV medical drama revolves around young surgeon Dr Shaun Murphy (Highmore) who has autism. In season 3 one of his colleagues, Dr Morgan Reznick (Gubelmann) opens up to senior surgeon Dr Glassman (Schiff) about having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She needs his help to get a cortisone injection so she can perform her first surgery. She discusses with him her concerns about how the other surgeons may assume RA will affect her ability to operate and do her job.
Creator: David Shore
Year: 2017-
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Richard Schiff, Fiona Gubelmann and many others.
YouTube: Dr Reznick wants Dr Glassman to keep her condition a secret

The Big Sick (movie)

Written by Emily V Gordon and her husband Kumail Nanjiani, this romantic comedy is loosely based on the real-life courtship before their marriage in 2007. While they were dating Gordon became ill and was put into a medically induced coma. She was later diagnosed with Still’s disease.
Director: Michael Showalter
Year: 2017
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5462602/

Five feet two (doco)

This documentary follows Lady Gaga as she gets ready to release her fifth album and struggles with the physical and mental ups and downs. During the documentary she talks openly about her fibromyalgia.
Director: Chris Moukarbel
Year: 2017
Stars: Lady Gaga
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7291268/

Maudie (movie)

This romantic drama is based on the real life story of Canadian folk painter Maud Lewis (Hawkins). Maud was born in 1903 and diagnosed with juvenile arthritis as a child. This movie tells the story of love of painting, her marriage to Everett Lewis (Hawke) and her recognition as an artist.
Director: Aisling Walsh
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke
Year: 2016
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3721954/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

Cake (movie)

Cake tells the story of Claire (Aniston) who struggles with chronic pain and depression after a car accident that also killed her son. She becomes addicted to pain killers (sorry) and joins a chronic pain support group. Through this group she meets Nina (Kendrick) who later commits suicide. The story goes on to explore Claire’s relationship with Nina’s husband (Worthington) and son, her relationship with her estranged husband and how she tackles physical and emotional pain. https://www.msk.org.au/persistent-pain/
Director: Daniel Barnz
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington
Year: 2014
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3442006/

Cursed (YA book)

As if her parents’ divorce and sister’s departure for college weren’t bad enough, fourteen-year-old Ricky Bloom has just been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. Her days consist of cursing everyone out, skipping school–which has become a nightmare–daydreaming about her crush, Julio, and trying to keep her parents from realizing just how bad things are. But she can’t keep her ruse up forever. https://www.msk.org.au/juvenile-idiopathic-arthritis/
Author: Karol Ruth Silverstein
Year: 2019
Publisher: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/588565/cursed-by-karol-ruth-silverstein-author/

Sick kids in love (YA book)

Isabel has one rule: no dating. All the women in her family are heartbreakers, and she’s destined to become one, too, if she’s not careful. But when she goes to the hospital for her RA infusion, she meets a gorgeous, foul-mouthed boy who has her rethinking the no-dating rule and ready to risk everything.
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Year: 2019
Publisher: https://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781640637320/


mental-health-dog.jpg
13/Aug/2020

When we first entered this pandemic earlier this year we were hopeful. The situation we found ourselves in was a little surreal, but most of us were optimistic it would end quickly. There was even talk about a vaccine by September! So we (mostly) did all the things we were meant to do and got on with life.

Six months down the track we now have large numbers of active cases and deaths occurring in a second wave. And we’re realising just how insidious and grim this virus is. Just when we think we have it under control, new cases and clusters appear. Many people are back to juggling work and home schooling while under tight restrictions and curfews. And a lot of people have lost their jobs and are facing serious financial hardship. Most distressingly of all, many of our fellow Aussies have lost their lives.

We’re seeing this all play out in the 24/7 media cycle. It’s exhausting. It’s stressful. And we’re scared and angry. It’s no wonder many of us are feeling the impact on our mental health.

So what can we do about it?

Lots! There really are a lot of things we can do to look after our mental health during this time. And with no end date for this pandemic, the sooner we start to take care of our mental health, as we do our musculoskeletal conditions, the better it will be.

Note: These are general tips only. If you’re being treated for a mental health condition, continue to take your medication as prescribed, and keep in contact with your mental health specialist so that you continue to receive the support you need during this time.

  • Check your routine. Do you have one? Or are you just winging it from day to day? We’re creatures of habit and thrive on our schedules. They make us feel like we have some control over our lives. But it can be hard to develop and stick to a new routine. You really need to work at it, or you’ll find yourself staring at your phone and socials for hours, or going to bed later and later, not sleeping well, snacking more often, and basically forming some bad habits 😑.
    So whether it’s just for you (or your household) create a routine. Or update your existing routine; what worked at the beginning of the pandemic may not work anymore. Things have changed so much, and will continue to change, so we need to adapt. And don’t forget to include time for leisure, fun and exercise 😊.
  • Don’t compare yourself with others. We all have the friend who appears to have it all – somehow during iso they’ve mastered the perfect sourdough, have juggled work and home schooling effortlessly, all while looking perfectly put together. So if you’re comparing yourself to that ‘perfection’ – as you sit in your tracky pants and baggy windcheater, not able to remember when you last washed your hair, and that pile of laundry on the floor threatens to engulf you, your kids are nagging and the dog hasn’t been fed yet. STOP! Stop right now.
    First – no one’s perfect. We can never know what else is going on in someone else’s life. We all have our trials and challenges. Some people are just better at concealing them than others. Second – comparing ourselves to others isn’t helpful. Remember, most people only post on social media the things that make them look good. We select the best photos, we use filters and we crop and manipulate our pics so we look our best. Comparing yourself with others just makes us feel ‘meh’, so don’t do it.
    And third – don’t compare yourself with others in a way that invalidates what you’re feeling. Don’t feel guilty for being upset, sad or anxious by telling yourself “that person is worse off than me, what do I have to feel sorry about?”. Our feelings are valid, they’re real and we need to acknowledge them.
  • Stay in touch. When you’re feeling down, anxious or depressed, it’s really easy to become isolated. You just want to stay in your safe cocoon. Interacting and opening up to others can be difficult when you’re struggling – but it’s really worth it. Call someone. You can choose whether to open up about your worries and fears. Or you can just talk about things that make you smile. Past trips together, childhood memories, something that’s happened in your day that made you feel good. Keep the communication channels open. If you aren’t locked down or under restrictions, catch up for a coffee or a walk in the park.
  • Get back to BACE-ics. BACE is a way to divide your daily activities into areas that promote self-care. BACE stands for Body care (e.g. exercise, showering), Achievement (e.g. chores, reading), Connecting with others (e.g. family, pets), and Enjoyment (e.g. dancing, movies). A recent ABC Life article explained that a “routine that has activities across all BACE categories is good for us because it releases good chemicals in our brain which are key to staying mentally healthy. That’s because: exercise releases endorphins, achievement releases dopamine, connecting with people releases oxytocin and physical activity releases serotonin.”(1)
    So get back to BACE-ics and focus on self-care.
  • Schedule time to face your worries and fears. We can’t get away from the worries of COVID and what the future may hold…it’s always in our face. In the news, on social media, in the eyes of our masked neighbours walking in the park . So acknowledge that you’re worried and schedule a time to process this. Don’t do it too close to bed time or you’ll be tossing and turning all night. Now look at them closely – really shine a light on what’s causing your worry, fear, anxiety. Try to come up with possible solutions or things you can do to lessen these issues. Or you may need to accept that some things are outside of your control. But once you’ve taken the time to acknowledge them – put them away. It’s not great for our mental health if we constantly focus on our worries.
  • You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. Just try for your best – and give yourself a break here. Your best pre-COVID is different to your best now. So do the best you can in the circumstances you find yourself in.
  • Limit exposure to the news. It’s full on and much of it’s grim. So pick a time when you’ll watch or read the news, and then tune it out. Don’t constantly check it. Another tip is to share the job of gathering the daily news with your partner or a friend. Take turns getting the latest, authoritative info. Discuss it, and then put it aside. That way you won’t feel like you’re totally immersed in the news cycle.
  • Nurture your relationship. Whether you live with someone or your partner/significant other lives elsewhere, it’s important to nurture your relationship with them. Everyday stresses have been compounded by COVID, and can affect how we interact with the most important people in our lives. So schedule a regular date night or alone time with them. If you’re living under restrictions, especially if you have kids, you’ll need to be creative 😊. And if you live apart you’ll need to resort to video chat, phone calls and good old-fashioned love letters (swoon 💖) But you can do it! It’s important to give your relationship the time and effort it deserves. Dress up or wear something that makes you feel good. Don’t talk about COVID, schooling, work, finances or any of the usual worries. Talk about your favourite books/music/movies, your hopes and dreams, your fantasy holiday destination, reminisce about when you met, tell them things they don’t know about your childhood and growing up. Put some music on and dance in your lounge room. Have a moonlit picnic in the backyard. Or hold hands for a stroll around the local park. Whatever you do, make sure to take the time to cherish this relationship.
  • Watch the self-talk. We can be horrible to ourselves, especially when we’re feeling down. “I’m fat”, “I’m hopeless”, “I’m a terrible mum/dad/partner”, “I’m a failure” – sound familiar? The critical things we say to ourselves really undermine our mood and our mental health. They can be so destructive. Some simple things you can do to negate these thoughts are:
    • Ask yourself if you’d talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself. The answer is likely no, so don’t talk to yourself this way. This will take some practise, but keep at it.
    • Ask yourself why you think you’re any of these things. And don’t be overly critical of yourself. Again ask yourself if you’d judge others with these labels, or so harshly.
    • Address these thoughts. If you think you’re overweight, and that makes you unhappy, what can you do to work on this? If you think you’re hopeless, why? It’s such a vague concept. What makes you think it? Is there something underlying it, or you’ve just had a bad day when a bunch of things haven’t worked out as you’d hoped.
    • Now give yourself a break. We’re all learning to live, work and exist in a really trying and stressful time, so we need to be kind to ourselves and others.
  • Stay active. One of the best things you can do to boost your mood is regular exercise. 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. Exercise has so many other wonderful benefits. It’s why we go on and on about it 😉And when you combine it with a bit of sunshine, it’s the best feeling ever 😊
  • Do something for others. Focusing on others can take your mind off your own anxiety and stress. Send a letter or card to a friend just to say hello and let them know how important they are. Write a note to an elderly neighbour and offer to bring them groceries or take their bins out. Volunteer for a charity or community group. Check the Volunteering Australia website to learn about volunteering opportunities or contact your local community group, sporting club, park, school. Become a Citizen Scientist! There are research projects across Australia looking for ordinary people to take part across a wide range of sciences from animals to information and computing to water studies.
  • Take time to listen. When someone is sharing their concerns/stresses/anxiety – really listen to them. It can be easy to leap into ‘let’s fix it’ mode because we want to help those important to us. But sometimes all someone wants is for their fears, concerns and worries to be heard and validated. If they ask for your help, then jump in. Do some problem solving together, but wait to be asked. Or ask if they’d like your help before offering advice.
  • Be careful with alcohol and other drugs. Recent research by The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) has found that since the pandemic began more Australians are drinking, and people are drinking more. While you might think alcohol makes you feel better, and more able to cope with your anxiety and stress, alcohol is a depressant and will affect your mood, ability to sleep and can make existing mental health issues worse. Find out more in this article from Beyond Blue. The ADF also has an online tool to help you change your habits if you’re finding yourself drinking too much.
  • Talk with a professional. Whether it’s a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health coach or a counsellor – seek professional help if you need it. You don’t need to put up with mental health issues – there’s help available. And the Australian Government recently announced that they’ll provide “10 additional Medicare subsidised psychological therapy sessions for people subjected to further restrictions in areas impacted by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic…the additional Medicare subsidised sessions will allow people in eligible areas who have used their 10 sessions to continue to receive mental health care from their psychologist, psychiatrist, GP or other eligible allied health worker.”(2) 

Final words

We often focus so much on our physical health, that caring for our mental health is pushed to the side. There are just too many commitments and other things competing for our time and energy. But we need to take care of our mental health so that we feel strong and resilient enough to get through these constantly changing and crazy times. This article has just skimmed the surface of the many things you can do to look after your mental health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, sad, stressed, afraid or angry, decide to do something about it. You can feel better, you can take control. One step at a time.

Crisis support

If this article has raised some issues with you or you feel like you need help during this stressful time, there’s help available. Contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention. https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/contact-us

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

  1. An illustrated guide to BACE self-care
    ABC Life, 23 April 2020
  2. Additional COVID-19 mental health support
    Department of Health, Australian Government, 2 August 2020

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash


walking-dog-beagle.jpg
13/Aug/2020

I know, I know. We talk about exercise a lot.

But as anyone with a musculoskeletal condition knows, exercise is such an important tool for managing your condition. It keeps your joints moving, it’s vital for bone health, it helps you manage your pain, weight, mood, sleep. It’s practically magic! 😉

However during these weird times, many of us are probably not exercising enough. Our routines are all over the place, we’re working from home/not working/or working strange shifts. There are restrictions (depending on where you live) around going to the gym or the pool, team sports, catching up with friends for exercise or even leaving your home. And because we have to stay at home as much as possible, we’re not getting as much incidental exercise as we once did – such as walking around shopping centres, commuting to work, walking to a colleagues office. That means many of us are more sedentary and becoming unfit and deconditioned. This’s a big problem.

So even though we’re six months into this pandemic in Australia, we need to take stock and be honest with ourselves. Ask yourself – “are you really doing as much exercise as you can?”

Or have you gotten into a routine (I know I have) where it’s easier to stay cooped up indoors, working, watching TV and avoiding exercise outdoors in the cold, wet, COVID-winter? If you answered “no, I’m not doing as much exercise as I could” (like me), what can you do about it?

Steps to becoming more active

  1. The first step was admitting it. Well done!
  2. Now, look at the barriers to exercise. What’s stopping you? This may include things like a lack of time, the weather, being worried about being in public with others, not having access to your usual exercise outlets such as the gym, not feeling motivated.
  3. Once you’ve identified the problem/s, it’s time to do some problem solving. Let’s say the issue you identified is a lack of time. That’s always a tough one. When we have so many things competing for our time and attention, exercise often gets pushed to the bottom of our list of priorities. But it’s important we make it a priority as it has so many benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing. So here are some simple steps to help you come up with some solutions:
    • Identify the problem – done. Don’t have time to exercise.
    • Brainstorm possible solutions and write them down, e.g. exercise in the morning, exercise after work/school, exercise for small periods of time several times a day (e.g. 3 exercise sessions that last 10 minutes each), set reminders on your watch/phone to remind you to get up and move.
    • Choose one and try it. Evaluate how well it works for you. Make sure you give it a solid attempt. Don’t stop after only one try.
    • If it didn’t work out so well, choose another solution and try it.
    • Keep going until you find the solution that works for you.
    • Make it a part of your daily routine.
    • And keep it at the forefront of your mind. Don’t let it slip off the radar again. It may help to write a note on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or the back of the toilet door 😁. Visual clues help us stay motivated.

Motivation

Getting and staying motivated is often a big challenge when it comes to becoming more active. It’s cold, you’re in pain, you miss exercising with your friends, you can’t be bothered – there can be so many reasons why our motivation to exercise disappears. Especially if we haven’t been exercising regularly for a while. Here are some tips to help you if your motivation has gone south for the winter:

  • Remind yourself of the benefits of regular exercise – pain management, improved fitness, joint mobility, muscle strength, better balance, improved sleep and mood, weight management.
  • Add it to your routine. Just like you know you’ll always clean your teeth every morning, make exercise a regular part of your day. It should become that habitual. It may take some time, but if you do it regularly, it will become a habit.
  • Plan to do it when you know you feel the best. If you know you’re generally stiff and sore when you wake up, don’t schedule your exercise routine for the early morning. Schedule it for a time you know you’re feeling loose and limber.
  • Do something you enjoy. You’re more likely to continue to do it if you enjoy it and look forward to it.
  • Exercise with someone – if you have others in your household, include them. They need exercise too! If you live on your own, do some virtual exercise with friends or family. Connect with them over the phone or video and exercise together. Call someone while you both go for a walk – so you not only exercise together, but you get to catch up (just be sure you’re moving at a pace that makes you huff and puff a little – though not so much you can’t speak).
  • Exercise on your own – if you have others in your household, this can be a great way to get some alone time. We’re living in tight quarters at the moment and going a little stir crazy 😜. Scheduling time every day (even if it’s only 10 minutes) will give you time to refresh, breathe and retain your sanity.
  • Make sure you do a variety of exercise – you don’t want to get stuck in a rut. That’s boring and you’re more likely to stop doing something that bores you. Look online at the different exercise videos offering everything from Bollywood dancing, yoga, tai chi, chair exercises and more (see the More to Explore section below for more info. And make sure you read our blog about evaluating online videos for safety and quality.
  • Track what you’re doing. Use a tracking app, a pedometer or a notebook – whatever works – but make sure you track how you’re going over time. Seeing how far you’ve come and how you’ve improved is an amazing feeling. And it motivates you to keep going and challenging yourself 😊.
  • Continue to challenge yourself and increase the intensity of your exercise as your fitness improves. It’ll make your exercise more interesting, and also have greater health benefits.
  • Don’t set yourself up to fail. It’s easy when you’re gung ho and ready to make a change to set unrealistic goals, for example 10,000 steps every day or an hour of aerobic exercise 5 times a week. Or you may attempt to do something you used to be able to do pre-COVID. That may no longer be achievable at the moment, which can be a little disheartening 😥. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start slow and increase your steps/distance/time gradually.
  • Set goals. Having a clear goal can really motivate you to stay on track with your exercise program. Make sure your goal is SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and have a Timeframe. For example, your goal may be to walk a lap around your local park, a distance of 3.5kms. You want to be able to do this without stopping within a month. You plan to do this by walking short distances each day, and going slightly further every day. This goal is specific – it states exactly what the goal is; you can measure it – both time and distance; it’s achievable – as it lists the steps for how it’ll be done; it’s realistic – it gives you a realistic time frame to do it in so they can build up your fitness and endurance; and it has a timeframe. For more info about goal setting read our blog.
  • Make it enjoyable – listen to music, podcasts, audio books when you go for your walk.
  • Reward yourself. Especially if you’ve exercised even though you didn’t feel like it. That’s amazing! You should be proud of yourself. Have a bubble bath. Give yourself a foot massage (or better yet have some else do it). Call a friend just for a chat.

Variety is the spice of life

To get the most out of exercise, you should include a variety of different exercises that help with:

  • flexibility – stretching and range of movement exercises help maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and nearby muscles. They’ll help keep your joints moving properly and ease joint stiffness.
  • strength – to build muscle strength, provide stability to your joints, improve your bone health and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.
  • overall fitness – exercise that gets you moving and increases your heart rate (e.g. walking, swimming, cycling) will help improve the health of your heart and lungs and can also help with endurance, weight loss, prevention of other health problems (e.g. diabetes). This type of exercise is also called aerobic exercise, cardiovascular exercise or ‘cardio’.

Types of exercise

There are so many ways you can exercise so that you enjoy the benefits listed above. It’s really a matter of finding the things you enjoy doing. So why not try:

  • online exercises – so many gyms and fitness instructors have moved their classes online due to COVID so you’re sure to find some that will appeal to you
  • tai chi, Pilates, yoga – again try online videos/classes, or go ‘old school’ and borrow DVDs from your local library
  • swimming, exercises in water – if you live near the beach, have your own pool or the public pools have reopened
  • ride a bike, scooter, skates, skateboard
  • tennis, cricket, basketball
  • croquet, lawn bowls – you can get all the equipment you need to play these in your own backyard or park
  • active video games – for example WII Fit, Nintendo Switch
  • walk the dog (or cat 😹)
  • skipping rope – by yourself or get the family involved – double Dutch anyone? 😲
  • strength training using free weights and resistance bands
  • dancing/playing air guitar…rock on!

Note: not all of these options will be available for everyone at the moment. It’ll depend on where you live and the current COVID restrictions.

Tips to stay safe

Exercise is really important for good health, but we need to be careful we don’t get hurt or exacerbate an existing condition. Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • see your doctor before starting any new exercise program. If you’ve had a joint replaced, find out from your surgeon or health professional which movements you should limit or avoid.
  • talk to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist – in person or via telehealth – if you need specific help, or want an exercise program tailored to your specific needs and health conditions.
  • don’t exercise a painful, inflamed or hot joint. Instead, gently move the joint through its range of movement to help reduce stiffness and improve circulation.
  • start gently and increase the intensity of your exercise program gradually over weeks or months.
  • always warm up and cool down.
  • pay attention to good technique and try to move smoothly. Don’t force a joint beyond a comfortable range of movement.
  • if you’re short of breath or in pain, ease back on the intensity of your exercise.
  • if your joint feels particularly painful afterwards (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next exercise session.
  • if an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what’s normal for you, then stop this activity.
  • drink plenty of fluids during and after exercising.
  • wear appropriate clothing and footwear when exercising.
  • practise good COVID habits – wear your mask (if applicable), follow restrictions, maintain physical distancing (at least 1.5 metres), don’t exercise if you’re sick and don’t leave your home if you have tested positive to COVID.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


dog.jpg
13/Aug/2020

The purr-fect treatment for COVID and MSK conditions!

In the midst of all of the stress, unhappiness, boredom and frustration of this pandemic, something that always lightens my heart is the presence of my cats. Their antics while I work from home are so entertaining (and often distracting 😊).

And nothing lifts the spirits more than seeing ridiculously happy dogs in the park as they take their owners for a walk 🐶.

There’s a reason we share so many animal memes and videos. Animals take us out of our own world for a moment, and make us smile and laugh out loud with their boundless joy and exuberance.

In the absence of a specific treatment or vaccine for this pandemic I think our pets, and the animals around us, are the perfect therapy. They’re always ready for walks, pats, cuddles and conversation. They ease our loneliness, they listen to our rants, they don’t judge our moves as we dance around the house 😉. They give us a reason to get out of bed, to be active and to just keep going when things seem bleak.

Apart from helping us through these tough COVID-times, our pets are wonderful therapy for helping us manage our chronic conditions. They distract us from our pain and can help us manage our anxiety.

Research has shown that owning a pet can:

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

With all of that good stuff, it’s no wonder almost two-thirds of Australian households have a pet, and 90% of us have had a pet at some time. (1)

The time’s right – let’s get a pet!

Hold your horses for a minute. If you’ve been thinking of getting a pet, and you think now’s the right time, it’s important that you do your research. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of adopting a pet. Especially now in the thick of a global pandemic and you’re feeling lonely or bored.

But you need to make sure the fit is right for you and the animal. You need to be willing to take on the pet for the entirety of its life. That’s a big responsibility. You need to have space for them, be able to afford them (including food, bedding, vet bills, vaccinations, litter, boarding), have time to play with them and exercise them.

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 pet ownership isn’t an option for everyone. You may live somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you don’t have space, you’re allergic or you live with someone who is, 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 lots of other options:

  • offer to walk a family members/friends/neighbours pet. Just make sure you follow all the COVID requirements for your area, including washing your hands thoroughly before and afterwards.
  • volunteer your time at an animal shelter – there are lots of things you can do – playtime socialisation, patting cats, walking dogs.
  • look after a family member or friends pet when they go on holiday (remember those? 😉).
  • think outside the litter box. There are others pets you can adopt that may be an option including fish, birds, spiders, mice, rabbits, ferrets 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…crazy cats, daggy dogs, goofy goats. 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.

What about COVID?

According to the World Health Organization “several dogs and cats…in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, ferrets appear to be susceptible to the infection…however, there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID-19.”(2)

Phew. But what if you get sick?

First – the Australian Veterinary Association advises that if you get COVID-19, you should minimise close contact with your pet during this time, such as hugging, face to face contact or sleeping on your bed.(3) 😥

Second – you have to isolate until the Public Health Unit lets you know you can go back into the community.

That means you can’t leave your house except in an emergency or to get essential medical care. But if you have a pet, you might need some help. You may not feel well enough to care for your pet/s, you may need more food and supplies for them or need someone to take your dog for a walk. Or your pet may need to see the vet.

Some things you can do:

  • order food and other essentials online, via pet supply stores or your grocery store, and have them delivered to your door
  • ask a friend/family member/neighbour to pick up supplies for your pet, or take your dog for walks
  • if you’re too sick to look after your pet, ask a friend/family member/neighbour if they can take them in, or look after them
  • if your pet is unwell and needs to see the vet, don’t leave your home. Call your vet and ask for their advice. They’ll work with you to ensure your pet gets the treatment they need while keeping vet staff safe.

It’s vital that you take all precautions to ensure that whoever helps you isn’t exposed to you and the virus. You’ll also need to be mindful of current restrictions. Check your local state/territory health website for info.

Finally – the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (UK) has some information on other things you can do to care for your pets if you’re ill or have to self-isolate due to coronavirus, including brain games to keep your dog occupied and happy. This is a general guide. Please be mindful that some of the restrictions in the UK are different to those in Australian states and territories.

Coming out of COVID-cray-cray

One day things will calm down and we’ll spend less time at home. We’ll be able to go to work, visit friends and stay away from our homes for longer periods of time. So we need to help our pets – those wonderful little creatures that have kept us sane during an insane time – get ready for this change. They’ve had us for AGES, and they’ll miss us being around all the time. This may cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety. The RSPCA has written a great article full of tips and advice on how you can make this transition less stressful for your pets: How can I prepare my pets for easing of COVID-19 restrictions? 

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

(1) Pets in Australia: A national survey of pets and people
Animal Medicines Australia, 2019
(2) Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)
World Health Organization, 17 April 2020
(3) Advice from the Australian Veterinary Association to pet owners: COVID-19 and companion animals
Australian Veterinary Association Ltd

Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash


cold-hands.jpg
30/Jul/2020

….your hands!

Did you know that each of your hands has 27 bones, 27 joints, 34 muscles, and over 100 ligaments and tendons?

They really are amazing, complex and delicate structures. And we often take them for granted – until something happens – we hit our thumb with a hammer, we slam a finger in a drawer or we develop a musculoskeletal condition 😣.

Many conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis cause pain, swelling and sometimes disfigurement in hands. Other conditions such as Raynaud’s phenomenon and carpal tunnel syndrome can make your hands painful, and can cause pins and needles, as well as numbness.

For many people who have hand conditions, the colder months can make it worse. Your joints may ache more because of the cold, the constant hand washing can make your skin dry and the use of hand sanitiser (which often has a cooling effect) makes it feel like your fingers are about to drop off 😒.

But there are things you can do to decrease hand pain, deal with the cold and COVID, and make everyday activities easier.

Look after your hands. Inspect them for things such as swelling, nail and skin changes and any changes to the joint shape or direction of fingers and/or thumbs. By being aware of our hands and any changes that occur, you can seek advice sooner and prevent things from getting worse..

Wash and dry your hands regularly and thoroughly. Just as washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is necessary to help prevent the spread of germs (including SARS-CoV-2), drying your hands thoroughly is also important. Germs love moisture and thrive in moist places. Drying your hands reduces your chances of spreading or picking up germs when you touch things with damp or wet hands.

Apply a moisturising hand cream regularly to keep your skin healthy and nourished. With our more frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitiser, it’s easy for our hands to become dry and cracked. Cracked skin is an opening for germs to get in and potentially cause an infection. And if you have a condition such as scleroderma or psoriatic arthritis, skin care is an important part of your overall management plan. You may need to use a medicated skin cream, rather than an over-the-counter product. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for more info.

Use assistive devices if your hands are painful and stiff. They can help if you have difficulty gripping or holding everyday items. Assistive devices such as jar openers, book holders, tap turners, button hook and zipper aids and easy grip utensils can make tasks easier by reducing joint stress and eliminating tight grasps. You may need to speak with an occupational therapist about what equipment is best suited to you. Also check out our online shop. We have some products available to help you with your everyday activities.

See a hand therapist if you have hand/wrist pain or a condition that affects your hands, especially if it’s causing you issues with your day to day activities. Hand therapists are occupational therapists or physiotherapists that have undergone advanced training to become experts in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of upper limb problems (shoulder to hand). They can provide advice on joint protection and energy conservation (e.g. splints) as well as recommendations for adaptive devices/equipment to improve hand function.

Splints and other supports may be an option. They can give support to a painful joint by providing mild compression, warmth and/or joint protection. There are two main types of hand or wrist splints – resting splints and working splints. The choice of splint will depend on your condition and your current needs. Splints need to fit your hand comfortably and correctly, so speak with a hand therapist about what’s best for you and how often you should wear them.

Exercise your hands, as well as the rest of your body. Regular hand exercises can reduce stiffness and support your joints by keeping your muscles strong. If you’re considering hand exercises, it’s best to get advice from a hand therapist or other specialist as to which exercises are most suitable for you. Exercises should be mild and should not cause you additional pain when you’re doing them. See our Hand information sheet for some basic range of motion exercises.

Wear gloves in the cold weather, especially if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon. Hand warmers are also helpful. If you’re going to the shops for supplies and you have to use hand sanitiser before you enter, be aware that many of them have a cooling effect. This can really aggravate your condition. Having a couple of hand warmers in your pockets can help. You can get disposable hand warmers, or reusable ones. Just remember if you use the reusable ones to thoroughly wash the fabric pouch it’s contained in between uses. They can easily become contaminated, and hygiene is everything during this pandemic.

Also wear gloves when you’re gardening, washing dishes or doing any tasks that have the potential for your hands to get dirty or damaged.

Medications may provide some temporary pain relief, depending on the underlying condition causing the problem in your hand/s. Your doctor may suggest analgesics (pain relievers like paracetamol) as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. A cortisone injection is generally not recommended for osteoarthritis of the hand, but may be used for rheumatoid arthritis or acute attacks of gout. In conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis you may also be taking disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). It’s important to take these medications as prescribed by your doctor.

With conditions such as Raynaud’s, if simple measures like keeping your hands warm hasn’t helped, you may need to be prescribed medications that widen your blood vessels and improve circulation. Talk with your doctor for more info.

Making life easier on your hands

Sometimes simply changing the way you do everyday tasks can reduce pain and protect your joints. You can make life easier on your hands by considering the following:

Listen to your body – pain can serve as a warning sign that your joints are being overworked. Try to find a balance between activity and rest by pacing yourself. Take regular breaks when completing tasks and try not to overdo it on a good day. You might like to try heat or cold packs to help relieve pain. Some people also like to soak their hands in warm water or wrap their hands around a warm mug of tea.

Try to avoid using a tight grip for long periods. For example:

  • use foam or sponge to increase the grip size of handles on cutlery, pens and other hand held devices
  • use assistive devices with thick rubber grip handles (e.g. key turners, jar openers)
  • use rubber squares and gloves to help improve grip
  • consider lever handles around your home to minimise any twisting forces (e.g. mixer taps in bathrooms/kitchens).

Avoid repetitive movements. For example:

  • prolonged typing, pruning and power tool usage particularly those that vibrate
  • when gardening ensure your tools are sharpened and well maintained for ease of use
  • if you can’t avoid these repetitive movements, make sure you take regular breaks.

Try to use your body’s larger joints and muscles when you can. For example:

  • use your forearms to carry bags instead of your hands
  • when carrying items hold them closer to your body
  • when lifting heavier items squat and use your thigh muscles.

Spread the load – try to spread the load of an object over more than one joint. For example:

  • when picking up objects use two hands
  • slide sheets and swivel pads can help move items with less strain
  • divide shopping into smaller bags and try using a backpack and/or trolley.

Find an alternative. For example:

  • buy pre-cut meat and vegetables instead of trying to cut them up yourself
  • use electrical items instead of manual (e.g. can openers and graters)
  • look for items that are easier to use (e.g. push on pegs)
  • keep a pair of scissors handy to open packaging.

Rethink personal care/hygiene – for people with decreased hand function or fine motor skills, everyday tasks such as showering and toileting can be quite challenging. To make things easier you could use:

  • a bidet to help with cleaning difficult to reach areas
  • baby wipes/moist towelettes instead of toilet paper (but remember that they’re not flushable)
  • toilet paper tongs/aids to help with grip
  • soap dispensers instead of a bar of soap
  • items to make dressing easier e.g. sock sliders, elastic shoe laces, button hole hooks/zip pullers, front fastening bras as well as dressing aids for coats and cardigans o shoes with velcro fasteners instead of laces.

Our hands are complicated and important and we depend on them more than we realise. Painful hands can often be managed with simple self-care strategies, however if your hands are causing you a lot of grief, and affecting your day to day functioning, talk with your doctor for information and support.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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30/Jul/2020

Looking after your feet

Our feet are amazing ‘feats’ of engineering (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one 😁).

Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. They support us through thick and thin – whether we’re walking, running, jumping, dancing, skipping or hopping. We cram them into ill-fitting shoes, torture them in high heels and stub them against the bedside table in the middle of the night (or is that just me?).

As well as the many injuries and calamities that befall our feet, many musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout can affect the feet.

They’re the unsung heroes of this pandemic as we hit the streets, parks and trails for exercise. Walking has become the exercise of choice for people at the moment. Many of us can’t – or don’t feel safe to – return to gyms or exercises classes. And lots of people are walking instead of catching public transport to avoid being in close contact with others. As a result we’re all walking many more steps than we did pre-COVID.

So we need to stop taking our feet for granted. We need to look after them so we can continue to do the things we want and need to do as pain-free as possible.

So what can we do?

Give your feet the TLC they deserve. It’s really important to look after your feet. Wash and dry them regularly. Inspect them for anything unusual such as cuts, blisters, changes to the nails and skin. By being aware of your feet and any changes that occur, you can seek advice sooner. And if they’re sore after a day of walking, maybe give them a warm soak in the bath, or in a bucket or a foot spa (if you have one) while you watch TV. Then dry them thoroughly and rub a moisturising foot cream into your skin. Take your time and give your feet a nice massage. Better yet, see if you can talk someone else into giving them a massage while you relax on the couch 😉

Manage your condition. If you have a musculoskeletal condition that affects your feet, it’s important that you work with your doctor and healthcare team to look after your feet and manage your condition effectively. The treatments used for foot conditions will vary from person to person, depending on your condition and how it’s affecting you. And this may change over time as your condition and your feet change.

See a podiatrist. If you have foot pain, or a condition that affects your feet, visit a podiatrist. They’re feet experts and can assess, diagnose and treat foot and lower limb problem, including skin and nail problems, foot and ankle injuries, foot complications related to medical conditions and problems with your gait or walking. Podiatrists can also give you advice on appropriate footwear, and can prescribe custom foot orthotics.

Consider orthotics. Orthotics are corrective insoles that can help alleviate pain by redistributing pressure away from the painful area and support your arches. You can buy off-the-shelf orthotics or you can have orthotics made that are specifically fitted to your feet by a podiatrist.

Fit your feet with appropriate footwear. With our worlds turned upside down due to COVID, and many of us having to stay home, it’s tempting to stay in our slippers all day. There’s something so comforting about warm, fluffy slippers 😁. However our feet and ankles need proper support. Wear the right footwear for whatever you’re doing. Going for a walk? Put on your sneakers. Working at home? Wear your casual shoes/boots that support your feet and keep you warm. And lounging around in the evening? Get those slippers on.

If you’re buying new shoes, make sure they fit properly, support your feet and are comfortable. Look for shoes that are light, flexible at the toe joints and are hard wearing. Shoes made of leather are preferable over synthetic materials as they breathe better. Avoid slip-on shoes and if laces are difficult to fasten due to arthritis in your hands, Velcro or elastic laces may be an option.

Let them breathe. Did you know you have about 250,000 sweat glands in each foot? That’s a lot of sweat! So let your feet breathe to avoid smelly feet and fungal infections. Change your socks and shoes at least once a day. Wear shoes that allow air flow around your feet: leather, canvas, and mesh are good options, avoid nylon and plastic. And avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row. Give your shoes time (at least a day) to dry and air out. And if the weather’s warm, set your feet free and let them go au naturale. There’s nothing better than walking barefoot on warm grass on a sunny day 🙂

Exercise your feet. I’m not talking about walking here…but other exercises that keep your joints moving. Try non-weight-bearing exercises such as swimming, especially if you have foot pain, as they take the pressure away from the painful areas. You can also do exercises while sitting in a chair. NHS Inform (Scotland) has some foot exercise videos you can try. If you want exercises tailored specifically for you, visit a podiatrist or physiotherapist.

Medications might help. If you’re having a lot of foot pain, speak with your doctor about whether medications may be an option. Depending on the underlying condition causing the problem, your doctor may prescribe a short-term course of pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications, or they may prescribe other medications, such as a cortisone injection into a joint for rheumatoid arthritis or medication for acute attacks of gout.

Diabetes and feet. Many people with musculoskeletal conditions also have diabetes. So it’s really important if you have diabetes that you take care of your feet every day because of the increased risk of developing nerve damage, ulcers and infections. Talk with doctor about how to look after your feet properly if you have diabetes.

Surgery may be required. For some people, surgery may be needed if other conservative treatments haven’t helped. A referral to an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in feet is usually required.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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30/Jul/2020

Guest blogger Phil Cole

Hi I’m Phil Cole. I’m 47 years old and have a young family. Ziggy is just over a year old now and my long suffering partner Marie is an amazing mother 💖. She always carries on despite the extra stresses my condition brings to our lives.

My musculoskeletal situation is complicated…

I officially have psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis. It affects all of my joints and organs.

But recently I’ve been under the care of an immunologist investigating rare immune diseases, in conjunction with my endocrinologist and many other ‘ologists’.

I’m prone to infections and am mostly always sick with something. The only good thing about this lockdown is I haven’t been out much and been exposed to germs – so I’ve haven’t caught as much as I normally do. Sometimes these infections can last months 😑.

But the jury’s out on what I have, unfortunately. We know it’s immune-related, we know it’s inflammatory, that’s it so far. I’ve probably had it in some form for most of my adult life, but it’s over the last ten years that its really gotten worse. I also have some added complications due to my Army Service – bad knees and other injuries that don’t help.

Day to day life

Like other people living with a chronic condition, it affects my day to day life. And it’s gotten progressively worse each year.

Chronic pain and exhaustion are the most debilitating factors. I have some mobility issues that flare and have had to give up activities I loved – like kite surfing and skiing.

To be truthful every day is some version of the same struggle. Frustration is the hardest thing. It’s like I’m stuck in a sick Groundhog Day (remember that movie with Bill Murray?). There’s no improvement over all. In fact it’s been heading the other way 😑.

My condition affects my future plans to some degree, but overall we try to plan and live as if I will improve someday, as any plans are not just for me.

Coping strategies

In the past my coping strategies weren’t great. It involved a lot of self-medication and isolation.

But I’m really happy to say that all changed after I attended a pain clinic nearly two years ago.
Since then I’ve been off all my opioids and I have more of a framework to help deal with the pain and bad flare ups.

Having the right mindset is really important. For me it’s knowing I can at least run the clock out on this flare up – just get up every morning and keep going. There’s others far worse than me out there suffering.

Regular walking and stretching, mindfulness, hot chips with grated cheese and baked beans helps too 😋

This is all a work in progress – trying to stick to a schedule with all the above isn’t always easy with a one year old terrorist hiding your car keys!

I wish people knew…

When it comes to my condition I wish people knew that a lot of the worst symptoms are invisible to anyone outside of your immediate family. And that’s because they have to live with it too.

Chronic pain isn’t like normal pain, just as exhaustion isn’t the same as being tired. There’s literally no break from it, no return to normal life.

Both of these things are impossible to convey to others. In fact I don’t, or try not to these days.

It’s not anyone’s fault at all. These things are subjective to a great extent and the nature of the degeneration and symptoms are largely hidden from view.

Some annoying/frustrating things I hear about my condition

This will probably ring true for most people living with a musculoskeletal condition, but it can be annoying when people say “you look well”. I know it’s not their fault, they often don’t know any better. But I did have an ‘ologist’ say exactly that to me last week – now they should know better.

Then there’s the usual stuff – “it improves in good weather” or “I’m tired too” or “have you tried X?” or “my aunty tried X and now she’s better”. Most times it turns out that X is a pseudoscience.

This all comes from a good place so it’s not that annoying really. It’s just that it always happens 😑.

So I now try to look at it as more info to consider. One day someone might have just the right idea or advice, so I’ve decided the best thing to do is listen and then apply some critical thinking to the claim.

Some tips and advice I’d like to share with others

Hands down the best thing I ever did to manage my condition was attend a pain clinic. It taught me how to live with chronic pain and even reduce it, as well as how to get off all the drugs I was taking to manage it.

Some other things I’ve learned along the way:

Own it – don’t rely on others to fix you. You may be lucky and your pain goes away or your condition gets better, but realistically, this is unlikely to happen. So own it.

You have to keep on top of all your specialists. The current model is your GP manages all of your specialists, but in my experience this only exists on paper. That’s why you need to be on top of it all. And try to stay up to date as far as the research and current consensus is for your condition. If, for example, ‘eating oranges cures psoriatic arthritis’ then that will show in the consensus. Until then, it’s just speculation, not fact.

It can be hard to keep on top of it all, but do your best. Keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out 😁

Learn and practice critical thinking methodologies and have a basic understanding of the scientific method. These are not just catchphrases but a learned skill. You can use these real step-by-step methods to evaluate potential treatments, drugs, research your condition and challenge specialists – at the very least it will save you time filtering the interweb.

Be the custodian of ALL your medical records. Get a copy of every single test and scan you have. Consider keeping them organised online using a cloud drive like Google Drive or Dropbox so you can access them in real time at any of your appointments. Some pathology centres will email the results to you. So it can’t hurt to ask.

If you know how, transcribe all your results into a master spreadsheet. You can see patterns over time. This has been instrumental in my diagnosis and realisation that what’s going on with me is more complicated than a ‘normal’ rheumatological condition.

Other tips:

  • Learn the medical lingo.
  • Try to eat well.
  • Get referred to a chronic pain clinic.
  • Learn about sleep hygiene – or the habits and everyday practices that help you sleep well. This includes things like exercise, having a nighttime routine, turning off screens etc. This is so important!
  • Don’t ever give up, especially trying to find a diagnosis.

I’m participating in Walk in July for MSK

It’s a great excuse to see how I go on a longer walk than I’m used to. It’s also my chance to help out a great organisation and generally rib the CEO Rob Anderson along the way (or get him to buy me a coffee at least!).

Final words

I think most people living with musculoskeletal conditions have the same struggles. Generally there’s only so much you can do to slow the progression of the condition and limit the pain, exhaustion and mobility issues.

At its core it’s a big, lifelong mental battle. It can be very isolating dealing with that every day, you have to try and come to terms with the fact that your life has changed forever and there’s no cure…yet.

So you must adapt, and seek out the positives…you’ll find there’s many if you look for them 🙂

Believe me, I know it’s not always easy to do. There’ll be some dark days ahead – that’s why acceptance is so important.

Things that your old self loved to do may no longer be an option – try and find new stuff to replace that old stuff.

In the end you may find your life becomes much more simplified in many ways, and that’s a really good thing 😊.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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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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