BLOG

mask-blog-image.jpg
08/Apr/2020

If you’re immunosuppressed and feeling really vulnerable, no one can blame you. This is a scary time for us all; having a condition or taking medication that makes you more at risk of getting ill from any contagion or infection adds another level to this. So how do we protect ourselves when we’re out? There’s a lot of information/misinformation about wearing masks, gloves and DIY hand sanitiser (cos no one can get their hands on the real thing).

This blog, and our one on gloves and DIY hand sanitisers, gives you evidence-informed advice on the good, the bad and the ugly on using these protective measures.

To wear or not to wear, that is the question

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America recommended that Americans should wear “non-medical, cloth masks” to help prevent the spread of the virus. Up until this change they were like the Australian Government and World Health Organization and recommended that only those with COVID-19 symptoms should wear masks.

So why the change?

One of the key issues is that a significant number of people have COVID-19 but don’t know they have it. They’re what’s called asymptomatic – meaning they have no symptoms. But even though they may not look or feel unwell, they can spread the virus. The use of masks is to prevent the spread of the virus from those who are asymptomatic to the rest of the population. It’s hoped that by wearing a mask any droplets breathed, coughed or sneezed out by people remain inside their mask, and not falling on surfaces that other people will touch.

In Australia, we’re still being advised to only wear a mask if we have COVID-19 or care for someone who does. But the problem is, if you’re asymptomatic you don’t know you have it. And because we’re only testing people who have symptoms and fit certain criteria, how would you ever know if you’re asymptomatic? Gah!! So what do we do?

As with everything COVID-19 related there’s no simple answer, so we need to consider several factors to make our own, informed decisions:

  • There’s a worldwide shortage of masks. The medical grade masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, those who are on our frontline as far as COVID-19 goes.
  • If we practise physical distancing as we’ve been advised to and we practise good hygiene then we shouldn’t need to wear masks, or if we do, only for short periods of time if we’re in a crowded indoor venue.
  • Some experts say that due to the population density in Australia, we have fewer problems with crowds at supermarkets and other essential places than do more populated countries. That is, we’re more able to keep the necessary space between ourselves and others, especially now that these centres have introduced strict physical distancing measures.
  • We just don’t know how to wear them properly. Most of us have never had to wear masks regularly so we don’t know how to secure them properly, remove them without contaminating ourselves, how long to wear them etc. So if you’re going to wear a mask – whether it’s a disposable mask, or you’re making your own, it’s really important that you know how to wear and care for them. For example: if it’s a disposable mask, you need to throw it away after every use. Do not put it in your pocket or bag to use again. It needs to be thrown away. And if you’re using a cloth mask, wash it after every use. Again, do not put it in your pocket or bag. Wash it before reusing it. The WHO has lots of information on when and how to use masks – including how to put them on and take them off without contaminating them or yourself.
  • Don’t let wearing a mask give you a false sense of security. The evidence is clear that the best things we can do to prevent the spread of the virus is to wash our hands with soap and water thoroughly and frequently, use alcohol based hand sanitiser when there’s no access to soap and water, avoid touching our face, sneeze or cough into our elbow and continue to practise physical distancing. Masks may provide some level of protection – depending on what they’re made of, how porous the fabric is, how well you use them – for when you absolutely have to go out in public, but they not a magical, virus-repelling shield (though how cool would that be?)
  • There are many websites, including the CDC, that have instructions and videos for making your own face masks. This New York Times article has some really good information about home-made masks, including the fact that not all fabrics are created equal when it comes to making masks.

More to explore


gloves-blog.jpg
08/Apr/2020

Gloves | DIY hand sanitisers

Gloves and COVID-19

Along with masks, we’re now seeing lots of people wearing gloves when they’re out in public. Masks I understand, gloves I have more concerns about.

One of the main reasons is cross-contamination.

I’ve seen countless people in public wearing plastic gloves selecting fruit and vegies, picking and choosing what they want, putting back what they don’t and then putting their hands back on their shopping trolley, reaching into their bags for their phone or wallet, putting their phone up to their ear, all without removing or changing gloves. Basically they may as well have no gloves on at all.

By now you’ve probably seen the video circulating widely of an American nurse demonstrating how fast germs can spread even if you’re wearing gloves. She uses green paint to represent germs and pretends she’s at a supermarket. Pretty soon her nose, cheek, phone and wrists have green paint on them. If you haven’t seen this video, it’s worth viewing.

Gloves may make us feel protected, but if we don’t use them correctly – as highlighted in this video – they’re no use at all. In fact they may give us a false sense of security.

It’s understandable to feel anxious as we try to find ways to protect ourselves and our families from COVID-19. It began with panic buying and the run on toilet paper, hand sanitisers, pasta, masks and now gloves. And like panic buying, the more people you see wearing gloves and masks, the more you start to think you should too.

But do gloves provide any extra protection?

The quick answer is no. Washing your hands thoroughly and regularly using soap and water provides more protection against catching COVID-19 than wearing gloves. If you don’t have access to soap and water, then hand sanitisers are your next best option.

The disposable gloves we have access to (if you can find any at the moment) aren’t intended to be used for long periods of time. They’re designed for single use, for short periods of time. Because of this, they’re flimsy and can rip easily. They can also develop tiny little holes that you don’t notice – but are big enough for a virus and many of his closest friends to slip through.

Gloves are hard to find, so the temptation is to wear them more than once. But because they’re disposable they’re not designed to be washed and reused. Reusing them can lead to them becoming more damaged. And remember, this damage may be so small you don’t see it, but it’s enough to mean they’re not protecting you at all.

Good news is that many stores and shopping centres are now providing hand sanitiser stations. You can apply it when you enter and when you leave, and other times when needed. So when you have to go out for essentials, the best thing you can do is:

  • wash your hands before you leave and when you get home
  • avoid touching your face at all times
  • avoid unnecessarily touching things (which I know I’m always doing subconsciously…but not now)
  • avoid touching your phone
  • clean your groceries when you get home
  • take advantage of hand sanitiser stations at the shops
  • stay calm, we’re all in this together.

Finally – if wearing gloves when you’re out in public makes you feel less anxious, then that’s important. Anything that makes us feel calm and in control is essential in these crazy times. It’s just important that you’re aware that gloves aren’t infallible, that they have lots of issues associated with them, and that you know how to use them correctly. In the More to explore section below we’ve provided a link to a video that shows you how to correctly put gloves on and take them off.

More to explore

Hand sanitisers

OK, so gloves aren’t great.

But it’s hard (almost impossible) to find hand sanitisers. So what about making your own? There’s been a proliferation of websites, social media posts and conversations over the back fence about how to make your own hand sanitiser. All you need is vodka, right?

Ahhh, that’s be a big NO. For hand sanitiser to be effective against COVID-19 it needs to be at least 70% alcohol. Vodka is typically 80 proof, which means it’s only 40 percent alcohol*. So save your vodka for a Saturday night cocktail.

Making products like hand sanitiser also requires an understanding of chemistry. Remember that high school subject many of us barely passed?? You’d also need the right equipment to ensure your measurements are exact, so the sanitiser is made safely and effectively. If you had all of that, you still need to be able to buy the ingredients. Like many things at the moment, they’re harder to access because everyone – from distilleries to the person down the street – is trying to make hand sanitiser. So when it comes down to it, hand sanitiser isn’t something you can or should try to whip up at home. There are reasons companies spend lots of time, research and resources making their hand sanitisers. It’s not so simple.

Hand sanitisers also contain ingredients that protect our skin from drying out. When your skin is dry from frequent hand washing and from using harsh chemicals, it can become damaged. Germs can get in through cuts and abrasions. This includes COVID-19, but also bacteria and other microbes that can lead to nasty infections and pain. Some hand sanitiser recipes do include ingredients such as aloe vera to combat this, however it can dilute the alcohol concentration, making the sanitiser ineffective. Read this article by Choice for more info: What you should know before making your own hand sanitiser.

So where does this leave us?

Unfortunately there’s no quick fix. Hand sanitiser isn’t something we should try to make at home. And with commercial hand sanitiser so hard to find, we’re left with good old hand washing. Frequently and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, singing your favourite song. And physical distancing. It’s frustrating, because we like to be doing things to make our lives and world better. But during this pandemic, the doing thing that we know works, is doing nothing*. (*except exercising, staying at home with your family, reading, singing, dancing, having fun, working, cooking, creating, staying safe, watching movies, catching up on home jobs, gardening, jigsaws…read our blog about things to do while in iso.)

Reference

*Will vodka work? What you need to know about using hand sanitiser against coronavirus
Science Alert, 15 March 2020

More to explore


paint.jpg
08/Apr/2020

Cast your mind back just a few short months when the thought of hanging out at home with no obligations would’ve been a wonderful dream. Relaxing, feet up on the couch, a cheeky afternoon nap…ah, the serenity. Now that we have to stay at home, we’re all finding it a little harder than we thought it would be to stay sane and entertained.

So our team have come up with a bunch of things you can do at home this Easter long weekend, and into the coming months. Apologies (sorry, not sorry) this is another long one!

Play – with your kids, pets, partner. Now’s the perfect time to let your inner child loose, play and have fun! Rediscover chasey (the dogs love that one), play hide and seek, build a blanket fort in your lounge, play footy in the backyard, play SH Health’s Easter Bingo, take part in the wheely bin challenge. 

Learn – about the world, a new skill, language, art, culture, history, society. There are so many organisations providing online learning courses, and many of them are free. Just search online using your favourite search engine, and explore what’s available. Also check out Laneway Learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses), TAFEs and colleges, community houses. You’ll come out of this pandemic with so much knowledge you’ll wow everyone at your next trivia night 🤣.

Read – OK complete disclosure here – I’m a librarian, so I love reading and want everyone to enjoy reading too 😊. Now is a great time to read that book you’ve always wanted to, or the one your friends have been going on about. You can read so many books online, or you can you can listen to audio books. Some are free, others you’ll have to pay for. Or go through the pile of books and magazines you have at home. Reread your favourites, share them with your family, create a bookclub and discuss what you loved. And don’t forget to check out your local library to access eBooks and audio books.

Travel – one of our MSK Kids families is travelling the world by having different themed dinners and dressing up. So far they’ve been to India, Malaysia, USA, Thailand 💚. You can travel online and visit cultural and historical collections around the world, zoos and galleries, explore travel blogs, watch documentaries. It’s amazing how much of the world you can experience from home.

Worship – we’re entering an important period of celebration and significance for many faiths. But we can’t gather at our churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship with our family and friends. The good news is that a lot of them are going online. Contact your place of worship or search online to see what events are being streamed and when. Gather with your extended family and friends virtually after worship to celebrate together. It’s going to be different, and it’ll be challenging for many of us, but we can still celebrate the things that are important to us.

Create – draw, sing, paint, write, dance. Take a tip from The Sound of Music and put on a concert or puppet show. All you need to start is an idea. Then go online to see what you need (if anything) and how to move your creation forward. And don’t forget to check out Pinterest. Wow, that’s an amazing rabbit hole you’ll fall into for hours!

Donate – blood, plasma, goods, money…whatever you have to offer. As far blood and plasma go Australian Red Cross Lifeblood is still open and are a VERY essential service. So if you’ve never donated blood and/or plasma, and you’re healthy and well, they could really use yours right now. And if it’s been a while since you’ve donated, it’s time to head back there. Check out their website for more info to see if you’re eligible.

Play some more
– do a jigsaw, create a Lego masterpiece, play board games. You can do many of these things online or using an app, or brush off the games you have at the top of the cupboard in your spare room. Challenge your friends to online games like Words with Friends (if you’re a nanna like me) or some very cool multiplayer games like Fortnite. Stay connected with your friends or meet new people online and have a great time!

Connect – call your parents, your aunt, your brother, your friend from high school. Or reach out via social media. Everyone’s isolated so let’s lessen that by staying connected with the people we love, and reconnect with those we’ve lost track of.

Organise – your cupboards, garage, the weird space under the house, your finances. Wherever you have mess or chaos, what better time than now to get these things in order?

Clean – on a similar note, clean. Clean out the old things you don’t need, want or use, Save them for when you can go to the op shop and donate them. Or prepare your online ads for when you can go back to selling online*. And once you’ve sorted through this stuff, physically clean your space. Give everything a good dose of elbow grease.
*Note – we’re working under the assumption that selling your goods is not an essential reason for leaving your home (e.g. to post something or for someone to visit your house to collect something.

Camp –it’s a much loved tradition in Australia for the Easter long weekend. You can still do it, just camp in your backyard or in the lounge.

Review – your insurance, your Will, finances, energy providers and telecommunications providers. Not nearly as fun as camping 😁 but it’s important, and we never seem to have time for this kind of stuff. Until now.

Cook – we have endless online resources to help us create the perfect meal, try a new recipe, bake a cake or make chocolate crackles. Get the kids involved, make a delicious mess and have fun!

Listen – to each other, audio books, podcasts, music. Take time to really immerse yourself in whatever it is you’re listening to.

Write – a book, blog, journal, your family history. Whatever takes your fancy. Sit in front of the computer or grab a notepad and pen (or quill if you’re feeling fancy) and just get it all out. I find the best way to get started is to just do it…throw words down, have a brain dump, then reread it and edit after you’ve written something. Don’t tie yourself up in knots reading as you’re writing. You can edit when you take a break from the creative process.

Research – your family history, a place for your next holiday, info about your health condition, life, the universe and everything. By now you may have guessed that there are a lot of resources online. Try the state and national libraries, archives, commercial ancestry websites, travels sites, our website, museum websites. There’s so much information out there. The world really is your oyster when you have the time and inclination to do some online searching and exploring.

Garden – create a new garden, resurrect an old one, plant some pots, mow the lawn. Whatever you enjoy and gets you outside and into the fresh air. Then sit back and admire your handiwork. It’s such a satisfying feeling!

Meditate – with all the online stuff we’ve been suggesting, as well as all the noise of the constant media, work, school and everyone living in tight quarters at home, it can be overwhelming, exhausting and LOUD! So take some time out to be quiet. Why not try some mindfulness meditation? Or just sit quietly in your yard? Get the rest of the household involved, and make it a part of your new routine. Your mental health will thank you for these moments of stillness and reflection.

Exercise – well der. Clearly that’s a no-brainer, but it has to be included in our list. And exercise is one of the magical reasons you’re allowed to leave your home at the moment. But it does have to be in compliance with the restrictions in place in Australia, and any further restrictions in your state or territory.

Volunteer – there are many charities, community groups, schools and other organisations that depend on volunteers. And a lot of their volunteer work can be done from home. Check out what’s available by visiting the Volunteering Australia website, or contacting your school, sporting clubs and other local groups.

With all that we’ve offered here, and really it’s just the tip of the iceberg, we hope we’ve inspired you with some interesting, fun, challenging, thought-provoking things to do while in iso.

Have fun, stay safe, stay home and take care of each other.


upside-down.jpg
01/Apr/2020

Our worlds have turned upside down and inside out. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the new normal of isolation and staying at home, a new restriction comes into place. These restrictions are vital to help prevent the spread of a highly infectious virus, but they do make it hard to find your balance.

It’s no wonder most of us are feeling anxious, stressed, upset, angry, vulnerable and a whole host of other emotions. When you also have a musculoskeletal condition, especially if you’re immunocompromised, all of these emotions may be heightened.

That’s why as well as looking after our physical health, it’s really important we look after our mental health.

We’ve put together a list of many practical things you can do to look after your mental health during the pandemic.

A quick warning, this is a ridiculously long blog 😉 but there’s so much we wanted to share with you!

Read it all, or just read the bits that are relevant to you at the moment and revisit as things change.

Find a new routine

This will obviously depend on what you need to do in your day, if you have people depending on you, if you’re working from home, have school work (or need to help others with school work) etc.

It might help to sit down with the members of your household and create a calendar that includes everyone’s commitments and needs. Things to think about when creating your calendar:

  • Get everyone involved. We’re living together in close quarters at the moment, without many of our usual distractions, sports and our friends, so it’s vital that everyone feels that their needs matter and they’re being heard.
  • Include specific time for fun stuff, exercise and connecting with family and friends. Dust off the board games – who doesn’t like a good game of Twister, Monopoly or Yahtzee?
  • Keep your weekends separate – this is really important so that you can get your chores done (sadly the laundry doesn’t stop because of a pandemic) and you have time to do creative stuff, exercise, and get a break from the workday routine.
  • Be very clear on your hours. It’s really easy to lose track of time. If you find this happening, set reminders on your phone to alert you.

Stay informed

There’s a lot of information out there about COVID-19, which can add to our anxiety and stress. But we need to stay up-to-date with factual, current information. Visit the Australian Government website for the latest from the government. Visit our website, follow us on Facebook, and/or call our Help Line weekdays on 1800 263 265 or email our nurses helpline@msk.org.au for info and support.

And once you’re up-to-date, put the news away for a while. It really doesn’t help our mental state to continually check what’s happening. Consider having a specific time (or two) when you check the latest news, and then go back to doing other things.

Get some sleep

We often struggle with sleep at the best of times, because we live with chronic pain. Unfortunately anxiety and stress can make this worse. But it’s important that we do all we can to get some decent sleep. Our physical and mental wellbeing is inextricably linked to good quality sleep – and getting enough of it. Read our recent blog for some practical tips on getting a good night’s sleep.

The Conversation has also recently written a useful article about the importance of sleep, especially now: Sleep won’t cure the coronavirus but it can help our bodies fight it.

Exercise regularly

We’ve talked, and will continue to talk about the importance of staying active – both during a pandemic (still blows my mind to say that) and during normal times. It helps us sleep better, maintain our weight, manage our pain, reduces our risks of developing other health conditions, and it improves our mood. There’s very clear evidence that regular exercise reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression and boosts our self-esteem. So exercise outdoors if you can (while maintaining physical distancing), and exercise in and around your home. Read our blog about exercising during the pandemic.

Eat well

Hands up who’s eating more often, and more unhealthy food choices at the moment? 🙋‍♀️🙋‍♂️ Food is a comfort to us all…and when we’re feeling a bit lost many of us reach for the food that makes us happy. But remember this gratification is short lived. Try to stick to your usual meal times, and gather everyone together and discuss your day (as long as you’re all well). If you live alone, use one of the many apps available (e.g. House Party, Hangouts) and share a virtual meal with a friend or your family.

Be careful with alcohol and other drugs

The temptation may be there to drink a little more, or use other drugs to make you feel better. But any mood changes you may experience are temporary, and drugs and alcohol have a negative effect on our mental health and our wellbeing.

Stay connected

Many of us are feeling the effects of being isolated, even if we live with others. We’re missing our circle of friends, our various social groups, our workmates and our extended families. There are many ways we can stay connected and keep up with each other’s lives. The simplest way is to pick up the phone and call. Avoid discussing the doom and gloom of the news cycle if you can. Instead focus on the new things you’re doing, your triumphs, how you’ve been able to work through challenges. And if there is something really worrying you, or making you anxious or upset, discuss it with someone you trust. Don’t ignore it. Get it out in the open so you can deal with it. As well as calling people, use tech to connect. There are a ridiculous number of ways to connect with others using social media platforms and apps. If you’re not sure where to start, read From Houseparty to Hangouts, these apps can help you stay social in coronavirus isolation by ABC News.

Create something

Channel your inner creativity. It’s a great way to relieve stress, and distract yourself from the worries of the world. There are a lot of online tutorials and info to help you: write a poem/song/novel/blog; learn a craft/language/skill; grow a flower/herb/vegie garden; paint a landscape/portrait/abstract; organise your home/office/life; cook a new recipe.

The sky really is the limit. So ask yourself – what have you always wanted to do if you just had the time??

Turn off the screens/limit news

Although a lot of the tools we’re using to deal with this pandemic are online, we need to set ourselves limits. Too much screen time, too much news – it’s just not good for us. As with everything, moderation is key. Turn off the electronics and pick up a book, or go for a walk, weed the garden, do some deep breathing exercises, talk with someone, try mindfulness. Do anything else but look at your screen or the news…at least for a while.

Give yourself a break

Our world really is crazy at the moment, so it’s important to recognise that and give yourself a break. We’ve not had to deal with a pandemic on this scale before, so be kind to yourself, and if you have a bad day, or a meltdown, that’s ok, we’ve all done it. You’ll brush yourself off and keep on going. And if you feel like you’re not finding it as easy to move on, or get past these moments, it might be time to talk with your doctor about getting professional help.

Get help when you need it

This may be psychological help if you feel like you’re not coping emotionally, financial help if you’re worried about your money situation or legal help if you have some concerns about your employment rights, or you have questions about writing your Will or setting up Powers of Attorney. Getting expert advice can help relieve some anxiety.

Take heart

🧡We’ll get through this. We may have to change and adapt, but we will come out on the other side of this pandemic. We just have to be patient, follow the advice and guidance of our health professionals and the government, look after each other and be creative with how we live during these crazy times.

More to explore


telehealth.jpg
01/Apr/2020

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. Welcome to our brave new world”.

OK, so I’ve mixed my classic Hollywood movie and a classic Huxley novel, but we really are in unchartered waters!

Just this week the Federal Government announced that telehealth will now be available for everyone. It’s one of the many measures the government is introducing, to enforce physical distancing and slow down the spread of the virus.

So what is telehealth and how is it even possible? 🤔

Simply put telehealth enables you to consult with your health professional over the phone or through a videoconferencing app (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp).

Depending on the technology you have available, and how comfortable you are using it, you might have a conversation over your phone with your doctor (like any other phone call), or you may interact face-to-face through a videoconferencing app.

Don’t worry though – if you’re only comfortable talking on your phone, that’s fine. You don’t have to download apps and learn how to use them. But if you’re interested, they’re easy to use. They just take a little practice.

Will I have to pay more for telehealth?

No – telehealth appointments will be bulk-billed, so you won’t be out of pocket. And the apps are free to download and use.

With any new system we need time to adjust

As many of us have discovered as we’ve started working, schooling and just trying to entertain ourselves at home, there may be some teething issues.

If you’re calling over the phone you’ll need to adjust to not seeing your doctor face to face; if you’re using an app you’ll need time to adjust to using new technology.

And if you’re using an app you may also experience slower internet speeds, which may affect your consultation. This is more likely to happen during busy times when everyone’s trying to get online (streaming their favourite shows, catching up with friends, watching cat videos).

As with any appointment, there can also be issues with time. Your health professional may be running late, they could be having tech issues, other patients needing more time, a medical emergency, or because they’re human and also need to adjust to working from home. You may be running late too. So it’s vital we all try to be patient, and give ourselves and others some leeway as we navigate this new ‘normal’.

But we can make it easier

We’ve identified these potential issues not to freak you out, but to prepare you. So here are our top tips to telehealth harmony.

Be patient – if your doctor is running late, if your internet is slow, if your appointment is rescheduled due to an emergency, be patient. This can be really hard to do when you’re unwell or in pain. You can feel vulnerable and worried, and being stuck at home can be frustrating. But becoming impatient won’t change the situation and will only make you feel worse – both physically and emotionally. Make a cuppa, read a book, do a crossword, talk with your partner/cat/dog/kids – distract yourself while you wait.

However if you have chest pain or difficult breathing, or have a medical emergency, call 000 immediately.

Don’t wait for your telehealth appointment.

Be prepared – before your appointment, make a list of the things you want to discuss with your doctor. Put them in order from the most important to the least. That way you won’t finish your consultation and then kick yourself for not asking X. Also – be aware that your appointment may end earlier than you anticipate if there’s a tech issue or an emergency. So lead with your most pressing questions or concerns, and if you have time, follow with the ones that are less important.

Be kind – our health professionals are doing the very best they can, often under very stressful, trying circumstances. They’re our frontline during this crisis, so please be kind to them. And be kind to yourself. You’re learning new technology or new ways to do things and just trying to stay sane during an insane time – recognise that you’re also doing the best you can. So hang in there.

Talk with someone who cares

Call the National MSK Help Line – our nurses are available weekdays from 9am to 5pm on 1800 263 265 or you can email helpline@msk.org.au. They can help you with info and support about musculoskeletal conditions, managing pain, treatments, accessing services, COVID-19 and much more.

Call the National Coronavirus Helpline – if you want information on coronavirus (COVID-19). It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 020 080.

More to explore

Supporting telehealth consultations: Helping you get your medicine if you are confined to your home
Australian Government Department of Health, 2 April 2020
As part of the National Health Plan, telehealth can now be bulk-billed and Electronic Prescribing is being fast-tracked. There are options immediately available to support telehealth services so you can get medicine sent directly to you at home.

What can you use a telehealth consult for and when should you physically visit your GP?
The Conversation, 1 April 2020
Some info to help you work out when you should or shouldn’t use telehealth, with a handy infographic to clarify it even further.


medications.jpg
25/Mar/2020

Does anyone else feel like things are going slightly pear shaped at the moment? The COVID-19 pandemic has really thrown us for a spectacular loop.

It’s understandable that a lot of us are feeling anxious, worried and scared – it’s a pandemic for goodness sake, it’s normal for us to be feeling this way. However some people are taking it to the extreme and stockpiling loo paper, food, soap and now medications.

While it’s important to ensure you have your prescription/s filled, and that you have enough of the usual over-the-counter medications you would normally have headaches, sore throats etc, there’s no need for us to lose our minds and go overboard.

Stockpiling – it’s just not necessary

Panic buying has led to certain medications – both prescription and over-the-counter – having limits placed on them to ensure that we don’t run out. Common medications such as paracetamol, asthma puffers, insulin and EpiPens are now restricted

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which is responsible for regulating the import, supply and manufacture of therapeutic goods in Australia, have stated that “as of 6 March 2020, the TGA has not received any notifications of medicine shortages in Australia that are a direct result of COVID-19. Therefore, while it may be appropriate for individuals to ensure that they have at least two weeks supply of prescription medicines in the unlikely event they are quarantined, any stockpiling of medicines is unnecessary.”

So please everyone, breathe. Make sure you have what you need, but don’t take more than that. There’s just no need for it. Let’s all take a deep breath and remember we’re all in this together.

The problem with hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil)

Unfortunately, there’s one medication we know has become difficult to access in Australia. Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is used by people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. There’s been a rush to access this prescription-only medication after US President Trump mentioned that it was a “game changer” in the treatment of COVID-19.

Sadly, there have been reports from overseas that people taking these medications, to treat/prevent COVID-19, have become seriously ill. One man has died.

Thankfully on 24 March, the TGA announced that they were placing new restrictions where “only certain types of specialists will be able to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to new patients”. This is great news as it will help to ensure hydroxychloroquine is available for people with musculoskeletal conditions who need it to keep their symptoms under control.

And then there was ibuprofen

Common brands include Nurofen, Advil, Celebrex, Naprosyn and Voltaren.

There’s been quite a bit of confusion about the anti-inflammatory medication ibuprofen, which is used by many people with musculoskeletal conditions.

Initially the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that ibuprofen could make some symptoms of COVID-19 worse. This was based on a study published in The Lancet. But that’s been debunked

The WHO had to do a backflip stating that “based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen…we are consulting with physicians treating [COVID-19 patients] and are not aware of reports of any negative effects, beyond the usual ones that limit its use in certain populations”.

In Australia the TGA has stated that “there is currently no published peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support a direct link between use of ibuprofen and more severe infection with COVID-19. We will continue to monitor this issue”.

So at this stage, if you’re currently taking ibuprofen, or another NSAID, as prescribed by your doctor, don’t stop taking it without discussing with your doctor.

What if you can’t get out to get your medications?

If you’re self-isolating, sick or just can’t get out to get your medications, there are options for you.

  • Call your family, friends, neighbours. If they’re able to get to the pharmacy for you, that’s great. Remember to keep your distance – practise physical distancing (for example, arrange to leave your prescription, list, money etc in a certain place so they can pick it up without having direct contact with you). Wash your hands thoroughly before you handle the items you are leaving to be picked up, and after you handle the items that have been delivered.
  • Many pharmacies offer home delivery – so be sure to give them a call too.
  • As part of the National Health Plan, telehealth can now be bulk-billed and Electronic Prescribing is being fast-tracked. There are options immediately available to support telehealth services so you can get medicine sent directly to you at home.

Please stay calm

I know this is easier said than done, but pharmacies are an essential service, and remain open after many other (non-essential) businesses were required to close on 23 March 2020. So you can still access your local pharmacist – in person, over the phone, via a family member/friend or through other technology – and get the information, medication and support you need.

And while there is a lot of confusion in our community about so many things at the moment, the government, at all levels, is trying to keep us safe and healthy, but these are extraordinary times. So we need to remain calm, work together and stay kind. We will get through this.

More to explore


distancing-blog.jpg
25/Mar/2020

Ok, so the title dates me…I’m a child of the 80s. Olivia Newton-John was a leg-warmer wearing goddess to many 😊

Sorry to be light-hearted…but I’ll do anything to get your attention.

During this crazy, unbelievable, unprecedented COVID-19 (coronavirus) time it’s important that we embrace the practice of physical distancing, also called social distancing (your choice whether to do this wearing leg warmers, but please, please, please just do it).

It’s the best option we have for slowing the spread of COVID-19 so that we protect the most vulnerable in our community (our older people, people with suppressed immune systems, people with chronic conditions, pregnant women and people with pre-existing health conditions). Obviously, this list includes many of us, so physical distance is important for protecting our own health and wellbeing, as well as the broader community.

Physical distancing also helps us to flatten the curve. You may have heard this term reported in the media and thought – “huh?? What does that have to do with me?”.  In basic terms when we practice physical distancing we reduce the risk of passing on the virus and we’re helping to spread out the number of people becoming infected over a longer period of time. By spreading it out, our health system is more equipped to handle the numbers and not become overwhelmed, which would be the case if we all got sick tomorrow.

And it’s not just us – many of our wonderful healthcare workers will inevitably get sick too. Which will affect the ability of the health system to keep up with the demand. So spreading this out over a longer period of time makes a lot of sense. Read more about flattening the curve here. 

Now more than ever it’s important we stay in contact with the people we care about

Personally, I like the term physical distancing. It’s seems to me to be less isolating and now more than ever it’s important we maintain our social connections (just not physically in the same space). By maintaining our physical distance we can still chat and stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues – using technologies like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, emails, as well as going old school and actually calling someone (insert gasp here) and even send letters (both WHO and CDC have confirmed that you can’t catch the virus through your mail).

So what do you need to know about physical distancing?

Stay informed. This is really important. Misinformation leads normally rational people to buy more toilet paper they can use in a lifetime, causing shortages for others. It leads to fear, anxiety, confusion and anger. So stay informed with accurate, up-to-date information. Go to our website, we have a dedicated section with up-to-date, reliable and practical information on COVID-19.

Maintain your physical distance. But be careful with the pinwheeling arms (if you’re not a child of the 80s look it up). I saw someone doing that today to emphasise that she had enough space around her and she almost took her husband’s eye out (clearly he wasn’t keeping the recommended physical distance).

We’re advised to maintain at least 1.5 metres between ourselves and others. As a guide if you stretch your arms out to your sides (horizontal with the floor) and imagine this amount of space goes all the way around you. Now imagine everyone you come in contact with has the same amount of space around them. This is how much distance you need to keep between yourself and others.

Stay home. We’ve now entered a period that requires us to stay at home as much as possible. The 1.5 metre space around you is a guide for when you HAVE to go out. We’re being advised to only go out when absolutely necessary – when we need to go to the supermarket or chemist for supplies. If you do have to go out, try to avoid crowds and touching too many surfaces.

Now’s the time to embrace our inner introvert! Think about all the times you said you’d like to do X if only you had the time. Well now’s the time! Learn that language, write that book, do something with all your holiday photos, clean the clutter from your cupboard/house/garage, virtually travel the world, live stream the zoo, tune in to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra online. You’re not only doing something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’re helping to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

Look after yourself. While you might be tempted to go full out couch-potato, you need to stay active, eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, and generally look after yourself. Also go easy on the alcohol. These things will all help your immune system, and help you feel the best you can. And if you do become sick – whether it’s with COVID-19, a cold or some other illness, you’ll do better if you’ve been looking after your health.

Check in with others. There are many people on their own who may become isolated during this time. Call them. If you don’t know them (for example an elderly neighbour) leave them a note with your phone number and let them know you can help them out if they need groceries or other supplies. Also some people may just need to hear another voice and know someone is looking out for them.

More to explore


air-guitar.jpg
19/Mar/2020

Didn’t think we’d ever be writing those words!

Update – 23 March 2020 – From midday today, all indoor sporting venues and gyms across Australia will be closed until further notice. 

The government has just announced a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 of more people.

So what does that mean if you live with a musculoskeletal condition like arthritis, back pain or osteoporosis?

Well, it depends. One area you may feel the impact immediately is your exercise program. Exercise and being active is vital for all of us living with musculoskeletal conditions. It helps us manage our condition, our pain, our weight, and our mental health. It also helps us sleep better and gives us the opportunity to socialise with others.

However if you take part in classes or attend an indoor exercise centre or gym (that holds more than 100 people), you won’t be able to attend. This may be frustrating, but it’s one of the measures we need to have in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable in our community. Many of whom have a musculoskeletal condition.

Some gyms and exercise centres have already closed, with the City of Sydney closing all its gyms and aquatic centres.

If you exercise in a smaller space (less than 100 people), that should be ok at the moment. Although it’s worth noting that there’s still the potential for people to contract COVID-19 at these venues.

Given that many people with musculoskeletal conditions do exercise in smaller spaces, including warm water exercise, tai chi and chair based exercises, we’ve pulled together the current information so that you can make an informed choice about where and how you exercise.

First and foremost – you need to stay home if you’re unwell. If you have any reason to believe you’ve been infected with COVID-19, call your doctor. Call them first – don’t go to the clinic if you suspect you have the virus. Call and let them know your symptom and travel history.

Warm water exercise classes

Based on current medical information there’s no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through pool water, provided that it’s adequately chlorinated. However if you attend warm water exercise classes, the biggest risk for contracting COVID-19 is mixing with other people who may have the virus, particularly in a wet environment, which is ideal for passing on infections of all kinds. At this time we would recommend that you avoid warm water exercise classes and seek alternative ways to keep active. See our list below for more information.

Chair based exercise classes

These classes are great for people with mobility and balance issues, just make sure you’re spaced at least 1.5m from others, and all surfaces are cleaned and disinfected before and after class. Ensure that you practise good hygiene as outlined by the Department of Health such as washing hands with soapy water and covering your cough or sneeze with your elbow or tissue. Also remember to practice social distancing at all times.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a great exercise for people with musculoskeletal conditions. It’s gentle, helps improve balance, and it can be very relaxing. Also social distancing is already inbuilt in tai chi classes as participants generally need greater than 1.5m between people to do the movements. Again remember to practise good general hygiene as outlined by the Department of Health as well as practicing social distancing before and after class.

Gyms and fitness centres

These places are often humid and sweaty, with surfaces touched by many people. It can be an ideal place for the spread of germs. If you do go to a gym, they should have already put in place measures to keep people as safe as possible including: communicating with all members and visitors about both your responsibility in relation to hygiene and social distancing as well as their responsibility to you. Hopefully they have reduced class sizes and made sure there’s plenty of space between members and between equipment. You should also notice that cleaning and hygiene measures have been stepped up. If your gym hasn’t done this you should seriously reconsider attending.

Alternative ways to exercise

You may decide that at this stage, the risks of exercising indoor in public spaces are just too great for you. That’s absolutely fine, and totally your choice. We’re all dealing with the pandemic in our own way. But exercise and keeping active is important. So here are some other ways you can exercise during the pandemic:

  • Getting outside and going for a walk, jog or run is still a great way to stay active. If you’re doing it with a friend or a group, maintain space between each person. You may have to speak more loudly  but the space between you helps prevent the spread of the virus if it’s present, but not yet detected. And don’t forget – COVID-19 doesn’t spread to our pets, so take your dog for a walk. They’ll love it! And avoid walking, jogging or running in busy areas, or during busy times.
  • Use an old fashioned DVD and exercise in front of your TV. Or stream an exercise program online. Or use an exercise app. There are so many to choose from. Just make sure that the exercises are performed by people who know what they’re doing.
  • Dance around the house. Get the blood pumping with some of your favourite, high energy music, and shake it off!
  • Walk/run around your home and yard. At the beginning of the Chinese lockdown there was news of a man who ran a marathon in his own apartment.
  • If you have a WII Fit, or any of the electronic karaoke/guitar/music games that plug into your TV, set it up and go for it. Sing and dance to your hearts content. If you don’t have any of the electronics, just do some air guitar or air drumming. We’ve all done it, and it’s so much fun.
  • Get creative! One of our families has told us about how they’re blowing up balloons and using them as balls. For example, keeping them off the ground while they sit on opposite sides of the table, hitting balloons with fly swats and other improvised rackets for a game of tennis. We can be very creative when we need to be – let your inner exercise guru loose!
  • Use what you have around the house. You may already have exercise balls/bands and weights to use, or you can improvise with cans of soup for weights, steps ups on your stairs etc.
  • Incorporate incidental exercise. Check out our blog on how the little bits and pieces you do over the course of your day – for example cleaning, talking on the phone – can be made more active and really add up.
  • Go for a ride. Use an indoor stationary bike, or hit the streets or park on your bicycle.

There are lots of things you can do to remain active during this pandemic, and stay safe. These are just some of them. For more information, visit our website or call our MSK Help line weekdays on 1800 263 265. Or email helpline@msk.org.au.

More to explore




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.

Useful Links


Key Conditions

Copyright by Musculoskeletal Australia 2018. All rights reserved

ABN: 26 811 336 442ACN: 607 996 921