OUR BLOG



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18/Feb/2021

Did you know that the second person in the world to get vaccinated against COVID-19 (outside of a clinical trial) was William Shakespeare? The UK was the first to roll out the Pfizer vaccine, and 81 year old William was the second in line to get the jab.

Obviously the media (and people like me) couldn’t let that go by without a joke or two! So after the jab there was a chorus of “Is this a needle which I see before me?”, and “All’s well that ends well’, and the vaccines will lead to the “Taming of the Flu.” And really when it comes to it, it’s all “Much ado about nothing”.

OK, silliness over 😉.

Obviously you can’t open a paper, watch the news or look at social media and not know that the COVID-19 vaccines are coming to Australia very soon. In fact the first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived earlier this week.

There’s a lot of confusion and concern out there, so we’ve answered some of the FAQs we’re being asked. We’ve also included links to other great resources to help you understand these new vaccines and what they mean for you and your family.

What are the two main vaccines?

In Australia the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has so far approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

There are other vaccines in the pipeline which may be available later in 2021. However this article will focus on the two main vaccines that the Australian Government will begin rolling out in the next month or so.

It’s important to note that these vaccines are for adults only at this stage, and that children and pregnant women were not part of the clinical trials. That means we don’t have the information to ensure the vaccines are completely safe for these populations at this stage. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy, read the federal government’s decision making guide for more information and discuss your specific situation with your doctor.

How do they work?

We’ve all heard of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). It’s the genetic material that carries all the information (or genetic code) about how all living things look, develop and function.

However for many types of viruses – including influenza and coronaviruses – their genetic code is stored in their RNA (ribonucleic acid). It provides all the instructions for how the virus works.

Since very early on in the pandemic, scientists have had the genetic code for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). This has made an incredible difference to how quickly vaccines were able to be developed, trialled and ultimately administered.

By now we’re very familiar with the spiky, crown-like surface of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. These spike proteins are what allows it to penetrate and enter our cells, where it proceeds to take over. The virus then instructs our cells to become a virus making factory and before you know it, you’ve got COVID-19.

Researchers have used the genetic code of SARS-CoV-2 that specifically relates to these spike proteins to develop their vaccines.

With the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine they used the genetic code to create their own synthetic RNA. This synthetic RNA contains information of the spike protein only, not the virus itself. So it can’t give you COVID-19. The RNA information is wrapped inside a fatty coating or envelope to protect it. This stops the body from breaking it down as soon as it’s been administered.

The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is known as a ‘viral vector vaccine’. It adds the genetic information about the spike proteins into another virus or a ‘vector’, in this case a genetically modified virus that normally causes the common cold in chimpanzees but not humans.

Despite the differences in the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines the body’s response is the same. Our cells again become factories – but this time they only make the spike protein (not the actual virus). The presence of this protein in our body triggers our immune system to mount an attack, which creates antibodies that are ready for if/when the real SARS-COV-2 comes knocking.

Are they safe?

The information we have to date is that these vaccines are safe to use. Our TGA has rigorous checks and balances in place before any drug (including vaccines) become available to the Australian population.

We also have the benefit of observing the rollout in large populations such as those in the UK and US, and monitoring for any unusual side effects or concerns.

Even after our vaccines are being rolled out across Australia, the TGA will continue to monitor for any issues.

How are they administered?

Like many of the vaccinations we get, the COVID-19 vaccinations will be injected into your upper arm. Both require two doses approximately 3 weeks apart. It’s important that you receive both doses.

After you’ve been vaccinated you’ll stay where you are for about 15 minutes to ensure you’re feeling ok afterwards.

What if I have a weak immune system?

If you have a medical condition, or take medications that mean you have a weakened immune system, you should still be able to receive these vaccinations. Remember the vaccines aren’t using live viruses.

The vaccines may help prevent you getting COVID-19, or prevent you getting a more serious case.

Read the latest information from the Australian Rheumatology Association: COVID-19 Vaccination for Rheumatology Patients. And talk with your doctor if you have any concerns at all.

Do I have to get vaccinated?

COVID-19 vaccinations are voluntary. You choose whether to have one or not.

Can I choose which one I get?

It’s unlikely you’ll be able to choose which vaccine you receive.

Australia has secured fewer doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine (20 million doses), compared to AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine (3.8 million doses delivered from offshore facilities, and 50 million to be produced onshore this year).

The Australian Government, working with the state/territory governments, has a comprehensive strategy for vaccine rollout, prioritising those at greatest risk of being exposed to SARS-COV-2, or having worse outcomes if they develop COVID-19. This includes frontline health care workers, quarantine and border staff, aged and disability care workers, and aged and disability care residents.

From then on vaccinations will be a phased process, dealing with each group of vulnerable people. You can find out more about the vaccination rollout here.

Do I have to pay for my vaccinations?

No, they’re free.

Will it make me immune from catching or spreading COVID-19?

We’re not sure.

The vaccine trials were studying whether the vaccines stopped COVID-19 symptoms or reduced the severity of symptoms, not whether it protected people from getting infected with the virus. So the vaccines may not protect people from catching the virus if they’re exposed to it, but hopefully it will reduce the impact of symptoms.

We also don’t know if someone who gets vaccinated and later develops COVID-19 – but has no symptoms (asymptomatic) – is able to spread the virus to others. We just don’t have enough data.

That means that unfortunately the vaccinations won’t be a ‘get out of jail free’ card. We’ll still need to do all the things we’ve been doing for the last year – wash our hands with soap and water regularly, use hand sanitiser, practise physical distancing, wear a mask if required, and get tested and isolate if you feel sick.

What are the side effects?

Some people (not all) may feel a bit off colour for a day or two. They may experience flu-like symptoms (muscle and joint pain, headache, chills), and/or pain and redness where they received the injection. This is your immune system responding to the vaccine, not to the virus. The best thing to do is look after yourself, find a comfy position on the couch and watch your latest binge-worthy show.

Can I catch COVID-19 from these vaccines?

No, as the vaccines aren’t live.

Do I still need to get a flu vaccination this year?

Yes, if you normally get a flu shot each year, plan to do it again.

Influenza viruses are different to SARS-COV-2, and so the vaccinations are different.

However it’s important that you allow 14 days between a flu vaccination and either dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. Your doctor can give you more information and help you make sure your timing is right.

Will getting vaccinated make everything go back to ‘normal’?

If by normal you mean, pre-COVID craziness, it’s very unlikely. Apart from the potential for being asymptomatic and possibly spreading the virus even after vaccination, there’s still a lot of unknowns. Even though it feels like it’s all been going on forever, in the life of a new virus and the work needed to get it under control, we still have a ways to go. The only way to do that is to stop the spread of the virus.

When it comes to vaccination, the World Health Organization has stated that “a substantial proportion of a population would need to be vaccinated, lowering the overall amount of virus able to spread in the whole population”. What ‘substantial’ means exactly isn’t clear, and numbers from 50-80% of the population have been thrown around from a variety of sources.

But it’s not all cause for gloom. This time last year we were just entering the pandemic and there was so much we didn’t know. But science has made amazing strides, collaboration between researchers and big pharmaceutical companies has been unprecedented and we’ve learned so much about ourselves as we’ve led much smaller, intimate lives.

Yes, we’re still in the middle of this pandemic, but we’ve come so far and grown so much. And for that we should all be proud and continue moving forward – one step at a time.

Contact our Help Line

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

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17/Dec/2020

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye

Update 9 January 2021: This article was written in the heady days as we counted down to the end of 2020 – before the new, highly contagious variant of COVID was known to most of us. So unfortunately masks are still with us for a while. 

2020 was the year of the humble face mask, especially in Victoria. They’ve protected us, divided us, helped keep COVID at bay. And with their use no longer mandatory in most situations I’ve been reflecting on what they’ve meant to us, and things we’ve learned after wearing them for months.

And with a COVID vaccine on the horizon (fingers crossed!) we may be able to stow them away in the back of our closets, hopefully to gather dust for many, many years.

  • Let’s hear it for the early adopters, the trail blazers. The people who wore masks from the very beginning of the pandemic, and eased us into mask wearing. By the time their use became mandatory, they were strange, but not as foreign as they might have been.
  • All the things we told people not to do in the beginning – “don’t touch your face”, blah, blah, blah – as soon as we all started wearing masks, we did all of those things. It seemed as soon as you put a mask on, your nose started itching.
  • We learned that masks can help prevent people who are asymptomatic with COVID, or have what they think is ‘just a sniffle’, from spreading the virus to others. And that we may decide to wear a mask on a voluntary basis in the future when we do have a sniffle or a cold. It’s a small act that can have a big impact in reducing the spread of airborne disease.
  • They made those of us who felt more at risk of developing COVID – and experiencing worse outcomes as a result – feel a little more secure when we had to venture out, especially when combined with all the other measures we were using.
  • We had a run on fabric and elastic. The stores couldn’t keep up with the demand for mask making supplies ✂.
  • Those wearing glasses quickly discovered the dilemma of foggy glasses with many tips, tricks and myths spread to keep glasses fog free. We also learned which shape masks worked better with glasses.
  • When wearing a mask, no one can see you yawn.
  • But then no one can see you smile. So we learned to smile more with our eyes, and wave at each other. A lot.
  • Since our eyes were what people could see, we accentuated them more with make-up – eye shadow, mascara, glitter (or was that just me?).
  • We discovered the perils of dangly earrings and masks. I can’t count the number of times I got my earrings caught in the elastic (again, was that just me?).
  • We’ve never been so obsessed with our breath…because we were inhaling it from very close quarters. And that was a shock for many people! But a word from the wise, don’t shove a handful of mints in your mouth before donning a mask, especially if you wear glasses. The minty freshness will bring tears to your eyes.
  • The Melbourne look took off. You couldn’t wear a mask while eating or drinking (obviously) so this look – active wear, masks under chin and coffee cup in hand – became de rigueur.
  • Cars all over the state had masks adorning their dashboards and dangling from the rear vision mirror.
  • And yet, we’d often forget them and only remember we needed one when we were in the middle of the supermarket and saw everyone else wearing a mask. We’ve all been there. And gotten the sympathetic look from other shoppers who’d also forgotten their masks from time to time.
  • For people rocking beards and moustaches, masks were a little tricky. They prevented the mask from sitting flush to the face and creating a proper seal. So kudos to the people who found inventive ways to create masks that not only covered their nose and mouth, but also their facial hair. Or who made the ultimate sacrifice and decided to shave it all off for now.
  • Masks started out being very practical and drab, but over time they became a fashion statement. They coordinated with outfits, were made from beautiful prints, were decorated with sequins and other bling, showed our support for a sporting team, our love of bands, animals, books and movies, and even displayed our company logos.
  • We saw what seemed to be a massive increase in the number of people jogging and running – because you didn’t have to wear a mask while doing either of those things.
  • We learned that you could breathe while wearing a mask, though if you had a blocked nose it wasn’t pleasant. But you could do it.
  • Sadly, disposable masks became a frequently spotted piece of litter in our parks, walkways and carparks.
  • And then there were the jokes, tweets, puns and one liners that masks gave birth to:
    • When I go out for a latte, I think of it less as a mask and more as a coughy filter.
    • Surprised me when I saw someone wearing a Gloria Gaynor mask. At first I was afraid…
    • Bought a mask for my pet duck. Wasn’t sure if it was the right one at first, but it fitted the bill.

When it’s all said and done, we got used to them. They were irritating, but they did the job. In a few years we’ll look back on 2020 and be proud of our hard work and the effort we put in to protect the community from this insidious virus. And we’ll probably wonder why we made such a fuss about a few pieces of fabric.

Call our Help Line

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

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19/Nov/2020

OMG, did you know there are only 36 days until Christmas?!!

It seems like Christmas 2019 was just a few weeks ago, now Christmas 2020 is looming! Yikes!!

Ok, breathe. It’s important we don’t panic. There are lots of things we can do to prepare for the festivities without too much pain. After the year we’ve had, we deserve a wonderful Christmas with those near and dear to us.

So here are our top tips so you can enjoy some festive fun:

Shopping

  • Plan around your pain and fatigue. Wear comfy shoes (including orthotics if you have/need them), grab your walking aid, your shopping list (a foggy brain makes remembering almost impossible) and your shopping buggy/bags. Be kind to yourself as you may feel tired and exhausted for hours/days after your trip. If your battery was already low before you tackled this, it’s may take some time to recharge and feel yourself again.
  • Once you get to the store, hygiene and physical distancing is key:
    • Wear your mask if you live in an area where they’re mandatory or recommended.
    • Use sanitiser on your hands and disinfectant wipes on the handles on your trolley/basket.
    • Keep a least 1.5 metres between yourself and others.
    • Don’t touch your face.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.
  • Take breaks. Shopping is exhausting and stressful, so take breaks when you need them. Don’t push yourself too hard, or you’ll end up paying for that over the coming hours/days.
  • Use a trolley or a shopping buggy, even if you’re only getting a few things. It will do the heavy carrying for you, so you can avoid muscle and joint pain.
  • Use your assistive devices – walking aids, braces, orthotics. If you have them, use them. They make a big difference.
  • Shop online. We’ve learned through life in lockdown and iso that so many things can be purchased with a few quick clicks of your mouse. So visit your favourite stores online and save yourself some trips to shopping centre madness. Just be sure to check the shipping details to ensure your goods arrive in time.
  • Shop local. You don’t need to hit the big shopping centres to find unique gifts or fresh produce. Small, independent local stores often have most of what you need.
  • Be kind to others. Your fellow shopper isn’t the enemy. So be patient, give them space, and be tolerant. The staff at the store also deserve our kindness and empathy – they’ve been flat out all year trying to keep the shelves stocked so that we can get all the things we want or need.

Gifts

  • Take a leaf out of the big guy’s book – write a list and check it twice. Knowing what gifts you’re looking for before you hit the shops will save you time, energy and money.
  • Consider spending less. It’s been a tight year for many of us, so it makes sense to be economical and save some dollars. You don’t want to head into 2021 with massive Christmas bills.
  • Make your own gifts. Embrace your inner creative guru and bake, paint, draw, knit or sew your presents. Another option is to make some gift vouchers – e.g. 1 hour of babysitting or dog walking.
  • Embrace Kris Kringle or Secret Santa gift exchange. They’re popular for a reason. Make 2020 – the year of the ‘new normal’ – the time to try it out, and save yourself time, stress and frustrating shopping expeditions. It’s particularly good if you have a lot of people to buy for.
  • Give gift cards and vouchers. They’re always a great idea for the person who’s hard to buy for, or the person who has everything. And you can get a lot of them online – without the hassle of changing out of your pjs or leaving the comfort of your couch. Some companies such as Private Health Funds offer discounts online when purchasing gift cards.
  • Give to charity. There are so many worthy causes around and many have been struggling during this incredibly tough year. So follow your heart and make a donation instead of buying gifts this year.
  • When it comes to wrapping your gifts, gift bags are easier on sore hands than cutting wrapping paper and using sticky tape. They’re also a lifesaver for those of us who are hopeless at wrapping.

Decorating

  • Get the family involved. Put some Christmas music on and have fun with it. Decorating your tree, your home and garden for Christmas should be all about the joy of the festive season and being together.
  • Keep it simple. Remember what you put up you have to pack away after Christmas. So if that thought fills you with trepidation, choose the ‘less is more’ option.
  • Put decorations in easy reach on a table or bench so you’re not constantly bending over to pick them up.
  • Use a step ladder, rather than overstretching. And if you have any balance issues, ask someone else to do the high stuff.
  • Remember things don’t have to be ‘perfect’. That’s too much pressure. So don’t be a Monica Geller (sorry, couldn’t resist a Friends reference).

Having people over

  • Keep it COVID-safe. What you can do and how many people you can have over will depend on where you live. So visit your state/territory government health site for the latest info. Have plenty of soap and hand sanitiser available, avoid hugs (I know this is tough) and if you’re feeling unwell, get tested and stay home, or cancel your gathering. That last one will be incredibly tough, as we’re so used to soldiering on through our aches, pains and fatigue, but if you think there’s even the remotest chance you have COVID, get tested and keep everyone safe by isolating until you know you don’t have the virus. Use the Healthdirect symptom checker to find out if you need to be tested.
  • Keep it simple. As with decorating, keep your celebrations simple. Seriously after the year we’ve had, any celebration is epic!
  • Cook/bake things ahead of time. Many of the foods we enjoy for Christmas can be made days and sometimes weeks before the big day. That means you don’t have to work yourself into a cooking frenzy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And you’re more likely to enjoy yourself on the day.
  • Ask your guests to bring a plate. This shares the work, the cost and ensures those with special dietary requirements can bring food that accommodates their needs.
  • Pace yourself. When you’re hosting an event, it’s easy to get carried away and be constantly on the move. Gatherings can be a marathon, so pace yourself so you don’t run out of steam before the end.
  • Take a seat. Make sure you take time to rest and get off your feet.
  • Be medicine-wise:
    • Over-the-counter and prescription medication may help you manage pain and inflammation so you can enjoy your day. If you’re not sure what will work best for you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
    • Watch the alcohol. Many medications don’t mix well with alcohol, so find out if it’s ok to have a drink with your meds.
  • Stay hydrated. Christmas is often hot in Australia, so it’s easy to become dehydrated, especially if you’re busy making sure everyone is having a good time. So keep the water flowing – for yourself and your guests.
  • Give yourself a break when it comes to cleaning and packing up. Get the family and your guests involved – even if it’s simple things like folding up chairs, or bringing dishes to the kitchen. And ask yourself if you really need to do everything immediately? A lot can be done the next day after you’ve had a rest.

Manage stress

  • Christmas and the holidays can be a stressful time, but it’s important that you manage your stress as best as you can or risk having a flare. So pull out your best stress management strategies and use them as often as you need to.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


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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


gumboots.jpg
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.

More to explore


walking-dog.jpg
16/Jul/2020

“Whooooa, and don’t it feel good!”

Gotta love the eighties and music from bands like Katrina and the Waves, right?

And even though there’s only a glimmer of sunshine in Melbourne as I’m writing this and I’m a bit chilly from the quick walk I took round the block, I’m certainly feeling brighter than I did 15 minutes ago! Especially with the tune of that song stuck in my head.

While I was out I couldn’t help but notice how many people were also out for a stroll. It seems that everyone’s rediscovered walking during the pandemic.

This is one of the most positive things to have emerged due to COVID. People are pulling on their walking shoes and hitting the paths.

Family groups, deliriously happy dogs with their owners, single people with their headphones on – and everyone doing the COVID smile as you pass by. It’s lovely.

Walking is a great way to exercise. It costs nothing, it’s suitable for most people, and it gets you out and about.

It’s a fantastic way to wind down after a long day of work. It can help you relax, especially if you’re feeling stressed or anxious because of the crazy state of the world. There are so many things we have no control over at the moment, but going for a walk? That’s something we can control.

The fresh air, the exercise, and listening to something interesting – your family, a friend, a podcast or music – it’s a great way to boost your mood.

If you don’t exercise much, walking might be a good way for you to build up your activity levels – though be sure to talk with your doctor first to get the all-clear. Then start slow.

Try walking 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and you’ll really notice the health benefits. It can help you manage your pain, lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it can lift your mood, help you get a good night’s sleep, improve your bone and joint health and increase heart and lung fitness.

If you can’t walk 30 minutes at a time, break the walking up over your day. Three 10 minute walks, six 5 minute walks…it all adds up.

And if 30 minutes most days isn’t achievable for you at the moment, set yourself a goal so that it becomes achievable. Think about your daily commitments, your level of fitness, your pain/fatigue levels and all of the other things that affect you day to day. Now create a SMART goal. That’s a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Time-frame that works for you. Read our blog about goal setting for more info.

Walking tips

  • Wear comfortable, appropriate clothing and shoes. Your shoes should support your feet and have a non-slip sole. Clothes should be loose and/or stretchy enough to allow you to walk without restrictions. And don’t forget a hat on sunny days.
  • Warm up and cool down to prevent injuries or pain. While you might be eager to just get out there or you want to stay ahead of a group of people coming up behind you, it’s important that you take the time to let your muscles and joints warm up. And when you’re close to finishing your walk, take the time to slow it down and give your body the chance to cool down. Don’t forget to incorporate some basic stretches after you’ve warmed up and after you’ve cooled down. Check out these ones from the Arthritis Foundation (USA).
  • Remember to physically distance from other people when you’re out for your walk. Keep at least 1.5 metres between yourself and others. That doesn’t include members of your household.
  • Choose quieter times to walk if you live in a busy, densely populated area. Try walking early in the morning, or in the evening, as long as it’s safe to do so.
  • Avoid the really popular parks and paths. It’s just too hard to maintain that 1.5 metres when you’re surrounded on all sides by people. It can also make your walk less enjoyable if there are crowds of people and lots of noise. Find parks and walking trails that are less crowded, or go at a different time of the day/week.
  • Make it social (if you can) – walk with a friend, your family, kids, the dog.
  • Listen to music, audio books, podcasts. Going for a walk by yourself gives you space for some alone time. Listen to something that interests you and relax as you get some exercise.
  • Make walking a part of your regular routine. Go at the same time each day – e.g. before/after work, after lunch.
  • Don’t go out if you’re sick – stay home and look after yourself. This is especially important if you’re experiencing any COVID symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. Find out more about COVID symptoms on the Australian Government website.
  • Be mindful while you’re walking. Really take time to be in the moment and experience the walk. How do your feet feel as they connect with the ground? What can you smell? How does the wind feel on your face? This is an opportunity to really connect with what you’re doing and savour every moment.
  • Explore new places. Obviously follow the directions of the health officer in your state/territory, but if you’re able to explore new walking trails, parklands and suburbs, do it. As many of us have discovered during lockdown, walking the same paths day after day can become a little tedious. Mixing it up will make your walks more interesting. Comedian and radio host Tony Martin and his partner have spent more than 10 years exploring the streets of Melbourne, with the goal to walk every single street! While your goal doesn’t need to be this challenging, it may inspire you to pull out the old Melways or use your GPS to discover new and interesting places to walk.
  • Take a water bottle – it can be thirsty work! And depending how far you’re walking, consider taking a small backpack for your water bottle and any other supplies you think may need such as snacks, a map, band aids (just in case) and your phone.
  • Track your walking with a pedometer or fitness activity tracker. This’s a great way to see how you’ve progressed over time. And many of the walking apps allow you to challenge others, so if you can’t physically walk together, you can in spirit.
  • Increase the distance and intensity of your walks over time. To see the health benefits from your walking, you need to push yourself to go further and harder.
  • And if you catch the walking bug (that sounds a little gross but you know what I mean), consider joining a walking or bushwalking group when restrictions ease. You’ll meet other people who love walking, explore new places together and get lots of tips and advice to make your walking more enjoyable and challenging.
  • And last but not least…walk with us! At least in spirit. Our Walk in July is happening as we speak. People of all ‘walks’ of life (sorry for that), ages, conditions and locations are walking virtually whenever and wherever they want to raise awareness of musculoskeletal conditions and to raise funds for Musculoskeletal Australia. Join us and together we can make a difference to the lives of those who need it most!

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just some of the sites that provide useful info about different walks and trails in Australia.


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16/Jul/2020

For many of us, massage is an important tool for managing the aches, pains and muscular tension associated with having a musculoskeletal condition. It complements the other things we do to manage our condition such as exercise, medication and mindfulness.

What is massage?

Massage is a hands-on therapy that involves rubbing and manipulating the soft tissues of your body, especially your muscles. There are many different types of massage including relaxation, shiatsu, sports, deep tissue, hot rock and remedial.

Massage can improve circulation, ease muscle tension and help you feel more relaxed. A massage can also help relieve stress and help you sleep.

In this blog our focus is remedial massage and self-massage.

What’s a remedial massage?

Remedial massage treats muscles that are “knotted, tense, stiff or damaged.” (1)  In consultation with the client, a “remedial therapist will assess and identify which areas of the body require treatment, and use a range of massage-based techniques to optimise muscle function”.(2)

Remedial massage helps loosen tight muscles and ease your pain and stiffness. And for many people with musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis or back pain, this type of massage is essential to keep you moving.

Seeing a remedial massage therapist

A qualified remedial massage therapist is trained to “assess and treat muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue and treat injuries and soreness”.(3) 

Seeing a massage therapist regularly can help prevent a build-up of muscle tension caused by chronic pain, inactivity and injury. They can also help you manage your pain, maintain joint flexibility and function, and provide you with exercises and stretches to do between visits.

Questions to ask a massage therapist

Before seeing a therapist, you should do your homework and find out as much as possible. Ask questions such as:

  • What type of massage do you provide?
  • What are your qualifications?
  • Are you accredited with the peak massage body in Australia?
  • Have you successfully treated people with my condition?
  • Do I need to take all my clothes off?
  • How long are the massage sessions?
  • What is the cost?
  • Can I claim this on my health insurance?

When you see the therapist you should:

  • Be open with them and communicate your needs and any health issues – whether they’re ongoing or new.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable before they start massaging. They may have placed your arms in a position that aggravates a neck or back condition, or have you lie in a way that causes pain or discomfort. If this occurs, explain to the therapist that the position doesn’t work for you. They can then make changes to ensure you’re comfortable and that you get the most benefit from the massage.
  • Ask for extra support if you need it. If you need a pillow or cushion to support your neck, knees or back, let them know so they can accommodate you.
  • Let your massage therapist know if the pressure is too hard, too soft or if anything hurts. Don’t suffer in silence.
  • Ask yourself whether it matters if you see a male or female therapist. Massage therapists are professionals who want to help you. They’ve seen people of all shapes and sizes and will use towels and sheets to cover you. However you do need to be relaxed during a massage, and if you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious you won’t fully relax. So if you think this will be an issue for you, ask for a massage therapist that suits your needs.
  • Try not to feel embarrassed if you fall asleep or pass wind during your massage. It happens – especially when your body relaxes.

After your massage

  • You may feel a little sore or tender after your remedial massage. This may last up to a day. The massage has worked and stretched your muscles, much like exercise does. If you’re not used to this or it’s been a while since your last massage, you may feel some pain. A warm shower or heat pack can help alleviate this.
  • Do some gentle stretches, as you would after exercising. This helps you maintain some of the benefits of your massage – such as increased flexibility and reduced muscle tension.

Giving yourself a massage

You can relieve many of your own aches and pains by giving yourself a massage. You may even find that you do this unconsciously – when you’re sitting at the computer and you rub your neck, when you have a headache and you gently rub your temples, or when you’re applying a heat rub to your sore knee.

It’s a simple easy way to relieve pain and tension. The good thing about self-massage is you can do it almost anywhere and it’s free! Try it next time you feel tense and sore.

Self-massage tips

  • Warm up first – ease some of your muscle tension with a warm shower or by applying a heat pack (warm not hot) to the painful area.
  • Use smooth, firm strokes. You’ll feel the difference between strokes that are relieving muscle tension, and those that are adding to it. Adjust the pressure, from hard to gentle, based on your pain.
  • Add some massage oil (or lotion) – it can help your hands move smoothly over the skin. This isn’t essential, but can add to the soothing feeling of the massage.
  • Don’t massage over bony areas. This can be painful and may cause an injury.
  • Try using massage aids – such as a foam roller, massage balls or other massage aids; e.g. use a tennis ball or a golf ball to massage the soles of the feet. Simply place the ball on the floor, place your bare foot on top of it and gently roll the ball along the length of your foot. If you’re unsteady on your feet, sit down while you do this. You can also use the shower to provide a massage, especially on your neck, shoulders and back.
  • Massage regularly – this’ll help prevent muscle pain and tension building up.

Get help with self-massage

Sometimes you need help when you’re giving yourself a massage. Reaching a sore spot in the middle of your back is tough. Or being able to apply firm, consistent strokes to your neck and shoulders may be impossible if you have a musculoskeletal condition that affects those areas. So ask for help. From your partner, a close friend or even the kids. Just be sure to clearly explain what you need.

You can remain fully clothed and have them massage those areas over your clothes. Combined with using a heat pack, a home massage can provide some relief from your pain.

Massage during COVID

Many of us are finding our muscular aches and pains are worse at the moment and the need for a massage is even greater. Working from home and not having access to a proper desk or chair, trying to home school kids, not being as physically active as we’d like, and general stress about what’s happening in the world can all add to our pain levels and muscle tension. A massage – whether by a qualified therapist or a self-massage can help.

The good news for people locked down due to stage 3 restrictions, is you can still access remedial massage therapists. Yay!

Remedial massage and other allied health services like podiatry, mental health counselling and physiotherapy are essential to support health and wellbeing. So they’re not a restricted at this time. So wherever you are in Australia, you can get a remedial massage if you choose to.

Just make sure you don’t see a massage therapist if you’re feeling unwell. If you feel at all sick, get tested for COVID-19 and stay home. Find out more about COVID symptoms on the Australian Government website or call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.

Take care, stay safe and give massage a go.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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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16/Jul/2020

We’re used to having a certain amount of control and consistency in our lives. Before COVID our lives were fairly predictable and we generally knew what was coming. It made us feel secure and settled.

But at the moment it’s almost impossible to know what’s coming. Things are constantly changing and there’s so much we can’t control because of this new world we find ourselves in.

The problem is that when we feel like we have little or no control, we can start to feel more anxious and stressed. Apart from the significant impact this can have on our mental health, we know our physical health is negatively affected by periods of increased stress and anxiety. Our pain and fatigue becomes more intense, our sleep is affected, as is our concentration and blood pressure. We may also get more frequent headaches and stomach upsets.

So if we can take back some control, we won’t feel so powerless. This can help reduce the impact of stress and anxiety on our health.

But we’re in a pandemic – what can I control?

I’m glad you asked. While there are lots of big picture problems we can’t change, we can focus on the small, personal things that affect ourselves, our family and friends and our community.

Start with rituals and routines

Work – Hands up if your working from home attire is something you couldn’t wear to work even on a casual Friday? Many of us have relaxed into trackies, slippers and other comfy clothes. Unless we’re on a video chat, in which case our top half is more presentable.

But this has the effect of blurring the lines between work and home life; just when we really need that distinction to give us work/life balance. And while I won’t go so far as to suggest we all get dressed in our pre-COVID work clothes (though some of you may do that) making a few simple changes may help solidify the lines between work and leisure.

In a recent article in The Age, Melissa Singer wrote that when she’s working she puts on her work shoes, even if she’s wearing comfortable, loungy clothes. At the end of the day she can kick them off. This is her signal that work is done for the day.

You can do similar things like putting on some perfume/aftershave, lipstick, a favourite work shirt, or putting your work away in a briefcase or work bag at the end of the day. They’re things we associate with work, and when we’ve finished work, we should go through our end of work day routine.

And if you can, put your work out of sight so it’s not in view. Even if that means putting a sheet over it. Create a new work routine that helps you put work aside so you can relax and enjoy your leisure and home time.

Daily routines – It’s important during times of change and uncertainty to have a daily routine that you stick to. It will help you feel more in control of your life and what’s happening at the moment.

Your routine is very specific to you and your life, and will be affected by 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. 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.
  • 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.

Birthdays, weddings, graduations, funerals – These are big events for us all. They make us feel connected with our people. And while there may be some restrictions depending on where you live, it’s important we continue to mark these occasions in whatever way we can. In person, via video or phone. We can send celebratory or condolence cards; we can even go the extra mile and make our own. We can write letters and actually put down on paper how much people mean to us. I can guarantee that this will mean so much to the recipient.

Things are different, but there’s no reason we can’t still connect when it comes to the important occasions in our life. Or just on a random Tuesday.

Our health

We need to continue to look after ourselves. We have musculoskeletal conditions, so we need to continue to manage them as best we can. That means staying in touch with your healthcare team, alerting them to any changes or concerns, exercising, getting your regular tests done when they’re due, managing your weight and looking after your mental health.

Many of us have other health conditions as well. So we need to manage those too. Looking after your health is a really tangible thing you can do to feel in control in an upside down world.

The COVID three

This would be the worst band name ever, but it’s stuck in my head from all the ads in the media. Which I guess is the point.

We can control how we react to the pandemic and reduce our risk of becoming infected, or spreading the virus, by following what Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth calls the COVID 3.

Wash your hands, physically distance yourself from others and consider downloading the COVIDsafe app. Stay home if you’re unwell and get tested. Cough and/or sneeze into your elbow. Consider wearing a mask. Use hand sanitiser when you don’t have access to soap and water. And follow the advice of the chief health officer in your state or territory. Wait, hang on, that’s 10 things.

Oh well, just stay safe people. Stay kind. And look after yourself and others.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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

Reference

  • Even behind the curtain of Zoom, the show must go on
    The Age, 9 July 2020



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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