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28/Jan/2021

We often associate gout with gluttony and enjoying too much alcohol. Historical images of gout include overweight, ruddy faced, aristocratic men or royalty such as Henry VIII.

But this isn’t the case and is too simplistic a view of a complex condition.

To find out more about gout, what causes it and how it’s treated, check out our gout info.

So what causes a gout attack?

If you have gout, you know that an attack happens suddenly, often overnight, and you’ll wake up in a lot of pain.

And it’s more likely to occur if you:

  • are male
  • have a family history of gout
  • are overweight
  • have high levels of uric acid in your blood
  • drink too much alcohol (especially beer)
  • eat a purine-rich diet (including foods such as red meat, offal, shellfish, fructose, beer)
  • use diuretics
  • become dehydrated
  • crash diet or fast.

Managing your weight

While you can’t control some of the risk factors to prevent a gout attack, you can control your weight. If you’re overweight, losing weight gradually and carefully can reduce your risk. However don’t go on a crash diet, skip meals or fast as this can also increase your risk of an attack.

If you need to lose weight, talking with your doctor and/or a dietitian is a really good idea to get the information and support you need to lose weight in a healthy way.

Other dietary changes

It’s believed that lowering uric acid levels through small changes in your diet may help reduce the chance of future gout attacks. These changes include:

  • restricting or avoiding alcohol
  • avoiding binge drinking
  • eating a healthy, well balanced, colourful diet. Research suggests that the DASH diet or Mediterranean diet may be helpful. Read our blog on anti-inflammatory diets for more info.
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding fasting or crash dieting
  • making sure you don’t overeat on a regular basis.

Your doctor or dietitian can help guide you in making healthy changes to your diet.

Keep taking your medication

It’s important to note that dietary changes alone aren’t enough to address the underlying cause of gout – too much uric acid in your blood. For many years there’s been a misconception that simply changing your diet will help keep your gout under control.

However the research clearly shows that medication is needed for most people with gout to manage it effectively. So if you decide to make some dietary changes, discuss this with your doctor and continue to take any medication you’ve been prescribed to manage your gout.

Final word

Gout is a painful, complex condition that affects many Australians. But there are things you can do to take control, including managing your weight, making changes to the things you eat and drink and taking your medication.

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.

More to explore


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13/Jan/2021

It’s the start of 2021 and many of us are feeling the effects of consuming too many yummy things during the holidays. Trifles, honey glazed hams, wine, pavlova, cheesecakes, rum balls, cocktails, pudding, soft drinks, fancy salads with sweet dressings, crackers, lots and lots of lollies…and that was just one day!!

But sadly while we may love these high-sugar foods, they don’t love us back. And if we don’t consume them in moderation, they can have some very negative impacts on our health and wellbeing.

So let’s take a look at the delicious, but bittersweet world of sugar.

Did you know?

Consuming too much sugar can increase muscle and joint inflammation. It can also lead to weight gain, an increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, high blood pressure, acne and dental disease. Which means Mary Poppins had it all wrong with her spoonful of sugar – it doesn’t help the medicine go down ☹.

How much sugar should we aim for?

Because of the many health issues linked to a diet high in sugar, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a guideline that states “in both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake”. (i)

By free sugars they’re referring to the sugars “added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”. (ii)

For an adult with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), 10% works out to be about 12 teaspoons (or 50 grams) of sugar, in all its forms, per day.(iii) While that sounds like a lot, there’s a lot of hidden sugar in our food. Apart from what we add when cooking or making a cuppa, there’s the sugar that’s in our processed, packaged and pre-prepared foods, soft drinks, fruit drinks, bread, crackers, alcohol etc. So it all adds up very quickly.

In the 2018 report Nutrition across the life stages, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that “more than half of the population in each age group up to 19–30 have intakes of free sugars that are greater than the WHO guideline. While this decreased slightly with older age groups, it remains high, with between 35% and 50% of the population with intakes greater than or equal to 10% of energy intake”.(iv)

The main contributors to added sugars intake include: “fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, soft drinks, cakes and muffins, cordials and sweet biscuits”.(v)

But we can change our eating behaviour to reduce the amount of sugar we consume. We don’t have to be a slave to our sweet tooth or our eating habits. And in a short period of time we can experience the improved health benefits of eating a balanced diet, low in sugar.

Did you know?

Sugar has many different names. You may be familiar with some of the ones ending in ‘ose’ – glucose, fructose, dextrose – but there are many that don’t even sound like a sugar, like demarara and turbinado! That’s why it’s a good idea to become familiar with the different names of sugar, so you know what to look for. Choice has a helpful list of 42 different names for added sugar to help you.

Let’s get started – some tips for reducing your sugar intake

  • Get help. You don’t have to do this on your own. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian for advice and strategies to help you reduce your sugar consumption. And get the family involved. It’s more than likely that if one person in the household is consuming too much sugar, then others are too.
  • Read the nutrition information panels and ingredients lists on your packaged foods. EatForHealth.gov.au has some great resources to help you understand what you’re looking at. And remember, sugar has several names that may be listed in the ingredients list – so one product may list sugar, invert sugar, malt extract, glucose solids, golden syrup, and honey – all in the one item! That’s a lot of sugar.
  • Compare similar products. Once you’ve wrapped your head around reading nutrition panels and ingredients lists, compare products before you buy them. For example, compare different yoghurts – one may have a much higher percentage of added sugar than another.
  • Decide how you’re going to do this. You may decide to go cold turkey and stop consuming anything with sugar. This sounds really hard to me but it works for a lot of people. Or you can make changes gradually and consistently. This can also be tough, so getting help from a dietitian is a really good idea.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary drinks, including alcohol. We know soft drinks are full of sugar, but so too are flavoured milk drinks, fruit and vegie juices and store bought smoothies, slushies, milkshakes etc. Drink water – plain or sparkling instead. And if you want a flavour hit, add some lemon or lime slices, or some mint leaves.
  • Think about why you’re eating that ice cream after dinner or mid-afternoon chocolate bar. Are you actually hungry or is it a habit? If you’re hungry choose something that’s not full of sugar like unsweetened Greek yoghurt with some passionfruit or berries, or a small handful of unsalted almonds. If you’re eating because it’s a habit, do something else. Take the dog for a walk, talk with your kids, fold the laundry, clean your teeth. Distract yourself until you’re no longer thinking about eating.
  • Make sure you’re eating enough fibre and protein. They’ll make you feel full and satisfied, so you’re less likely to snack. Fibre is also important for a healthy digestive system, while protein has many health benefits including providing energy, growing and repairing cells and keeping your immune system healthy.
  • Manage your stress. We often reach for the comfort foods when we’re feeling anxious or stressed because they make us feel better. Find other ways to deal with stressful situations that don’t involve sugary food or drinks.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Being tired or feeling fatigued is one of the many reasons we crave sugary things because we know it’ll give us a quick burst of energy. But that energy doesn’t last. You soon go back to feeling tired and needing more sugar to keep you going. And lack of sleep is also linked to weight gain; when coupled with a diet high in sugar, it’s not a great combo. Read our information on sleep for more information about how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity.
  • Be prepared for the potential for sugar withdrawal. Sugar is addictive, and some people may find they experience symptoms such as headache, fatigue and lack of concentration when they reduce their sugar intake. But it will pass. Have some strategies in place in case this happens to you such as: going for a walk, calling a friend, having a cup of tea or coffee (minus any added sugars or syrups), drinking some water, getting some fresh air, doing a crossword. Whatever works to distract you from the symptoms you’re experiencing.

In the end, it’s up to you how much or how little sugar you want to have in your diet. There are definite health benefits for having a diet low in sugar, but that doesn’t mean no sugar.

So if you’re struggling with the idea of giving up all of the sweet things that you enjoy, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your favourite sweet every now and again.

And you’re more likely to really savour it because you’re eating it because you enjoy it – not because you’re tired, stressed, bored or because it’s a habit. So take some steps today to reduce your sugar intake. Your body will thank you for it.

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

References

i-ii WHO Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children, 2015.
iii Food Standards Australia & New Zealand: Sugar, 2019.
iv-v AIHW Nutrition across the life stages, 2018.


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24/Sep/2020

Anti-inflammatory diets have been around for some time. There are many websites, books and blogs promoting the benefits of eating anti-inflammatory foods.

This type of diet sounds tempting, not only because of the foods they promote – which are all delicious – but because the idea that we can fight inflammation with the foods we eat sounds so attractive and natural!

So what is an anti-inflammatory diet, what are they supposed to do and what’s the evidence (if any) behind them?

First – the what

The theory behind these diets is that certain foods have anti-inflammatory properties, while others cause inflammation. So if we incorporate more of the anti-inflammatory foods and less of the pro-inflammatory foods in our diets, it may help lower levels of inflammation for people who have arthritis, psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions.

Sounds logical, right? Maybe??

Next – the evidence

OK, so this is where it gets a little murky. There’s really not a lot of conclusive evidence to support these claims. Studying the effects of diet is a tricky business, as this article in VOX explains. When we look at treating chronic diseases, research “involves looking holistically at diets and other lifestyle behaviors, trying to tease out the risk factors that lead to illness. Nutrition science [is therefore] a lot more imprecise. It’s filled with contradictory studies that are each rife with flaws and limitations. The messiness of this field is a big reason why nutrition advice can be confusing.” (1)

So we often have to use things like observational studies, self-reporting or information gleaned from studying the effects of dietary changes on lab animals.

Which means the data we obtain is often contradictory and isn’t conclusive. For more information read: The messy facts about diet and inflammation by Scientific American.

Does this matter?

Maybe not. Two popular anti-inflammatory diets are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

Both diets have a heavy emphasis on eating:

  • foods that are as unprocessed as possible,
  • a rainbow of fresh whole fruits and vegetables (not juices),
  • whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole grain breads and pasta,
  • beans, lentils, chick peas and other legumes,
  • nuts and seeds,
  • fish, seafood and poultry,
  • healthy oils such as olive, vegetable, canola.

They both recommend people eat less:

  • red meat,
  • foods high in sugar, salt and fat,
  • highly processed foods.

So if we look at this type of diet, it’s actually a healthy, well-balanced diet. Eating a variety of different foods, in a range of different colours means that we’re giving our body a wide range of important vitamins and nutrients.

In the end, whether you call it an anti-inflammatory diet, a Mediterranean diet or DASH diet, it doesn’t really matter. And whether it has an effect on inflammation, only time and further research will tell.

But if you eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet you’ll certainly feel better overall. Eating well helps us maintain a healthy weight, is important for our physical and mental health, can help us sleep better, be more active, reduce our risk of developing other health conditions, and just generally makes us feel good.

Tips to change your diet

If you want to make your diet more like the anti-inflammatory style of diet, here are our top tips:

  • Talk with your doctor and seek advice from an accredited practising dietitian.
  • Start small. You don’t have to change your entire diet at once if that seems overwhelming. Make small changes such as reducing the amount of processed foods you eat, eating more fruits and vegies each day, swap red meat for fish, lean chicken (skin-off), beans or lentils.
  • Get adventurous. There are a lot of websites that provide easy recipes that follow this type of eating plan. We’ve listed some in the More to Explore section.
  • Portion size is still important. Many of the plates we use, especially for dinner, are far too big. And we tend to fill them. The simple solution is to use a smaller plate. When dishing up your meals, imagine your plate is divided into quarters. Aim to fill two of those quarters (or half the plate) with colourful vegies or salad, one quarter with protein (fish, legumes, tofu, meat) and the last quarter with carbohydrate foods such as rice, noodles, potato or bread roll.
  • Exercise is also important. A healthy diet doesn’t work on its own. We also need to be active every day to maintain our weight, control our pain, improve our sleep and improve our mood and mental health.
  • Reduce your intake of:
    o Sweet foods such as cakes and biscuits. Swap them for fresh, in-season fruit.
    o Refined grains such as white rice and white bread. Swap them for whole grains.
    o Trans-fats and saturated fats.
    o Ultra-processed foods. These are foods that have gone through a LOT of processing and are far from their original state. They generally have salt, sugar, fat, additives, preservatives and/or artificial colours added.

Final words

At the end of the day, these diets are all about eating a variety of healthy foods. And as we come into warmer weather, these are the sorts of foods that make us happy, feel lighter and more energetic. So – if you’re not already – why not give it a go?

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore

Reference

(1) I asked 8 researchers why the science of nutrition is so messy. Here’s what they said.
Vox, 2016


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24/Sep/2020

A healthy diet doesn’t have to break the bank

Hands up if, like me, you’ve developed some ‘not so great’ eating habits during iso and lockdown? Snacking more often, larger serves and comfort eating? Combined with being less active than usual, this can lead to weight gain. Not great for our joints and overall wellbeing.

And with tight budgets – and tighter waistbands (hello COVID kilos) – it’s timely to look at how well we’re eating and how we can eat well for less.
Here are our top tips for enjoying tasty, healthy meals and snacks that won’t break the bank.

  • Plan your meals/snacks and write a list of the ingredients you need before you hit the shops. This is a must, because it’s easy to forget things, buy the wrong quantities or buy items you don’t need in the heat of the moment (step away from the Tim Tams Lisa). Check out this information from eatforhealth.gov.au for tips on meal planning. There are also a lot of meal planner apps you can download from Google Play or App Store. They give you the convenience of your meal plan and shopping list on your phone. No more forgotten shopping lists!
  • Choose generic products. They’re generally cheaper and are often the same product as the name brand, just with less fancy packaging. So check out the generic, home brand and no-name versions of your staples, such as flour, tinned tomatoes, legumes and oats.
  • Read the nutrition panel. It’s a good habit to get into so that you can track the amount of energy (kilojoules), fat, salt, sugar etc in your foods. It’s also useful when you’re comparing different brands of the same product.
  • Replace some meat dishes for vegetarian meals. Research has found that a vegetarian diet costs less than a diet that includes meat. You don’t have to go all out vego, but simply swap a few of your meat dishes for plant-based meals. They’re tasty, healthy and cheap. Just make sure you do your research to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Healthy vegetarian protein sources include tofu, chickpeas, beans, quinoa, lentils, eggs and nuts. If you need help, there are a lot of great websites with interesting and tasty vegetarian recipes – from simple to more complex recipes. Something for everyone!
  • Prepare meals in advance. When you’ve got some free time, make extra meals that you can freeze and use when necessary. That way when you’re exhausted, or having a flare, or just can’t be bothered cooking, you’ll have some meals you know are healthy. And you won’t have to resort to takeaway foods or store-bought frozen meals, which can be costly and are often high in fat, salt and/or sugar.
  • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables that are local and in season. It’s cheaper, fresher and supports our local farmers. And goodness knows they need all the support they can get! The Foodwise website can help you find what’s in season. They even have a seasonal meal planner. Very handy!
  • Grow your own. Many of us have discovered the joy of gardening this year. So why not grow some of your own produce? Whether it’s small scale with a few pots of herbs on your balcony or larger scale vegie patch and fruit trees in your backyard, you can experience the pleasure, and reap the rewards of growing some of your own foods. Nothing tastes better than food you’ve nurtured, grown and picked yourself.
  • Frozen and canned fruit and vegetables can often be used in place of fresh. They’re still healthy and they’re often cheaper. They’ll also keep longer. Just make sure to check the nutrition panel. Canned foods may have added salt or sugar. So for vegies, look for ‘no added salt’ on the label, and choose fruits in natural juice and with no added sugar, rather than canned in syrup.
  • Read the unit price when comparing products. This will enable you to see the difference in price regardless of brand or quantity, and you can work out which provides the best value for money. Unit pricing works by using a standard measurement across all products of the same type.
    So for example, if you compared yoghurt X with yoghurt Y:
    * yoghurt X costs $6.40 for 1kg, so its unit price is $0.64 per 100g;
    * yoghurt Y costs $2.30 for 200g, so its unit price is $1.15 per 100g.
    That makes yoghurt X cheaper per 100g.
    Luckily, you don’t have to tie yourself up in knots doing this math when you’re shopping – the unit price is provided on the shelf label and online. Thank goodness! Shopping is hard enough!
  • Shop around. Just because you’ve always shopped at a certain shop doesn’t mean you always have to shop there. Visit the local farmers markets, keep an eye on catalogues and join online groups with other savvy shoppers. That way you’ll always be in the know about who’s providing the best value for money for your groceries. Times are tough, and there are less than 100 days until Christmas – so doing a little research before you go shopping is worth it!
  • For items that last, and that you use regularly, buy in bulk. This includes things like rice, dried/canned legumes and pasta. But please don’t go crazy and start hoarding. Buying in bulk to save money is different to the panic buying we saw earlier this year. If we all shop for only the things we need, there’ll be plenty to go around for everyone.
  • Reduce your kitchen waste. Shopping with a list will help here, and also only buying what you need. Take note of the foods that you often throw out because they’ve become a mysterious, furry blob in your fridge. Avoid buying that item, or buy less of it when you shop. Or look for ways to use food that’s becoming slightly less than fresh, but is still good. Soups are a great way to use the last of the vegies in your fridge crisper. Also check out the Foodwise website. It has lots of tips to help you reduce waste, as well as recipes, meal plans, info on what’s in season and loads more.
  • Takeaway tips. Let’s face it there’ll be times when we really, really want takeaway food. As long as it’s an occasional thing and we eat it in moderation, it shouldn’t have too great an impact on our health or wallet. Here are some tips from Health and Wellbeing Queensland to help you make the healthiest choices when it comes to takeaway food.
  • Finally, don’t shop when you’re hungry. It’s a really easy way to find lots of tasty, but unhealthy things in your trolley that weren’t on your shopping list. It’ll blow your budget and your plans for healthy eating right out of the water. So shop after you’ve eaten, or munch on an apple or banana or handful of nuts before you even consider walking into the bright lights and air-conditioned aisles of your local shopping centre. Your budget will thank you for it.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


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02/Jul/2020

An article in the news this week caught my eye and really struck a chord. I don’t know about you, but the period of isolation has seen me gain a little more weight than I’m happy with

Having more time to cook and create, stress eating, the return of Masterchef (Go Poh!) and not being as physically active as we were before COVID…not to mention the snacking, cocktail hour and a whole bunch of other factors has caused many of us to gain weight during iso.

Apart from the many health issues associated with being overweight (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure) it’s also linked to increased pain and joint damage due to the increased stress on your joints. It can also affect your ability to be as active as you’d like, which can lead to more pain, musculoskeletal issues and weight gain. We also know that fat releases molecules that increase inflammation throughout your body.

Clearly maintaining a healthy weight is important.

So if, like me, you want to lose some of the weight you’ve gained during the last few months, we can do it! We can turn this around. It may be a challenge and take some time, but we can lose the COVID kilos.

  • Start with a goal. It really does help if you have a clear goal in mind. Just the idea of losing weight isn’t a goal, but a specific, measurable plan – for example – losing 5 kilos in 8 weeks is. So make sure your goal is SMARTspecific, measureable, achievable, realistic and has a timeframe. Read our blog on setting goals for more info. When you’ve created a goal that suits your specific wants and needs, write it down and put it somewhere prominent. It’s a great visual to help you stay on track, and remind you of why you started.
  • Keep track. It’s helpful when you’re trying to get back into a healthy routine to write down what you’re eating. You can use a simple notepad or download an app. Whatever format you choose, make sure you use it. Add every little thing you eat and drink, how much you’re consuming and when. Keeping track of your food intake really helps you see if your diet is balanced and it can help you spot any trends as far as snacking, serving sizes etc. That’ll help you adjust things if you need to.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes a colourful variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, proteins and healthy fats. This gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, helps protect you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system.
  • (Re)Establish a routine. If you had a healthy diet and exercise routine pre-COVID, reestablish it. It may not be exactly the same, but if you had it once, you can do it again. Look at what’s changed for you over these last few months, how it’s affected your diet and exercise, and what things you need to do to get things working again for you in this new world. If you didn’t have a good routine before COVID, now’s the perfect time to get one. Think about your typical weekday (weekends will have a slightly different routine), what you need to fit into your day including your family, work and other commitments. Write it all down and think about how you can establish a routine that works for you. Think about when you’ll work on creating healthy meal plans, when you’ll shop for ingredients, when you’ll cook, and when you’ll exercise. If you break it down into the small tasks, it makes it easier to fit into your schedule. This may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Get the family involved. Whether you have family living with you, or they’re in another location, get them involved. They’ll be your cheer squad, but they may also benefit from a little TLC when it comes to their diet and exercise. You can support each other, work through problems together, share recipes and ideas.
  • Exercise. Obviously. Make sure exercise is part of your everyday routine. It’s important to help manage your musculoskeletal condition, pain, mental health, weight, sleep – and so many others things.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown a clear link between not getting enough sleep and weight gain. Poor sleep is also linked to difficulties losing weight. As many people with musculoskeletal conditions struggle with sleep, this is yet another reason to really look at how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. And if you need help, talk with your doctor.
  • Eat mindfully. This involves taking the time to be aware of what you’re cooking and eating – savour the tastes, the smells, the textures. Be present while you eat, and try not to be distracted by things like the work, TV and other devices. Don’t hurry, eat small bites, take your time and enjoy.
  • Distract yourself. Sometimes we eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re bored, sad, lonely or upset. Before you eat something outside of meal times, ask yourself why you’re reaching for that food. Do you actually feel hungry? Or is there another reason? If you’re not hungry, distract yourself with a walk, call a friend, drink a glass of water (not wine! – many of us are overdoing that too – see below).
  • Choose snacks wisely. I’m not a chocoholic, but somehow it’s been finding its way into my cupboard on a regular basis. It’s easy for this sort of thing to become a habit, so be mindful of what you’re snacking on and how often. If you’re snacking on less healthy options like high fat, high sugar or high salt treats, substitute them for healthy options such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, yoghurt. But be aware of the serving size and the frequency. You can have too much of a good thing! And save the treats for when you can really savour them. When you only eat them occasionally you’ll enjoy them even more.
  • Acknowledge that you’re not perfect and you may eat some things that aren’t part of your healthy eating plan. That’s OK, you’ll get back on track. Don’t let it trip you up, or allow the negative self-talk to sabotage your weight loss. Go back to your goal, remind yourself why you’re doing this, and move on.
  • Don’t deprive yourself but don’t ‘treat’ yourself too often either. Find that balance of enjoying your food, but don’t use it as a reward or to make yourself feel better if you’re feeling down or stressed.
  • Get help. If you’re struggling with your weight and you need professional help, talk with your doctor or dietitian. They can help you with practical information and strategies that are specifically tailored to you.
  • Be careful with alcohol. Reports are showing that many of us are drinking more during these stressful times. If that sounds familiar, cut back on your alcohol intake. Substitute other drinks that you enjoy instead of alcohol, though be careful of drinks high in sugar. Try different teas and infusions, add lemon and other fruits to your water, give kombucha a go (maybe? It can be an acquired taste), make a mocktail (again be careful of the sugar content).

Contact our free national Help Line

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

Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash


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21/May/2020

For many of us our pain is always there – sometimes in the background and at other times it’s very much in the front of our minds. It’s a constant – just like taxes. Even with a pandemic causing so much chaos and uncertainty, our pain persists, it’s always there.

And quite frankly it’s a pain in the arse. It hurts. It’s exhausting. And it’s invisible.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last week released their latest report Chronic pain in Australia. It highlights that 1 in 5 of us lives with chronic pain. So next time you’re standing in a physically distant queue at the shops or taking a walk around the park – consider the fact that 1 in 5 of the people see you around you is also living with pain. It’s a massive problem, but there are things we can all do to manage our pain effectively.

Know your pain and yourself

It’s so important when you live with a chronic condition that you understand it. Learn as much about your condition as you can so that you can take an active role in managing it, including the pain associated with it. For example, what makes your pain better? What makes it worse? Do you tend to overdo things when you’re feeling great and end up paying for it over the next couple of days with increased pain? Or when you’re experiencing a flare and your pain is worse – do you get anxious, and everything becomes negative and too hard?

Knowing these things – really understanding how your pain affects you physically, emotionally and behaviourally – will help you manage your pain and your condition better, even in this time of crazy COVID.

Tackle the big three – exercise, eat, sleep, repeat

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding my exercise, diet and sleep have all taken a hit due to the pandemic and iso. Not being able to get to the gym, changes to work and my normal routine and stress has really impacted how and when I’m eating, sleeping and exercising. And not in a positive way.

This has had a very noticeable effect on my pain levels. If you’re experiencing this too, acknowledging it is the first step to changing things. So I can’t get to the gym – there are other ways to be active. So my routine has changed and as a result so has my diet. I can manage that. Stress and pain is impacting my sleep? I’ve managed that before – I can do it again.

It’s all about finding the right mindset. This is a strange, new normal we’re living in. And it’s going to change and evolve as we continue through 2020. We have no roadmap for what’s been, and what’s to come – so we need to do the best we can to change and adapt to the constantly shifting landscape.

Get help

OK, that all sounded sooooo easy, right?? Nope.

We may be able to change and adapt to some things but there will be times when we need to ask for help. From our family and friends, from our doctor, physio, psychologist. Whether it’s medications or physiotherapy to directly manage the pain, or asking a family member to carry the heavy laundry basket to the clothesline, or talking with a friend about your frustrations – whatever it is, there’s help available. You just need to acknowledge the fact that you need it and reach out. And remember the nurses on our Help Line are just a call or email away.

Use your mind

It’s a powerful tool. You can use it for distraction, mindfulness, relaxation, visualisation and guided imagery. None of these things will take your pain away completely, but they can provide temporary relief while you do a painful task, try to fall asleep, or wait for your pain medication to kick in.

‘P’ yourself – plan, prioritise and pace

We’re often our own worst enemy. We do too much when we’re feeling great, and end up feeling rubbish for hours/days afterwards. Something ‘simple’ we can do to prevent this from happening time and again is to plan, prioritise and pace ourselves. First plan – what do you need to do today? Write it down. Now prioritise. How much of those zillion things do you really need to do? Often things we see as hugely important aren’t. And do you need to do them yourself? Can someone else do it? Now pace yourself. It’s not a race – so be generous with your time, spread your jobs over the day and build in space for rest breaks.

Look after your mental health

Living with persistent pain can sometimes be a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s perfectly natural that from time to time to feel sad, worried, angry, anxious, depressed or frustrated. Add a pandemic, and it’s no wonder many of us are feeling as if our worlds have turned upside down and inside out. It’s important that you acknowledge these feelings. You may want to write in a journal, talk with a family member or close friend or talk with a counsellor or psychologist. Don’t ignore these feelings or keep them bottled up.

Your GP can refer you to a psychologist if needed on a GP Mental Health Management Plan. At the moment because of COVID-19 you can arrange to speak to a psychologist via telehealth (over the phone or a video call).

Be kind

To yourself and to others. It’s an unprecedented, really strange time and we’re all doing the best we can. So be kind to yourself – you’ll experience ups and downs, stumbling blocks, and barriers that get in your way. And some days you’ll need to work really hard just to keep moving. So give yourself a break. And remember 1 in 5 people are living with invisible chronic pain. And even more people are dealing with all kinds of stuff we can’t even imagine. So be kind to the people you encounter. It makes us all feel so much better than the alternative.

More to explore

Our nurse Clare discusses some simple things you can do to manage pain while at home in isolation, including pacing activities, exercise, getting a good night’s sleep and heat and cold packs.

We also have some great blogs to give you more tips and info about managing pain:


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22/Apr/2020

Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed and frustrated by 2020? You’re not alone! It’s been a bumpy ride so far. Filled with uncertainty, new pressures, lots of unknowns and a lack of control, many of us are feeling anxious, upset and vulnerable. When you have a musculoskeletal condition and live with regular pain and fatigue, the urge to retreat to your warm, cosy bed and pull the covers over your head can be very tempting.

But you’re strong – you’re a mighty warrior living with a chronic condition/s. You can take control of the situation and do something proactive by examining your self-care plan. Ask yourself – “is my pre-COVID self-care plan realistic now? Or does it need updating in light of the changes to my world?”

What is self-care

Self-care involves the things you deliberately do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. It’s the things you plan for (e.g. water exercise classes, visiting your specialist) and you make time for (e.g. mindfulness, taking your dog for a walk, talking with a friend).

You often see articles about self-care with pictures of day spas, yoga retreats and people exercising on the beach at sunset. All wonderful things to do to take care of your health – but when you live with a chronic condition, and you live with pain and sometimes crippling exhaustion, life’s not that glamorous.

So to create a self-care plan for yourself that’s realistic and achievable during isolation, throw those ideas out the window and let’s get real. Start by recognising and appreciating the things that you can do right now.

Some mornings it’s all you can do to get out of bed, let alone shower. So the very basics of self-care involve good quality sleep, a nutritious diet, exercise, looking after your mental health and keeping yourself and your home clean. If you have family, then you have that added responsibility as well, especially at the moment if you’re home schooling while juggling work.

So wow – that’s already a lot! So let’s break it down into bite-size chunks

Get some sleep

Easier said than done I hear you say. But getting good quality sleep is crucial for our everyday functioning. If it’s an issue for you, especially at the moment, part of your 2020 self-care plan may be to look at ways you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. We have resources to help you – including nurses you can speak to on our Help Line (see details at bottom) and info on our website. Or if it’s a problem you feel you need extra help with, talk with your doctor (in person or via a telehealth consultation) to get professional help.

Eat a healthy, nutritious diet

While it’s tempting when you’re feeling crappy to eat foods you think of as comforting (e.g chocolate, cheese, ice cream, biscuits, alcohol) you need to enjoy them in moderation. While they may make you happy for a while, it’s only temporary. Too much of a good thing can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Eating a variety of healthy foods, in a range of colours (eat the rainbow) will make you feel better overall and will give you more energy. And on the days you’re feeling great, prepare some healthy meals you can pop in the freezer for the days you’re feeling lousy.

Stay active

Exercise is so important when you have a chronic condition, but when you can no longer access your warm water exercise class or your tai chi group, finding a new exercise program can be daunting. If you’re looking online, it can sometimes be hard to judge if the exercise will help or hinder you. We’ve created some information about exercising during this time – including some tips about how you can stay active, as well as how to judge whether an online video or app is right for you. If you need some expert help and guidance, talk with your doctor about seeing an exercise physiologist, a physiotherapist or a sports and exercise physician. You can access them via a telehealth consultation or visit them in person.

Take care of your mental health

It’s really easy when you’re constantly surrounded by virus talk to become overwhelmed. Especially if you’re worried about your health, family, work and finances. And when you’re stressed and not looking after yourself properly, it can affect all aspects of your life including your family (and many of us are living in tight quarters at the moment), your ability to focus on work properly, sleep well, eat well…and so it becomes a vicious cycle.

The good news is there are lots of things you can do to look after your mental health during this time (read our blog for tips and strategies) including getting professional help if you need it. Again you can access the help you need in person or via a telehealth consultation. Talk with your doctor if you want more information about getting professional help.

But a really simple thing you can do immediately is to limit your exposure to all things COVID – pick a time when you’ll catch up on what’s happening – for example the evening news or morning bulletin – and then turn it off and tune it out.

Cleaning – plan, prioritise and pace

Cleaning – yourself, your kids, your home can be an enormous challenge. Hands up if there are days you feel like you need a nap after having a shower in the morning? It happens to most of us living with chronic pain at one time or another. For some more frequently than others. But the best thing you can do is to plan, prioritise and pace yourself.

Even before you get out of bed, while you’re lying in your cocoon, plan what you would like to do during the day. Maybe have a notepad and pen beside your bed, or use a note app on your phone and write it all down. OK, seeing it in one place, you can see that it’s a lot.

So now to the second P – prioritise. What are the things you really need to do? Do you really need to wash your hair today, or can you use the dry shampoo? Do you really need to vacuum the entire house, or just the living area? Do you really need to do 15,000 steps today, or do you need to take it down a notch. You know how you’re feeling on any given day – so plan, then prioritise.

Which then brings us to the 3rd P – pacing. Whatever you’re doing – cleaning, exercising, cooking, working, gardening, playing with the kids – pace yourself. It’s not a race – so be generous with your time, build in space for rest breaks.

And this brings us to the 4th P – peeing…after lying in bed thinking about all of this, you now need to rush to the loo 🤣

And finally, when it comes to cleaning – don’t forget hand washing. We need to do it regularly and thoroughly. We also need to be careful how we cough, sneeze and blow our noses. And avoid touching our face. Check out our hygiene 101 blog for more info.

Make time for the things you enjoy

When you’ve given the basics of your self-care plan some TLC and revised it for the current world, now take some time to consider other aspects of self-care. You may not have the time, energy or inclination to do these sorts of things most days, but schedule time to do the things that make you really happy, or relaxed, or pampered at least once a week – like a bubble bath, taking an hour to curl up with a good book, having a moment of peace and quiet in your garden to relax, doing a jigsaw puzzle, video chat with your bestie. We all need these moments to help us recharge, especially when life is so crazy and unsettled.

Contact our free national Help Line

Our nurses are available weekdays between 9am-5pm to take your calls (1800 263 265), emails (helpline@msk.org.au) or messages via Messenger. So if you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services – contact them today.

More to explore


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16/Apr/2020

Managing your weight in isolation

Hands up if you‘re giving Nigella or Jamie a run for their money when it comes to getting creative in the kitchen at the moment? Every second post on social media includes amazing looking recipes and we’ve actually got the time to give them a go. Masterchef has come back on TV, so we’re whipping on our aprons faster than you can say sauté. And with the kids home, we’re getting them involved too. All good right? Absolutely!

The problem is we need to be mindful of our weight with all the cooking, baking and snacking we’re doing.

It’s important for everyone – whether you have a musculoskeletal condition or not – to maintain a healthy weight.

Being at a healthy weight and regular exercise gives you the energy to get the most out of life and will protect you from developing many health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It will also help you manage your musculoskeletal condition and chronic pain.

But with our usual routines disrupted because of COVID-19 and isolation it’s easy to fall into some bad habits. Being aware of this, and taking some simple steps to ensure they don’t become your new normal is important. So here are some tips to help you manage your weight while in iso:

  • Watch the snacks and grazing. Because we’re isolated to our homes, we’re only a few short steps from the fridge or pantry. And with all the cooking we’ve been doing, they’re full of all kinds of delicious things. So it’s really important to resist them. Stick to your set times for main meals, have healthy snacks such as fruit, yoghurt and nuts on hand for when you’re peckish, drink more water, go for a quick walk. Distract yourself from the contents of your fridge or pantry.
  • Which brings us to the next point – ask yourself honestly if you’re hungry or just bored? If you’re hungry, grab a healthy snack. If you’re bored, then do something. Read a book, go for a walk, talk with your family, clean the shower. Focus your attention elsewhere.
  • Be aware of your portion sizes, as it’s easy for them to slowly increase over time. Check out your plates and bowls – do they hold more than a normal sized serve? If so, consider using smaller dishes. Read this article from QLD Health for more info about portion sizes.
  • Track your eating. If you’re concerned that you’re eating more than usual, and you’re starting to gain weight, keep a food diary to help you track what you’re eating. You can use a simple notepad, or download an app. There are lots out there and many of them are free.
  • Alcohol – whoa mama. That’s a big one for many people at the moment. It’s fine to enjoy the occasional drink, but we do need to be careful that fear, anxiety, loneliness and worry aren’t leading us to drink more than is healthy. Find out more about alcohol – how it affects you, what a standard drink is, and tips to help you reduce or quit drinking alcohol.
  • Stay active. Eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercise all work together to help you manage your weight and your health overall. Read our recent blogs on exercising during the pandemic, and online exercises for more info about how you can exercise and stay active during isolation.
  • Talk with your doctor or a dietitian if you’re worried about your diet and weight, and want some professional help. You can do this in person, or via a telehealth consultation. Remember you can still go to see your doctor while in isolation – the clinic will have extra precautions in place to protect everyone from potential infections. But if you’re not comfortable doing this, telehealth is an option for us all.
  • Make your meals an occasion. We can’t go out but we can have fun with our meals and make them a social time for ourselves and our families. Just as much as watching our weight is important, so is social connection during this stressful time. Connect with the people living in your house, or use a video app to catch up with loved ones and make it an occasion. Dress up, chat, laugh, take some time to enjoy a meal together.
  • Don’t deny yourself something you really like. If you love chocolate, allow yourself a small treat occasionally, just not too often. It’s all about moderation.
  • Give yourself a break. We’re only a few weeks into iso – so we’re all having to tread water really quickly to stay afloat. But as time goes by we’ll get better at it. We just need to ensure our new routines are healthy and balanced.

More to explore


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24/Jan/2020

Trying to eat well can seem daunting. Every day it seems a new diet hits the media, endorsed by a celebrity or twelve. And eating healthfully sounds expensive and like too much hard work.

So what can you do to make sense of it all, eat well, and stay on budget?

When it comes to working out what’s best for you and your family, it makes sense to go back to basics.

  • Plan your meals/snacks and write a list of the ingredients you need before you hit the shops. This is a must, because it’s easy to forget things, buy the wrong quantities or buy items you don’t need in the heat of the moment (hello Tim Tams 🙂 ).
  • Go generic. Check out the generic, home brand and no-name versions of your staples, such as flour, tinned tomatoes, legumes, oats. They’re generally cheaper and are often the exact same product as the name brand, just with less fancy packaging.
  • Read the nutrition panel on your foods. It’s a good habit to get into so that you can track the amount of energy (kilojoules), fat, salt, sugar etc in your foods. It’s also useful when you’re comparing different brands of the same product.
  • Swap a meat dish or two for a vegetarian meal. Research has found that a vegetarian diet costs less than a diet that includes meat. You don’t have to go all out vego, but simply swap a few of your meat dishes for plant-based meals. They’re tasty, healthy and cheap. Just make sure you do your research and use healthy recipes. You can find a lot of yummy recipes online.
  • Reduce your kitchen waste. Shopping with a list will help here, and also only buying what you need. Take note of the foods that you often throw out because you didn’t use them before they became an unidentifiable furry blob in your fridge. Avoid buying that item, or buy less of it when you shop. Or look for ways to use food that’s becoming slightly less than fresh, but is still good. Soups are a great way to use the last of the vegies in your fridge crisper. Also check out the Foodwise website. It has lots of tips to help you reduce waste, as well as recipes, meal plans, info on what’s in season and loads more.
  • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables that are local and in season. It’s cheaper, fresher, yummier and supports our local farmers. The Foodwise website can help you find what’s in season. They even have a seasonal meal planner. Very handy!
  • Grow your own. If you enjoy gardening, why not try growing some of your own produce? Whether it’s small scale with a few pots of herbs on your balcony or larger scale vegie patch and fruit trees in your backyard, you can experience the pleasure, and reap the rewards of growing some of your own foods.
  • Frozen and canned vegetables can often be used in place of fresh vegies. They’re still healthy and they’re often cheaper. They’ll also keep longer.
  • Read the unit price when comparing products. This will enable you to see the difference in price regardless of brand or quantity, and you can work out which provides the best value for money. Unit pricing works by using a standard measurement across all products of the same type. So for example, if you compared orange juice X with orange juice Y, orange juice X costs $5.25 for a 2 litre bottle, so its unit price is $2.63 per litre; orange juice Y costs $5.74 for a 1.5 litre bottle, so its unit price is $3.83 per litre. So orange juice X is cheaper per litre. Luckily, you don’t have to tie yourself up in knots doing this math when you’re shopping – the unit price is provided on the shelf label and online. Thank goodness! Shopping is hard enough!
  • Shop around. Just because you’ve always shopped at [insert shop of choice here] doesn’t mean you always have to shop there. Keep an eye on catalogues, visit the local farmers markets, join online groups with other savvy shoppers so you’re always in the know about who’s providing the best value for money for your groceries.
  • For items that last, and that you use regularly, buy in bulk. This includes things like rice, dried/canned legumes and pasta.
  • Finally, don’t shop when you’re hungry. It’s a really easy way to suddenly find lots of yummy, and unhealthy things in your basket, that weren’t on your shopping list. It’ll blow your budget and your plans for healthy eating right out of the water. So shop after you’ve eaten, or munch on an apple or banana or handful of nuts before you even consider walking into the bright lights and air-conditioned aisles of your local shopping centre. Your budget will thank you for it.

More to explore


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27/May/2018

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

Calcium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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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