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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.


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26/May/2018

Do you feel like your diet has gotten away from you? Have you spent winter eating yummy, warm and kilojoule dense foods, and now your clothes fit a little more snugly than you’d like? Or do you just feel like it’s time to get serious and make sure you’re eating as well as you can – to improve your health, energy levels and mood?

Here are some handy hints to help you get started.

Seek advice. If you need help planning well-balanced meals, managing your weight, or finding simple and easy ways to prepare nutritious meals, talk with a dietitian for information and advice.

Make your meals colourful. Fruit and veggies fall into five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. And each one has unique disease fighting chemicals (phytochemicals). So when you’re making a meal, try and include as many colours as you can. It’s good for you, it looks appealing and tastes delicious!

Be cautious with food labels – light, lite, fat-free, reduced-fat, baked not fried…what’s it all mean? For a start it doesn’t necessarily mean the food is a healthier option. Lite and light may refer to the colour or taste – not the kilojoules. Low fat (less than 3% fat) or no fat (less than 1% fat) may have high levels of sugar. So take these claims with a grain of salt, and…

Read the nutrition panel. Understand the servings per package, and how big that serving size is. Check the number of kilojoules per serve, how much salt, sugar, fat is in each serve. And don’t forget to check out the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order from the largest quantity to the smallest. Be aware that fats, sugars and salt may be called something else – e.g. sugar may also be sucrose, glucose, fructose, honey, lactose, maltose, molasses, dextrose, golden syrup etc. Understanding the nutrition panel can be a little tricky when you first start, but it’ll soon become second nature. Check out the Eat for Health website for more information.

Be sceptical of the latest fad or celebrity diet. There seems to be a new one each week! If you need to lose or gain weight, talk with your doctor and get safe, practical advice and support. Don’t follow the latest diet you’ve seen online or in magazines. If it sounds too good to be true – I lost 20 kilos in just 2 weeks, you can too! – it probably is.

Prepare meals in advance. When your pain is under control, take some time to make extra meals that you can freeze and use when necessary. This way you’ll be eating meals you know are healthy, and not resorting to quick and easy takeaway foods or store-bought frozen meals – which are often high in fat, salt and/or sugar.

Talk with your doctor about supplements. If you think your diet is lacking some essential nutrients (e.g. calcium) talk with your doctor. Some people may need to take supplements if their diet is inadequate.

Join a group – if you need to lose weight and need information and support, think about joining a weight loss group. Sharing the journey with others who understand how you feel and the setbacks you may encounter can be extremely helpful.

Check out our recipes – they’ve been created by Melissa Jones, an Accredited Practising Dietitian who works in the aged care and disability sector. Melissa has kindly volunteered her expertise and knowledge to help us bring healthy and nutritious recipes to people with musculoskeletal conditions.

These are just a few tips to help you eat well and have a healthy diet. If you have some suggestions or want to share what you do, please let us know! We’d love to hear from you.




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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