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22/Apr/2021

13 strategies to get you through

Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition sucks. It may only suck occasionally, or it may suck a lot of the time. But there’s no denying that living with pain, fatigue and uncertainty isn’t a fun day at the beach.

In our 2020 national survey, we asked people how their condition affected all aspects of their life. One thing that stood out dramatically was that of the more than 3,400 who took part, 52% said their condition affected their ability to enjoy life in general.

That’s enjoying life in general – not enjoying big life events or travel – but life in general. And that’s disturbing and very, very sad.

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes for improving quality of life, or the enjoyment you get out of your day-to-day reality. Living with a musculoskeletal condition means that life isn’t always predictable. You can be going through a period of stability then suddenly – bam – you wake up feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck. Or your emotions or mental health suddenly take a downward turn. Living with a chronic condition, or multiple conditions, is a tricky, complicated balancing act.

But there are some things you can do, if you feel you need something to help you get on top of the ‘blahs’ and hopefully start to feel more happy, optimistic and fulfilled. They’re the tried and true ones I use when life starts to feel a bit grey.

  1. Get on top of your condition and pain management (as much as possible)
    If your condition is affecting your ability to enjoy life in general, is it because it’s not well managed or you’re in constant pain? If so, it’s time to talk with your healthcare team about how you can get on top of this. Complete pain relief may not be an option for all people, but getting your pain to a level that you can cope with, and so it’s not severely impacting your ability to enjoy life is doable. It may take some time and effort, but it can be done. Talk with your doctor and healthcare team to develop a plan to get your condition and symptoms under control. And read our A-Z guide to managing pain for more info.
  2. Get some sleep
    One of the biggest factors that affects our mood and mental health is lack of sleep. It’s much more difficult to cope with every day stresses, family life, work/study, as well as managing your health, if you’re exhausted. After dealing with poor quality sleep for some months, I recently took time off work to try and get myself into a better sleep routine. I exercised, went to bed at a reasonable time, ensured I got up at the same time every day, and limited caffeine, alcohol and screen time for several hours before I went to bed. My sleep quality – while still not perfect – is much better. Taking time away from your responsibilities may not be an option for everyone, but there are other strategies you can try to improve your sleep quality. Find out more.
  3. Make time for you
    Ever had those days/weeks when you feel like your life is consumed by everyone else’s problems and issues, and yours keep getting pushed further and further back? If that’s the case – it’s time to take some time back for you. However much time you can carve out of your day, just do it. You deserve and need it. Take the time to rest/meditate/read/go for a walk/just breathe. You’ll feel much better for it and be more equipped to help others afterwards.
    “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown
  4. Connect with your peeps
    It’s an easy trap to fall into. When you feel crappy, and everything seems too hard, staying at home in your safe and cosy cocoon feels like all you can bear to do. You don’t want to share your miserable mood, or let others see how you’re really feeling. But this can become a vicious cycle, and before you know it, you lose touch with family and friends, or miss out on fun times, and important events. If you don’t feel up to going out, call your people. Chat, catch up with each other over the phone or video. Share how you’re feeling (it’s up to you how much detail you go into), and just enjoy the connection. When you’re able to, even if it’s an effort, try to get out and see your peeps. They care about you, and you’ll feel happier for making the effort.
    “It’s not what we have in our life, but who we have in our life that counts.” – J.M. Laurence 
  5. Schedule time to relax
    It may seem crazy, but in this busy world we live in, if you don’t schedule time for relaxation, it often doesn’t happen. I’m not talking about the near comatose slouching on the couch at the end of the day, type of relaxing. But the things that actually refresh body, mind and spirit, and ease your stress and muscle tension. This includes meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, massage, a warm shower or bath, going for a walk or listening to music. So think about the things that relax and refresh you, and make time to do those things each week.
  6. Focus on self-care
    Take time to evaluate your self-care plan. Is it covering all aspects of your life, health and wellbeing? Not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well? Or do you need to create a self-care plan? For help to get you started, read our recent 7 pillars of self-care article. It has lots of info to help you understand self-care, as well as resources to help you create a self-care plan.
  7. Enjoy the small things
    One of the silver linings of the COVID lockdowns for me was that we were forced to live smaller, and as a result really take note and appreciate the little things in our lives. When we could only walk in our local area, I noticed amazing gardens and parks that I hadn’t known existed. It gave me the chance to enjoy the quiet as we worked on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle together. I read, I learned some yoga, I rode my bike. I talked with my young niece and nephew over the phone, and listened as they excitedly told me about their daily adventures. I enjoyed the breeze on my face when I went for a walk, the glow of the full moon, the smell in the air after a rainstorm. Taking a moment to enjoy, and be thankful for these little things, lifted my mood and made me smile. It’s simple, but so powerful. And perfectly segues into my next tip…
  8. Be grateful
    Sometimes we get so bogged down in what’s going on in our life – our problems and issues, family dramas, and the million things that need to be done at home and work – that we can’t see all the good things in our lives. The Resilience Project has a range of activities and resources exploring how we can feel grateful by “paying attention to the things that we have right now, and not worrying about what we don’t have”. Visit their website to find out more about being grateful in your everyday life.
  9. Write a wish list of the places you want to go
    I love to explore. Whether it’s overseas, interstate or my local area. And I subscribe to countless newsletters and alerts that provide info about interesting walks, galleries and exhibitions, cafes and restaurants, and upcoming markets and festivals. I add these to a burgeoning list on my phone, complete with links. This gives me a never-ending list of adventures. And nothing pulls me out of the doldrums like an adventure! Depending on what I’m doing, I do need to take into account my condition, how I feel that day etc. But a little planning, sharing the driving with others, and just being leisurely and not rushing, means that I get to enjoy some amazing things. Just seeing a list of opportunities is exciting, so I’d recommend giving it a go.
    “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” ― Dr. Seuss
  10. Be mindful
    How many times have you eaten dinner, but can’t really remember what it tasted like because you were watching TV? Or gone for a walk but can’t remember much of what you saw, felt or experienced? If this sounds familiar, try some mindfulness. You may have heard of mindfulness meditation, but you can also be mindful when you do other activities, like eating or walking. It simply means that you focus your attention on the moment and the activity, without being distracted. So when you’re eating, really take time to focus on the textures, smells and flavours, and how the food makes you feel. Or when you’re walking, how does the ground feel under your feet, the sun on your face, the wind in your hair? Do you hear birds in the trees, are there dogs running in the park? Be aware and enjoy it all.
  11. Try something new
    From time to time we can get stuck in the rut of everyday life/work/study/home activities. And while having a daily routine is an important strategy for living with a chronic condition, sometimes we just need a little something extra, something new and exciting to get us out of the doldrums. What have you always wanted to do? What’s on your bucket list? Learning a language? Visiting a special place? Writing a book? There are lots of low and no cost online courses that can teach a range of skills from juggling, cooking, origami, geology, playing the guitar, speaking Klingon. And while we can’t travel to a lot of places – especially overseas at the moment – you can still travel virtually and whet your appetite for when the borders reopen. The point is, adding something new and interesting to your everyday life makes you feel more fulfilled and optimistic. Just head to your favourite search engine, and start searching!
    “Don’t be afraid to try new things. They aren’t all going to work, but when you find the one that does, you’re going to be so proud of yourself for trying.” – Anonymous
  12. Exercise
    I can’t get through an article without talking about exercise 😊. It’s just so important, and can improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional wellbeing. I find it’s the perfect thing to do whenever I’m feeling at my lowest. It can be hard to get up and go, but even if it’s a short walk outside, or 10 minutes of stretching exercises, or some yoga – just making the effort and getting the blood moving, immediately lifts my mood, and distracts from my symptoms. That’s because 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. So grab your walking shoes, or exercise mat, and let the endorphins flow!
  13. Seek help
    If you feel like your condition is significantly affecting your ability to enjoy life, and these basic strategies aren’t enough to change that, talk with your doctor. Be honest and open, and explain how you’re feeling. You may need to talk with a counsellor or psychologist so that you can explore some strategies, tailored specifically to you, to help you get through this rough patch.
    “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Vivian Greene

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 managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, 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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22/Apr/2021

I know, I know…we talk about self-care A LOT. But understanding and practising self-care is such an important tool for living your best life and getting the best health outcomes when you have a chronic condition. That’s why we talk about it so much.

Based on the findings of our 2020 national consumer survey, we know people with musculoskeletal conditions are practising self-care by exercising, eating healthfully, appropriately using medications, working with their healthcare team, using mind-body techniques and seeking peer support.

But they also told us they needed support to do this.

So what is self-care?

Self-care is vital and covers all aspects of our health and wellbeing. Things like exercise, visiting your specialist, taking your medication, mindfulness, learning about your condition/s, talking with a friend and even relaxing in a bubble bath; are all part of self-care

To understand the breadth of self-care, and how you can incorporate it into your life in a meaningful way, the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed a framework for self-care around seven ‘pillars’ or ‘domains’.

Let’s explore each of these.

Pillar 1. Knowledge and health literacy
Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power – so understanding your body, how it works, how it’s affected by your musculoskeletal condition/s, as well as any other health condition you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions and play an active role in the management of your healthcare.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care defines health literacy as the way we “understand information about health and health care, and how we apply that information to our lives, use it to make decisions and act on it”.

Together, health literacy and knowledge give us the tools we need to be empowered when it comes to our healthcare. By understanding our body and our health, we can discuss our options with our health professionals, we can critically evaluate information from a range of sources, make adjustments to our lifestyle and behaviours, understand risk factors and the appropriate use of treatments and tests.

In fact, research shows that people who have high levels of knowledge and health literacy have much better health outcomes.

If you want to know more about your health and musculoskeletal condition/s, or you need help to improve your health literacy, there are lots of people who can help you.

Talk with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team. Contact the MSK Help Line and speak with our nurses. Visit authoritative websites (like ours).

And don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how we all learn.

Pillar 2. Mental wellbeing, self-awareness and agency
Incorporating things you enjoy and that make you feel good into your daily/weekly routine – such as mindfulness, exercise, alone time, relaxation, massage, and staying connected with family and friends – is a simple thing you can do to look after your mental wellbeing and increase your resilience.

Self-awareness involves taking the knowledge you have about your condition and health in general, and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help with that, ensure you’re getting enough exercise each day. Or if you’re carrying more weight than you’d like, and this is causing increased knee pain, as well as issues with your self-esteem, talk with your doctor about safe ways you can lose weight. Or if you have rheumatoid arthritis and a family history of osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about how you can look after your bone health.

Agency is the ability and intention to act on your knowledge and self-awareness.

Pillar 3. Physical activity
OK, so this one’s fairly self-explanatory since we talk about the importance of exercise and being physically active all the time 😊.  Regular exercise helps us manage our musculoskeletal condition/s, pain, sleep, mood, weight, bone health – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It keeps us moving, improves our posture and balance, helps us stay connected and helps prevent (or manage) other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Pillar 4. Healthy eating
This one’s also easy to understand, as along with exercise, healthy eating plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Being overweight or obese increases the load on joints, causing increased pain and joint damage, especially on weight-bearing joints like hips, knees, ankles and feet. The amount of overall fat you carry can contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your entire body, including the joints affected by your musculoskeletal condition, increasing the inflammation in these already painful, inflamed joints.

Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, poor sleep and depression.

Being underweight also causes health issues. It can affect your immune system (meaning you’re more at risk of getting sick or an infection) and you may feel more tired than usual. Feeling tired and run down will affect your ability to be active, and do the things you want to do.

If you need help to eat more healthfully or manage your weight, talk with your doctor or dietitian.

Pillar 5. Risk avoidance or mitigation
Taking responsibility for our actions and doing all we can to reduce or avoid actions and behaviours that increase our risk of injury or death, is good for our health.

This includes things such as driving carefully and wearing a seatbelt, drinking alcohol in moderation, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, getting your vaccinations, protecting yourself from the sun, quitting smoking and practising safe sex.

It also includes seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly so that you can stay on top of any changes to your musculoskeletal condition/s.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene
Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition/s are more susceptible to bugs, germs and other nasties in the environment than other people. Their immune system is weakened due to their health condition and/or the medications they’re required to take. Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections.

Good hygiene includes things such as regular and thorough hand washing, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, appropriate and safe preparation and storage of food, cleaning your teeth regularly, staying home when sick, and having a clean home/work environment.

They all help us maintain good health and avoid spreading disease.

Pillar 7. Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines

ISF calls these self-care products and services the ‘tools’ of self‐care, as they support health awareness and healthy practices.

These tools include medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), complementary therapies, monitoring equipment (e.g. blood pressure and blood glucose machines), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and health services (e.g. smoking cessation programmes, physiotherapy, massage therapy).

ISF also states that the use of these tools should be ‘rational and responsible’. That means only using products and services proven to be safe and effective.

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So that’s it – the seven pillars of self-care. They provide a convenient, easy-to-understand description of self-care practises we can use to manage our health and musculoskeletal conditions.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” – Unknown

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, 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

We all know that when our muscles and joints are stiff or painful, it can be hard to move. But we also know that regular exercise is essential for managing musculoskeletal conditions. It helps reduce pain and stiffness, and improves joint mobility and strength. It can also improve balance, sleep quality, lower stress levels, improve mood and help us maintain a healthy weight. It’s practically magic!

But when you’re in pain, exercise can feel like the very last thing you want to do. So what to do?

Just add water!

There are so many benefits to exercising in warm water:

  • the warmth is soothing and helps relieve pain and stiffness
  • the buoyancy supports your body and lessens the strain on your joints
  • water resistance enables you to gradually build up flexibility, strength and stamina
  • anyone can do it – no matter your age or level of fitness.

What is water exercise?

A water exercise program is much more than just going for a swim. Swimming regularly is an excellent way to improve your heart and lung fitness without putting too much strain on your joints, but for a complete workout you need to do a range of exercises which move all your joints and work all your muscles. You can easily do this in a warm water pool.

There are different ways you can exercise in water

1. Water exercise classes
You can enjoy the fun, motivation and social interaction of exercising with others in a class that suits your capabilities and fitness level. In these classes all participants follow the same general exercises.

Many recreation and fitness centres run water exercise classes and cater to a wide range of abilities and fitness levels.

Contact your local centre and talk with an instructor to find out what’s available and to discuss your exercise goals. And ask if you can visit the centre and observe a class before you sign up so that you can be sure it’s the right fit for you.

2. Hydrotherapy
Hydrotherapy is specialised exercise therapy run by a health professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist in a specially heated warm water pool. The exercises are tailored to you and your specific needs. You can do hydrotherapy on your own with the health professional or in a small group.

3. Going solo
You can do your own water exercises in a warm water pool at home or in recreation centres, fitness clubs, swimming schools and retirement villages.

Here are some tips for getting started with your own program:

  • If you’re not sure what exercises to do, talk with a qualified instructor or health professional. We’ve also included links to some general exercises in the More to explore section below.
  • Choose a time when the pool is fairly quiet so you can move safely and confidently around the pool area and you’re less likely to be knocked by enthusiastic swimmers and others enjoying more boisterous water activities.
  • Check the ease and safety of access into the centre, around the dressing area and into the pool.

Swimming is also a good form of water exercise you can do on your own. While it doesn’t work all of your muscles and joints through their range of movement, it’s excellent for your heart and lungs.

What if you can’t swim?

If you can’t swim, that’s ok. Water exercise classes take place in water that’s about chest height. So you can stand with your head above the water. You can also use flotation devices to give you the confidence to get moving in water if you’re feeling a bit apprehensive.

Tips for exercising in warm water

Whether you’re exercising at home or in a community pool, participating in a class or doing your own exercises, you’ll get the most benefit from your exercise session and ensure your safety and wellbeing by following these tips:

  • Don’t go into the water if you’re sick, have any wounds or skin irritations/infections.
  • Check out the venue to see if it’s suitable for you. For example, is the pool easy to access? Are the change rooms accessible and comfortable? Is the venue close enough for you to go to regularly? Do the class times and opening hours of the venue work for you?
  • Begin your exercise program with short sessions and gradually build up over time.
  • Perform each movement as gracefully and smoothly as you can.
  • Keep the body part you’re exercising under the water. This may require you to squat or bob down at times.
  • Come out of the water immediately if you feel light-headed, dizzy, drowsy, extremely fatigued or nauseous. These reactions are possible if you spend too long in very warm water. Drink some water and sit or lie down for a while.
  • Stop doing an exercise which causes severe pain or discomfort. Consult your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist if your joint symptoms increase significantly after an exercise session.
  • Ease up if you experience mild to moderate joint or muscle pain for more than a few hours after your exercise session. Some increased pain is normal after exercise, especially when you’re starting out, but if you’re in pain hours after your visit to the pool, you’ve likely overdone it. Reduce the intensity next time – but don’t stop.
  • If you’ve had a joint replacement, keep in mind the movements you were instructed to avoid by your surgeon or physiotherapist.
  • Consider wearing water shoes if you find you’re slipping and sliding in the pool. They’ll give you some grip to help you keep your balance.
  • Have a drink after a water exercise session to replace the fluid you’ve lost through perspiration.
  • Take care when moving in wet areas around the pool, including in change rooms, to avoid slipping and falls.
  • Rest afterwards if you feel tired. Exercising in warm water can be quite draining.

And as always, follow COVID-safe practises and abide by any rules that are in force in your state or territory.

So there you have it. Exercising in the water. It’s a great addition to your exercise routine that’s effective, fun and safe. Why not give it a go?

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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17/Dec/2020

With Christmas and the festive season just around the corner, and a tough year almost behind us, it’s the perfect time for a wellness challenge!

And before you roll your eyes, this challenge is fun, it’s easy and we‘ve tied it in with song The 12 days of Christmas… so it all begins on Christmas day.

So strap yourselves in, it’s a weird and wacky song! But we hope you’ll have some fun with the 12 days of wellness challenge.

Happy holidays, stay safe, and keep well!

25 December

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree…

While a partridge in a pear tree doesn’t sound like cause for celebration, the fact that we’ve made it to Christmas Day certainly is! So let’s celebrate!! Dance around your lounge room, sing carols, toast your family and friends because we made it! We’re with our loved ones – hopefully in person, but if not, virtually is good too. Eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy this day.

26 December

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me, two turtles doves… 

Get outside and walk off some of the Christmas yumminess. See if you can spot some turtle doves (might be a tad tricky as they appear to be European).

Any-hoo, see if you can at least spot a pigeon while enjoying your walk. Enjoy the sunshine and vitamin D and breathe in the fresh air – how good does it feel without a mask?

27 December

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me, three French hens…

What’s with all the birds? Weird, but we can use the French vibe for our third day.

Catch up with friends and do something fun together. Channel your inner Parisian, grab some baguettes, cheese, wine and eclairs (yum), and have a picnic in the park. Or visit a café and enjoy a cafe au lait while you watch the people stroll by. Finish with a promenade along a river or visit a gallery for the perfect end to your day.

28 December

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, four calling birds…

More birds! But they’re on the right track as far as calling goes.

Today call or face time someone you haven’t spoken with for a while. Catch up on their lives and let them know how you’re doing. If this year has taught us nothing else, it’s that our connections are vital. We need them for our physical, mental and emotional health. So pick up the phone and call someone.

29 December

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, five gold rings… 

Now we’re talking! Only joking, I prefer silver.

Today the challenge is to take photos of three things that make you happy. The sky’s the limit – so it may be some gold rings, or your family, your dog, some flowers, a sunset, a meal, or the clouds in the sky. Whatever makes you happy – point and click. And save them so you can look at them whenever you’re feeling a bit down and need a boost.

30 December

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, six geese a-laying…

Come on, seriously? This true love was mad for birds!

Today, let’s hit the trails. Grab your bike, borrow one from a friend, or hire one…and let’s go for a ride. Riding is a low impact and fun exercise that’s suitable for most people. Read our blog for some tips to make your ride a fun, enjoyable outing without the pain.

As usual keep your eye out for birds – especially of the geese variety who may or may not be laying.

31 December

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, seven swans a-swimming… 

More birds – sigh. But the swimming part is a great idea! Nothing says summer like hitting the beach, pool, river or watering hole for a swim to cool down. And it’s a wonderful exercise for anyone with a musculoskeletal condition. Your body is supported by the water and the resistance provided by moving through water builds muscle strength and endurance.

And since it’s New Year’s Eve, while you’re floating around in the water, take some time to reflect on 2020 and three things you’re grateful for. It’s been a tough year, but there have been some highlights. What were yours?

1 January

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eight maids a-milking… 

Hello 2021! It’s a new year, and we often start a new year with some resolutions. Instead of doing the usual – lose weight, get more exercise, quit smoking (although we can still do these) – let’s use the new year to a set a goal to do that ‘one thing’ we’ve always wanted to do. And make a plan to achieve your goal.

So if you’ve always wanted to milk a cow, get those milk maids involved and find a cow.

But seriously, most of us have something that we’ve always wanted to try or accomplish. Write a novel, play an instrument, become conversant in another language, take up pottery, learn to cook…whatever it is, write it down, then work out the steps you need to achieve your goal. Check out our info on goal setting for tips and advice. And good luck!

2 January

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing… 

Today it’s all about unplugging and a digital detox. Put your phone aside for an hour, 2 hours, the whole day! Dance with nine ladies, or just by yourself, go for a walk, talk with your neighbor, do some yoga/tai chi/stretching, curl up on your couch with a book, de-stress with some guided imagery. Whatever you do, avoid using any tech or gadgets for the time you’ve put aside for your detox…and enjoy!

3 January

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, ten lords a-leaping…

This true love had some wacky gift ideas, but hats off for the creativity!

The tenth day challenge is to do some mindfulness meditation. With Christmas and New Year done and dusted, many of us will be feeling tired from all of our commitments and celebrations. This may have aggravated our pain and fatigue, and made us feel a little overwhelmed. So let’s do something that will help us focus and be mindful. Find yourself a comfy spot, read our info on mindfulness meditation and do the simple body scan we’ve provided.

Or if mindfulness isn’t your thing, what about some visualisation? It also uses the power of your mind to reduce pain and stress, but it’s free flowing and allows you to use your imagination. Remember the details of a past event, visualise a future event, or think of something completely out there…like 10 lords a-leaping.

4 January

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me, eleven pipers piping…

Today seems like a good day to go all out and make a meal that fills you with joy. Whether it’s something your mum or dad used to make for you when you were little, that brings back happy childhood memories, or a meal that you love but never make because it’s too complicated/decadent/full of calories…cook it! And take time to savour it. Really enjoy each mouthful. And then blow your own trumpet about how good it is (that’s the closest I could get to pipers!).

5 January

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me, twelve drummers drumming… 

Drumroll please- let’s go out with a bang!

Today is the day to do whatever you want. So it’s not a hard challenge at all.

Put your favourite music on and sing, dance, do your best air guitar/air drums or just sit back and listen. Pamper yourself with a spa treatment – in a salon or at home. Read a book or magazine, put your feet up and relax. Go for a hike with friends. Pull out the Lego and let your imagination go wild. Build a fort in your lounge. Stay in your PJs all day. Explore a gallery/museum/library – in person or virtually. Go hot air-ballooning. Buy a drum kit and go crazy – like Animal from the Muppets playing with Dave Grohl, or the True Love’s twelve drummers.

Take this day to do something that makes you happy and fill you with joy. Life’s short – let’s make every moment count.

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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05/Nov/2020

“I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike; I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride it where I like” Freddie Mercury, Queen, 1978

I’ve always liked riding my bike. The feel of the breeze on my face as I coast downhill, the sun on my back and the world passing by in a blur. It’s lovely. And yet for some reason my bike always ends up in the back of the garage and I forget about it for months at a time.

But the pandemic has seen many of us rediscovering the joy of riding a bike. With limited access to our usual exercise venues such as gyms and pools, cycling has boomed. Which is great for those of us with a musculoskeletal condition because riding is a low impact exercise suitable for most people.

But as with anything you haven’t done in a while, you need to ease into it. Don’t be like me and just drag your bike out, dust the cobwebs off and hit the road. And I mean literally. One spin around my small suburban street and I crashed.

It seems my ability to ride a bike, like most things you don’t do on a regular basis, has disappeared. But the saying “it’s as easy as riding a bike” must exist for a reason, right? So I persevered, and while I’m still a little wobbly, and hills are a challenge, I’m doing it!

So here are my tips for getting back on your bike.

Get a bike – obviously tip number 1 for riding a bike is to get one.

    • If you’re buying a new bike, get advice from people you know who ride regularly. Or find a good bike shop and talk with the staff. And check out this Choice article for some really useful info on what to look for in a bike: How to buy the best bike for your needs.
    • Borrow a bike from family, a friend or neighbour. That way you can give cycling a go before you spend any money on a new bike. Obviously keep in mind COVID safe hygiene practices.
    • Hire a bike. Many bike stores have bikes for hire. Keep in mind that it can become quite expensive if you’re doing it for more than a few days. But it does give you the chance to try before you buy.
    • If you already have a bike, go over it to make sure it’s in good condition. If you’re not sure what you need to do, the Bicycle Network has some great resources to help you.  Or you can take your bike to the local bike shop for a service.

Make sure your bike is fitted with all the necessary bits and pieces you’ll need. Much of this will depend where/when you plan to ride, so seek advice from other cyclists or from the bike shop. But some of the things you will need are: comfortable seat (vital), light, bell, basket/rack, water holder, lock, pump.

Find the perfect outfit for you. This doesn’t need to expensive, but does need to be comfortable and brightly coloured so others can see you, made out of fabric that breathes, and if you’re riding at night or when it’s getting dark, reflective. Oh, and padding in bike shorts can help protect you from some unpleasant pain in sensitive areas! You’ll also need a good helmet that fits you properly. Remember it’s compulsory in Australia to wear an approved helmet when riding a bike.

Consider your environment – this is important. You’re more likely to ride more regularly if you feel safe and you’re in a pleasant environment. So depending on where you live, riding around your local streets may not be the best option. Taking your bike to a park or local bike trails may be the best way for you to build your confidence. Make sure the paths are easy to navigate, wide enough for you and others to get by, not too steep (at least while you’re relearning to ride) and have places where you can stop for a breather, have a drink and enjoy the surrounds.

Listen to your body. Cycling is a great exercise for people with a musculoskeletal condition. But you need to listen to your body. While cycling is low impact, your legs are going around and around in a repetitive motion. This may cause some aches and pains if you’re not used to it. So don’t go too hard too fast. Take time to stretch before and after your ride, and if you have wobbly legs after your ride, walk around for a bit to get everything working again.

Start small. It’s easy to get swept up in the ride – the nature around you, the hypnotic effect of turning the wheels around and around – and then you realise you have to cycle back to where you started. So be aware of the distance you travel. Start slowly and build up the time and distance you ride gradually. Starting small also gives you the time and space to relearn riding your bike – how the brakes work, the gears, steering, not crashing!

Grab the family and friends – exercising is often more fun when you do it with others. And riding a bike is a great activity for people of all ages and levels of fitness. During the pandemic it seems like every sunny day groups of people are out walking and riding together. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?

Be a responsible rider. There are a lot more of us walking and cycling at the moment. So ding your bell if you’re coming up behind people on foot and slow down. People rarely walk in a straight line especially if they’re not paying attention. So to avoid nasty accidents, take care of those around you.

Drink water. You’re exercising, so you’ll be sweating and losing fluid. Take regular breaks to rehydrate.

Don’t be embarrassed if you have to walk your bike for a while – especially uphill. It means you’re listening to your body – whether it’s saying there’s pain or you need to breathe – and you’re giving it the break it needs. So walk that bike proudly! And get back on when you’re ready.

Check out the networks – both formal e.g. Bicycle Network and local, informal cycling groups. You’ll get information, support and advice, and you’ll meet new people.

Enjoy yourself! Cycling is a really enjoyable activity – so get out there, check out the countryside and have fun.

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

  • Bicycles
    Choice
  • The best bike paths and routes in Australia
    Australia.com
  • Your local council website for cycling groups, paths and other resources
  • Your state/territory government parks websites for information on riding safely in parks, maps and much more.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, 1896


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21/Oct/2020

Or how to manage fatigue

We all get tired. We overdo things and feel physically exhausted. It happens to us all. Usually after a night or two of good quality sleep the tiredness goes away and we’re back to our old selves.

But fatigue is different.

It’s an almost overwhelming physical and/or mental tiredness. And it usually takes more than a night’s sleep to resolve. It generally requires multiple strategies, working together, to help you get it under control.

Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition struggle with fatigue. It may be caused by a chronic lack of sleep, your medications, depression, your actual condition (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia) or just the very fact that you live with persistent pain.

Fatigue can make everyday activities difficult, and can get in the way of you doing the things you enjoy. The good news is there are many things you can do to manage fatigue and get on with life.

Exercise and being active. While this may sound like the last thing you should do when you’re feeling fatigued, exercise can actually boost your energy levels, help you sleep better, improve your mood, and it can help you manage your pain. If you’re starting an exercise program, start slowly, listen to your body and seek advice from qualified professionals. Gradually increase the amount and intensity of activity over time.

Take time out for you. Relaxation – both physical and mental – can help you manage your fatigue. I’m not just talking about finishing work and plonking down in front of the TV – though that may be one way you relax and wind down. I’m specifically referring to the deliberate letting go of the tension in your muscles and mind. There are so many ways to relax including deep breathing, visualisation, gardening, progressive muscle relaxation, listening to music, guided imagery, reading a book, taking a warm bubble bath, meditating, going for a walk. Choose whatever works for you. Now set aside a specific time every day to relax – and choose a time when you’re unlikely to be interrupted or distracted. Put it in your calendar – as you would any other important event – and practise, practise, practise. Surprisingly it takes time to become really good at relaxing, but it’s totally worth the effort. By using relaxation techniques, you can reduce stress and anxiety (which can make you feel fatigued), and feel more energised.

Eat a well-balanced diet. A healthy diet gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, protects you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system. Make sure you drink enough water, and try and limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume.

And take a note out of the Scout’s handbook and ‘be prepared’. Consider making some healthy meals that you can freeze for the days when you’re not feeling so hot. You’ll then have some healthy options you can quickly plate up to ensure you’re eating well without having to use a lot of energy.

Get a good night’s sleep. Good quality sleep makes such a difference when you live with pain and fatigue. It can sometimes be difficult to achieve, but there are many things you can do to sleep well, that will decrease your fatigue and make you feel human again. Check out our blog on painsomnia for more info and tips.

Pace yourself. It’s an easy trap to fall into. On the days you feel great you do as much as possible – you push on and on and overdo it. Other days you avoid doing stuff because fatigue has sapped away all of your energy. By pacing yourself you can do the things you want to do by finding the right balance between rest and activity. Some tips for pacing yourself: plan your day, prioritise your activities (not everything is super important or has to be done immediately), break your jobs into smaller tasks, alternate physical jobs with less active ones, and ask for help if you need it.

Write lists and create habits. When you’re fatigued, remembering what you need at the shops, where you left your keys, if you’ve taken your meds or what your name is, can be a challenge. And when you’re constantly forgetting stuff, it can make you stress and worry about all the things you can’t remember. Meh – it’s a terrible cycle. So write it down. Write down the things you need at the supermarket as soon as you think of it –a notepad on the fridge is a really easy way to do this. Create habits around your everyday tasks – for example always put your keys in a bowl by the door or straight into your bag, put your meds in a pill organiser.

Be kind to yourself. Managing fatigue and developing new ways to pace yourself is a challenge. Like any new behaviour it takes time, effort and lots of practice. So be kind to yourself and be patient. You’ll get there. It may take some time, and there may be some stumbles along the way, but you will become an expert at listening to your body, pacing yourself and managing fatigue.

Talk with your doctor. Sometimes fatigue may be caused by medications you’re taking to manage your musculoskeletal condition. If you think your medications are the issue, talk with your doctor about alternatives that may be available.

Fatigue may also be caused by another health condition – including anaemia (not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body), diabetes, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia and being overweight. If you’re not having any success getting your fatigue under control, your doctor may suggest looking into other potential causes.

So that’s fatigue…it can be difficult to live with, but there are lots of ways you can learn to manage it.

Tell us how you manage. We’d love to hear your top tips for dealing with fatigue.

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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08/Oct/2020

It’s 2am and you’ve been tossing and turning for hours. You’re so tired, but you just can’t sleep. You lay on your left side, but your neck hurts too much in that position. So you roll on to your back, but your lower back aches. You turn on to your right side, and success (!) that feels ok. But now your knees hurt, your brain’s counting down the hours until you have to get up for work, and you need to go to the toilet. Sigh.

Sound familiar? We’ve all experienced the dreaded ‘painsomnia’ – or insomnia caused by persistent pain.

Without the distractions of our daily activities, the dark of night can become a long, painful expanse of time. Even when we’re exhausted, sleep can be elusive. It might take longer to fall asleep, we can’t get comfortable, we wake frequently, or we just don’t get enough sleep. Or all of the above.

When you add anxiety about sleep into the mix, it becomes a vicious cycle. Poor sleep lowers your pain threshold which affects the quality of your sleep. Pain can affect your ability to be active – which affects your sleep quality and your pain levels. This can make you anxious or stressed – which again will affect how well you sleep and the amount of pain you experience.

And when you’re stuck in this cycle, exhausted and in pain, it affects your mood, your ability to concentrate and it’s very easy to become depressed. So it’s important that you act quickly as soon as you start having issues sleeping.

The good news is there are many things you can do to break the cycle. The not-so-good news is they may not work immediately. And they’ll require some effort on your part. But they’re all tried and true ways to develop good sleep habits and get the good night’s sleep you crave.

  • Acknowledge your painsomnia. Although it’s tempting to pull the covers over your head and ignore the problem, that won’t make it go away. Actually acknowledging the situation, and that there are things you can do to change it, is the first important step.
  • Develop a sleep routine. There’s a reason we do this with babies and small children – it works! As often as possible, go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Your body will become used to this routine and you’ll find it’s easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Manage your pain. You can’t have painsomnia if your pain is under control. Check out our A-Z pain management guide for simple, practical ways you can take control of your pain.
  • Try some relaxation techniques. There are as many ways to relax as there are stars in the night sky (well, almost) so there’s bound to be something that suits you. Try a warm bath before bed, reading (though nothing too engrossing!), deep breathing, listening to music, mindfulness, or visualisation. These techniques will help you become more relaxed so that when you go to sleep, you sleep well.
  • Exercise and be active during the day. As well as the many other benefits of regular exercise, it’ll help you fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
  • Don’t look at the clock. Constantly checking the time can make you anxious, which makes it hard to sleep. Try removing your clock from the bedside, or cover it up at night.
  • Manage your thoughts, all of the pesky voices in your head that are focusing on the things you need to do tomorrow, or the current state of the world, or the latest stress of the day. One way to deal with them is to write them down and get them out of your head. Put them down on paper and tell yourself you’ll deal with them tomorrow when you’re rested and have the brain power to deal with them.
  • Get out of bed. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. Have a warm drink (e.g. milk, no caffeine), do some gentle stretches or breathing exercises and go back to bed when you feel more comfortable.
  • Avoid tech before bed. It’s easy to get caught up in news, social media and emails, and before you know it you’ve lost a few hours. Also the blue light on our devices suppresses the hormone (melatonin) that makes us sleepy at night, so be sure to stop screen use at least one hour before bed. That being said, there are some useful apps that may help you with your painsomnia – including sleep diaries, apps that provide soothing sounds to help block out other noises (like traffic or snoring), and apps that help you relax so you fall asleep more easily.
  • Consider cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTI). This is a therapy that aims to challenge and change unhelpful ways of thinking about sleep. It also changes your behaviours when it comes to sleep. Find out more about CBTI in this article from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Evaluate your environment. What’s your bed like? Too hard, too soft or just right? Do you need to make some changes to your mattress, pillows and/or linen that will make your bed as comfortable as possible? Is there too much light or noise? Can you control that with simple fixes such as eye masks or earplugs? Is your room too hot? A slightly cool room is the best for a good night’s sleep. Consider all of these things as you take a long, hard look at your bedroom.
  • Get professional help. If pain is constantly keeping you awake at night, talk with your doctor about other things you can do to manage your pain and get some decent sleep.

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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10/Sep/2020

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

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

What causes a flare?

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

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

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

Your flare plan

Be prepared

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

Take control

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

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

Some of the suggestions listed here are easy, however others involve a bit of thought, as well as input from others. But taking the time to work out a plan that works for you will help you manage your flares better, and with less disruption to your life.

Call our Help Line

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

More to explore


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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




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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