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13/Jan/2021

It’s warming up all over the country, and that means getting out with our family and friends and enjoying some much needed fun in the sun.

Aside from the enjoyment we get from being outdoors, exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun is vital for our bone health. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, which helps our body absorb calcium.

But we need to balance our desire to be outdoors and getting our daily dose of vitamin D, with protecting ourselves against sunburn, skin cancer, photosensitivity and flares.

So let’s explore each of these issues and look at how to stay safe this summer.

Sunburn and skin cancer

We all know the ‘slip, slop, slap’ message and the importance of protecting ourselves from the harsh Australian summer sun. After all the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is the major cause of skin cancer and we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

And yet we compliment people when they return from a holiday on how tanned they look. For some reason we associate tanned skin with good health.
However the Cancer Council advises us that “there is no such thing as a safe tan…tanning is a sign your skin cells are in trauma.

So protecting our skin is vital, but we still need some exposure to the sun to produce vitamin D.

You can do that safely by exposing your hands, face and arms to the sun most days. But you’ll need to take into account factors such as where you live, the time of the year and the complexion of your skin. They all affect how long you can be exposed to the sun safely. Osteoporosis Australia has developed a chart to help you work this out.

As well as the length of time to expose your skin, you also need to know the safest time of the day to do so. Whenever the UV index reaches 3 and above, most people need to use sun protection.

You can check your local UV Index by visiting the Bureau of Meteorology website or downloading the SunSmart app.

Photosensitivity and flares

Exposure to the sun can be an issue for many people with conditions such as lupus, dermatomyositis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Sun exposure can cause rashes, lesions and flare ups.

Some medications used to treat musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other, more general medications, can also cause your skin to be sensitive to sunlight. This includes antibiotics, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (such as methotrexate), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as diclofenac and ibuprofen), antidepressants and oral contraceptives.

So that sucks. Especially when you’re gazing out your window at a lovely summery day.

The good news is you can enjoy the sun despite all of this

There are lots of things you can do to enjoy the sun safely, without risking your skin. And most of the things you do to protect your skin from sunburn and skin cancer, will also help prevent photosensitivity and rashes.

  • Embrace sunscreen! It’s your new best friend. Make sure it’s broad spectrum – this means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays – and that it has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
  • Slather it on. We really don’t use enough sunscreen. The Cancer Council advises that we need to apply it 20 minutes before we go outside. And that we use about a teaspoon for EACH arm, leg, front of our body, back of our body, as well as our face (including lips, neck and ears). That works out to be seven teaspoons of sunscreen. And you need to reapply at least every two hours. Find out more from the Cancer Council.
  • If you wear makeup, apply your sunscreen before you moisturise and put on makeup.
  • Choose your summer clothing and hats carefully. Not all fabric provides the same sun protection. To block more of the sun’s rays, choose clothing that has a thick, dark fabric with a tight weave and covers most of your skin, especially when the UV levels are high. Make sure your hat shades your whole face, neck, ears and head. Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of at least 7.5cm provide excellent protection.
  • Seek out the shade. Make sure you have places to go where you can retreat from the sun.
  • Keep a sun umbrella handy – or be fancy and use a parasol 🌂 – just in case you’re out in the sun unexpectedly or shady places are hard to find.
  • Try to stay out of the sun when UV levels are high (check your SunSmart app or BOM).
  • Avoid highly reflective surfaces such as sand or water.
  • Talk with your doctor about your medications if you think they’re making you photosensitive. You may be able to use an alternative medication.
  • Don’t forget your sunglasses 😎. We also need to protect our eyes from the UV rays, as the sun can cause serious eye damage. So make sure you grab your sunnies before heading out the door.
  • During warmer weather, you should also ensure that you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

As the mercury soars, summer presents us all with a number of challenges, but also a lot of great times.
Remember to pace yourself, stay well hydrated and protect yourself by following the simple rules of slip, slop, slap, seek, slide. Most importantly, make the most of our warmer weather and enjoy it!

Call our Help Line

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

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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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26/May/2018

Not just a fashion statement from the 70s!

From time-to-time many of us experience a flare, when symptoms like pain, inflammation and fatigue are worse, or more intense. This is a flare.

Flares are temporary, but can be frustrating and painful while they last. We don’t always know why they happen – and sometimes they seem to come out of the blue.

So it’s important that you have a plan for how you manage a flare when it happens.

Your flare plan

  • Write down what you were doing before the flare as this can help you identify potential triggers.
  • Talk with your doctor about what you should do when you have a flare. You may need to adjust your medications, or alter the dosage during a flare.
  • Have a plan in place for how you will deal with your commitments – family, work, social activities – when you’re in the middle of a flare. Can you alter your work hours, work from home, get your family to help out?
  • Prioritise your tasks and activities. This can reduce the risk of overdoing things.
  • Pace yourself. If the flare is the result of overdoing things, think about getting people to help you, or spread the activity over a greater period of time, e.g. if you want to clean your house, get the family involved and give each person a room or zone that they’re responsible for; or spread the job over a few weekends and assign yourself a room, a zone or a period of time to clean that’s achievable for you. When you’ve cleaned that area, or reached that time limit, stop. You can go back to it later.
  • Manage your stress, it can increase your pain levels. If you feel yourself becoming stressed, try relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and visualisation, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.
  • 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 not being active during a flare can make your pain and fatigue worse. Continue to exercise, but at a lesser intensity than usual. Listen to your body.
  • Use aids and other gadgets when your joints are painful and swollen. This will help protect your joints, and reduce some of the pain you feel when doing everyday tasks.

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.

Get advice from your doctor, and others in your healthcare team. Contact our MSK Help Line on 1800 263 265 and speak with a nurse or one of our trained volunteers.




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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