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19/Mar/2020

Didn’t think we’d ever be writing those words!

Update – 23 March 2020 – From midday today, all indoor sporting venues and gyms across Australia will be closed until further notice. 

The government has just announced a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 of more people.

So what does that mean if you live with a musculoskeletal condition like arthritis, back pain or osteoporosis?

Well, it depends. One area you may feel the impact immediately is your exercise program. Exercise and being active is vital for all of us living with musculoskeletal conditions. It helps us manage our condition, our pain, our weight, and our mental health. It also helps us sleep better and gives us the opportunity to socialise with others.

However if you take part in classes or attend an indoor exercise centre or gym (that holds more than 100 people), you won’t be able to attend. This may be frustrating, but it’s one of the measures we need to have in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable in our community. Many of whom have a musculoskeletal condition.

Some gyms and exercise centres have already closed, with the City of Sydney closing all its gyms and aquatic centres.

If you exercise in a smaller space (less than 100 people), that should be ok at the moment. Although it’s worth noting that there’s still the potential for people to contract COVID-19 at these venues.

Given that many people with musculoskeletal conditions do exercise in smaller spaces, including warm water exercise, tai chi and chair based exercises, we’ve pulled together the current information so that you can make an informed choice about where and how you exercise.

First and foremost – you need to stay home if you’re unwell. If you have any reason to believe you’ve been infected with COVID-19, call your doctor. Call them first – don’t go to the clinic if you suspect you have the virus. Call and let them know your symptom and travel history.

Warm water exercise classes

Based on current medical information there’s no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through pool water, provided that it’s adequately chlorinated. However if you attend warm water exercise classes, the biggest risk for contracting COVID-19 is mixing with other people who may have the virus, particularly in a wet environment, which is ideal for passing on infections of all kinds. At this time we would recommend that you avoid warm water exercise classes and seek alternative ways to keep active. See our list below for more information.

Chair based exercise classes

These classes are great for people with mobility and balance issues, just make sure you’re spaced at least 1.5m from others, and all surfaces are cleaned and disinfected before and after class. Ensure that you practise good hygiene as outlined by the Department of Health such as washing hands with soapy water and covering your cough or sneeze with your elbow or tissue. Also remember to practice social distancing at all times.

Tai chi

Tai chi is a great exercise for people with musculoskeletal conditions. It’s gentle, helps improve balance, and it can be very relaxing. Also social distancing is already inbuilt in tai chi classes as participants generally need greater than 1.5m between people to do the movements. Again remember to practise good general hygiene as outlined by the Department of Health as well as practicing social distancing before and after class.

Gyms and fitness centres

These places are often humid and sweaty, with surfaces touched by many people. It can be an ideal place for the spread of germs. If you do go to a gym, they should have already put in place measures to keep people as safe as possible including: communicating with all members and visitors about both your responsibility in relation to hygiene and social distancing as well as their responsibility to you. Hopefully they have reduced class sizes and made sure there’s plenty of space between members and between equipment. You should also notice that cleaning and hygiene measures have been stepped up. If your gym hasn’t done this you should seriously reconsider attending.

Alternative ways to exercise

You may decide that at this stage, the risks of exercising indoor in public spaces are just too great for you. That’s absolutely fine, and totally your choice. We’re all dealing with the pandemic in our own way. But exercise and keeping active is important. So here are some other ways you can exercise during the pandemic:

  • Getting outside and going for a walk, jog or run is still a great way to stay active. If you’re doing it with a friend or a group, maintain space between each person. You may have to speak more loudly  but the space between you helps prevent the spread of the virus if it’s present, but not yet detected. And don’t forget – COVID-19 doesn’t spread to our pets, so take your dog for a walk. They’ll love it! And avoid walking, jogging or running in busy areas, or during busy times.
  • Use an old fashioned DVD and exercise in front of your TV. Or stream an exercise program online. Or use an exercise app. There are so many to choose from. Just make sure that the exercises are performed by people who know what they’re doing.
  • Dance around the house. Get the blood pumping with some of your favourite, high energy music, and shake it off!
  • Walk/run around your home and yard. At the beginning of the Chinese lockdown there was news of a man who ran a marathon in his own apartment.
  • If you have a WII Fit, or any of the electronic karaoke/guitar/music games that plug into your TV, set it up and go for it. Sing and dance to your hearts content. If you don’t have any of the electronics, just do some air guitar or air drumming. We’ve all done it, and it’s so much fun.
  • Get creative! One of our families has told us about how they’re blowing up balloons and using them as balls. For example, keeping them off the ground while they sit on opposite sides of the table, hitting balloons with fly swats and other improvised rackets for a game of tennis. We can be very creative when we need to be – let your inner exercise guru loose!
  • Use what you have around the house. You may already have exercise balls/bands and weights to use, or you can improvise with cans of soup for weights, steps ups on your stairs etc.
  • Incorporate incidental exercise. Check out our blog on how the little bits and pieces you do over the course of your day – for example cleaning, talking on the phone – can be made more active and really add up.
  • Go for a ride. Use an indoor stationary bike, or hit the streets or park on your bicycle.

There are lots of things you can do to remain active during this pandemic, and stay safe. These are just some of them. For more information, visit our website or call our MSK Help line weekdays on 1800 263 265. Or email helpline@msk.org.au.

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31/Jan/2020

With our crazy, busy lives it can sometimes feel next to impossible to squeeze in time for exercise. Add to that the unpredictability of living with a chronic condition, and our planned activities can often go flying out the door.

But there are things you can do to be more active. Incidental exercise – or the little bits and pieces you do over the course of your day – can really add up. It’s important to note that incidental exercise should not replace your regular, structured exercise program, but they’re a great way to boost your activity levels.

Here are some things you can do to increase your incidental exercise.

  • Watching TV? Whether you’re watching the latest episode of your favourite show or binge watching an entire series, get up and move around during the ads. No ads? No problems. At the end of each episode, do something active. Go outside and check the letterbox. Take the dog for a walk around the block. If you have an exercise bike or treadmill, use it while watching your show.
  • Love reading? Download an audio book and listen to it as you go for a walk. Just be mindful about how far you walk. It’s easy to get caught up in a book and walk further than you planned! Which has the potential to aggravate your condition and pain levels if you do too much.
  • Going for a long drive? Make your journey more interesting, and more active by scheduling stops for you to stretch, walk around and discover new areas. It’s amazing what you can find when you take the time to explore.
  • Shopping? Park your car a little further away from the shops than you normally would. Walk up or down the travellator or escalator – even if it’s just for part of the ride – rather than just standing in place.
  • Work meeting? Take it outside. Suggest that you have walking meeting. You get to be active and less sedentary, with the added benefit of fresh air.
  • Catching public transport? Get off a stop before your usual one. Explore your neighbourhood while getting some exercise and breathing deeply.
  • On the phone? Walk around while chatting, rather than sitting down. But avoid moving about if you’re texting or looking at your screen. Our aim is to increase activity levels safely, not get injured in the process!
  • Gaming? Fun! But it’s so easy to get caught up in the heat of the battle/chase/adventure, so set your phone alarm to go off every 30 minutes so you can get up and move.
  • Cleaning? Go hard. Give the tiles an extra vigorous scrub. Flatten your recyclables rather than just tossing them straight into your recycling bin. Clean your windows (groan – but how good do they look when you’re done?). Vacuum the house and use all of the little attachments (who knew they made such a difference?).

Obviously there’ll be times when these activities are not possible or practical – especially if you’re having a flare. However some of them may actually help with your pain – things like standing and moving when your back is really sore, breaking up long trips with stops and stretches – they’ll provide exercise and pain relief.

Give incidental exercise a try. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling more energised and noticing a difference with your pain levels, sleep quality and mood.

Plus your house will be sparkling! Win-win!

More to explore


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27/May/2018

Gardening, pain and musculoskeletal conditions

Gardening’s a wonderful way to get out in the fresh air and sunshine. It can also be extremely relaxing, and it’s often a good workout.

But if your condition sometimes impacts on your ability to garden, there are many things you can do so that you can still get into your garden and enjoy yourself.

  • Pace yourself – don’t try to do too much in one go. And take regular breaks. This’s a good opportunity to rest – but also to sit back and admire your work, contemplate what to do next, and imagine future gardening projects.
  • Contain it – use pots and other containers for small, manageable gardens. You can use regular garden pots or containers, or be creative and use other containers you have lying around – e.g. old wheelbarrows, teapots, colanders, tyres, boots. Check out Pinterest for some great ideas.
  • Create raised garden beds – this will take a bit more planning and work, but by raising your garden beds you can access them with less bending or kneeling. Perfect if you have a sore back, hips or knees.
  • Use thick handled tools – there are a wide range of thicker handled garden tools that are great if you have painful hands or difficulty gripping. You can also buy thick rubber or foam tubing from the hardware store, cut it to length and fit it over the handles of your existing gardening tools.
  • Use cushioned knee supports – knees pads, kneeling mats, or even gardening stools can help cushion and protect your knees and help you get up and down off the ground.
  • Get some help – whether it’s family, friends, or a local handyman or gardener, get some help if you have some big jobs that need doing – e.g. creating raised garden beds, pruning trees, mowing lawns. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
  • Keep hydrated – make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Gardening can be hot, strenuous work, so don’t let yourself become dehydrated. Keep a water bottle close by.
  • Talk with an OT – an occupational therapist can help you find ways to modify your activities to reduce joint pain and fatigue and save energy. They can also give you tips and ideas about different aids and equipment available.

These are just a few things you can do to stay active in the garden, so that you can get out in the fresh air and enjoy getting your hands dirty. If you love to garden, and have suggestions or tips for others, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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