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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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31/Jan/2020

If you live with persistent pain, then you’ve probably had many nights when sleep has eluded you. You’ve tossed and turned, gotten up, watched TV, checked your phone, gone back to bed, and then tossed some more.

Pain, muscle tension, anxiety and other factors can interfere with your ability to get to sleep, stay asleep and the quality of your sleep. And sadly, not getting enough good quality sleep can affect your pain levels, your muscle tension and your anxiety levels.

It’s like a colossal feedback loop that’s spiraling out of control and you can’t break free. OK, that was a little dramatic, but I’m also a little tired and cranky 🙁

The good news is there are many things you can do to break this cycle and get back to having a good night’s sleep.

  • Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to go to sleep. This leads to anxiety and stress if you don’t fall asleep quickly. Feeling anxious or stressed will affect your ability to sleep. 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.
  • Develop a sleep routine. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
  • Try some relaxation techniques. Consider mindfulness, visualisation, deep breathing or a warm bath before bed. These techniques will help you become more relaxed and may help you manage your pain better so that you go to sleep, and sleep well.
  • Write it down. Thoughts, worries and anxiety can prevent good sleep. Don’t take them to bed. Write them down and then put them away. You can deal with them tomorrow.
  • Be active during the day. As well as the many other benefits of regular exercise, it will help you fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
  • Keep a sleep journal. This will help you and your doctor work out what may be causing your sleep problems because it tracks the things that may affect your sleep. Make sure to write down things like the time you went to bed, the time you got up the next morning, how easily (or not) you fell asleep, how many times you woke up and for how long, things that woke you up (full bladder, outside noise, anxiety, pain etc).
  • Keep a water bottle by your bedside so that you don’t have to get up if you wake up thirsty in the middle of the night.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol for several hours before going to bed.
  • Don’t look at the clock. Constantly checking the time can make you anxious and anxiety makes it hard to sleep. Try removing your clock from the bedside, or cover it up at night.
  • Avoid using technology in bed. The blue light from laptops and tablets suppresses the hormone (melatonin) that makes us sleepy at night, so be sure to stop screen use at least one hour before bed.
  • Light. Is your room dark enough to allow you to sleep well? If not, look at solutions such as window coverings or a dim switch on your alarm clock. You might also try using an eye mask.
  • Noise. If you have no control over the noise in your environment (e.g. a barking dog, loud party, your partner’s snoring), ear plugs may be an option. Or playing soothing, gentle music softly in the background can also be helpful at cancelling out other noises.
  • Clear your bedroom of clutter. Researchers have found a link between being surrounded by lots of “stuff” and your ability to fall asleep quickly and easily.
  • Seek help. If pain is constantly keeping you awake at night, discuss it with your doctor for information and advice.

More to explore

  • Read our more detailed page on sleep.

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23/Jan/2020

Using humour and laughter to help manage your pain

I think there’s a reason we respond so positively to the memes, social media posts and jokes that poke fun at pain, chronic illness and the trials and tribulations that come from living with both.

Having a foggy brain isn’t particularly funny, being unable to sleep isn’t a joke, and pain – wow, that’s probably the un-funniest thing you can think of. But we all do tend to laugh at, and share with others, the well-crafted meme or social media post that ridicules and scoffs at these things because we identify with the truth behind them. And with the best ones, you can tell that someone who knows what it’s like to live with pain and illness has created them. You’re recognising a fellow traveller.

Laughter and humour are such powerful forces. Just think about the last time you had one of those huge, spontaneous belly laughs with your friends or family. Something was said, a joke was told or you all saw something ridiculous. There’s nothing like it. You snort, you chortle, your eyes water, you gasp for breath, your belly starts to hurt and, when you look at each other, you laugh some more. When you finally do stop, you feel euphoric. Everything seems better, you feel happier and you can’t wait to do it again.

Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine. – Lord Byron

However when you’re in the grips of pain, laughing is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But laughter can actually help you deal with your pain. A good joke, a funny movie or just seeing something silly can distract you from your pain and make you feel better, at least for a while.

A good laugh heals a lot of hurts. – Madeleine L’Engle

Laughter causes a variety of chemical responses in your body. The ‘feel good’ hormones – endorphins, serotonin and dopamine – are released into your bloodstream. They boost your mood and make you feel more positive. Endorphins are your body’s natural pain reliever. Releasing them into the body reduces your feelings of pain. Laughter can also help boost your immune system. And, let’s face it, it’s just a lot of fun!

So next time your pain is getting you down, why not give laughter a go?

Finally, it’s important to remember that laughter and humour are temporary distractions from pain. They’re great and we should definitely cram as much into our day just for the sheer joy of it. But when you have a chronic illness and persistent pain, a balanced treatment approach that involves appropriate medications and medical care, healthy lifestyle, exercise, mindfulness and yes – laughter – is the best way to live with a chronic condition.

Laughter serves as a blocking agent. Like a bulletproof vest, it may help protect you against the ravages of negative emotions that can assault you in disease. – Norman Cousins

Things to try:

  • watch/stream a funny movie, TV show
  • listen to a funny podcast
  • talk with a friend and reminisce about a funny experience you had together
  • watch cat/dog/panda videos on YouTube (you know the ones you see pop up on social media regularly!)
  • think about the funniest joke you ever heard.

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22/Jan/2020

Written by Steve Edwards

“A cortisone injection? You want to stick a needle in my sore foot?”

Your health care clinician has suggested you have a cortisone injection into your foot. As with any medical procedure, both of you are best advised to discuss the benefits and risks before proceeding. It helps to know what cortisone is, what it does, and why it’s been offered to you.

Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication that’s often used to treat musculoskeletal conditions. It’s a synthetic version of cortisol, a hormone that naturally occurs in your body. Injected into the affected area, cortisone can lower inflammation and pain, remove fluid, and thin scar tissue or adhesions. So if your clinician diagnoses a musculoskeletal condition affecting your foot or ankle – such as arthritis, bursitis, neuroma, or tendinitis – a cortisone injection is commonly raised as an effective treatment option.

Cortisone injections also contain a local anaesthetic. For certain conditions an injection can be painful, so the anaesthetic may be injected separately before the cortisone to block this pain.

The clinician may or may not use ultrasound technology to guide the injection. For pain relief in the foot or ankle, research finds no statistically-significant difference between procedures conducted with or without ultrasound. Interestingly, trials on cadavers injected with dyed cortisone show how it rapidly spreads from the injection-point to adjacent tissue, indicating that pinpoint accuracy is not key to effectiveness.

There are several types of cortisone. In most cases the clinician will administer a long-duration cortisone, taking effect within 1-3 weeks, with benefits lasting between 1-9 months, depending on the condition and its severity. There’s a clinical consensus that no more than 3 injections should be administered to the same body-part within a 12-month period, though there’s no research literature to clearly support this belief.

After the injection, you can quickly return to most activities. The clinician may recommend you avoid strenuous physical exertion such as gym workouts or running for a few days, so the cortisone isn’t displaced from the target tissue.

As for risk-factors, there’s been research into whether the injection may risk tearing tendons in the target area. There’s no recorded case of this in human trials, though it has occurred in trials on dogs and horses. There were cases of more general tissue damage recorded in early trials on American gridiron players, but various factors could have produced this result – the needle used, the amount of fluid injected, and the subjects receiving multiple injections within a short period.

No medical procedure has a 100-percent success rate, but a single cortisone injection administered by a trained clinician is both safe and effective in providing medium-term pain relief. Side effects are minimal, and the benefit to your musculoskeletal condition is potentially vast. And for some foot-specific conditions – such as a neuroma (pinched nerve), or plantar fasciitis (heel pain due to scar tissue) – a cortisone injection can often be a cure.

Our guest blogger

Steven Edwards is a trainee foot and ankle surgeon with the Australasian College of Podiatric Surgeons. He also teaches pharmacology and foot surgery to undergraduate podiatry students at La Trobe University.


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20/Jan/2020

How we discovered Sam had arthritis

My son Sam is now 18 years old. He was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) just after his 13th birthday.

Seeing your previously healthy and sport-loving son crawling down the hall just to get to the bathroom is heartbreaking. The impact on our whole family was enormous. You just can’t imagine the changes you suddenly have to make. One minute we were dealing with all the normal teenage activities and the next we had an occupational therapist talking to us about putting grab rails and mobility aids through our house. The whole future you envisage for your child changes in a split second.

Sam complained for a few weeks of sore knees but like most mum’s vying for that “Mum of the Year trophy” I pretty much ignored him, figuring it was too much sport or growing pains or something along those lines.

It was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and he had a weekend off sport so I thought ok, this will give his knees a rest and a chance to settle down and everything will be fine. We went for a short walk as a family on the Sunday and after about ten minutes he said to me “Mum, I can’t walk anymore, my knees are killing me”. We headed home where he lay down on the couch and after an hour or so he got up and discovered that it wasn’t just his knees anymore, the pain had now spread to his ankles and hips.

The next morning I took him up to our GP who ran a range of blood tests and told me she wanted to see him again on the Friday but if it got worse before then, to take him to the ER. On Wednesday morning he woke up and the pain had also moved to his wrists, shoulders and elbows. We headed out to the Monash Hospital where we began what would be a long relationship with the wonderful paediatric rheumatology team there.

Sam was officially diagnosed with JIA two weeks later and started on methotrexate that day. His pain got worse and worse and he was admitted to the hospital for a week for further testing. After ruling out a lot of other nasties, he was eventually diagnosed as having pain amplification syndrome (PAS) also known as amplified musculoskeletal pain syndrome (AMPS).

To be honest, this floored me more than the diagnosis of JIA. I really felt that they didn’t know what he had, so they were just pulling something out of thin air! The PAS was harder to deal with in many ways than the JIA. With JIA I felt we had a well-trodden path to follow whilst with the PAS it felt very hit and miss.

We saw a pain specialist through Monash and Sam was put on a lot of different drugs with various success. Eventually we found some websites and read a lot of information on pain and educated ourselves about what pain is and the importance of movement. Sam did a lot of hydrotherapy and got moving and strengthening his body once again and slowly we began to see improvement.

Sam missed the majority of the second half of year 8 and a similar amount of year 9 before finally finding the right combination of medications that worked for him. The burden of the pain was enormous but missing out on school, playing sport and contact with his friends was even harder. The medication he was on also made him put on a lot of weight and some of the kids at school could be cruel.

I was no longer able to work as Sam needed my support at home for both his day to day care as well as his multiple appointments so I approached Musculoskeletal Australia about volunteering half a day per week. To be honest it also gave me a much needed break from the stresses of suddenly becoming a full time carer! I started working on the Help Line which not only gave me vital information about JIA but gave me access to a knowledgeable nurse as well as a number of other volunteers who could share their own stories with me.

Along with a great rheumatology team and the correct medications, Sam works hard on his fitness to ensure he remains well enough to do the things he wants to do. He also needs to pace himself which, like many teenagers, he does with varying degrees of success! Although he still has challenges that other teenagers just can’t imagine, he’s now studying full time at Uni, has a part time job and is able to participate fully in life – just as any 18 year old should be doing.

On a side note – I’m now working at MSK Australia 3 days a week running the MSK Kids program. It’s a program I love and am very passionate about. You can contact me about MSK Kids Tuesdays-Thursdays on 8531 8039 (1800 263 265) or buffy@msk.org.au


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02/Aug/2018

Written by Thalia Salt

My name’s Thalia and I’m twelve years old. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis when I was five years old, which was caused by a joint infection in my left hip when I was ten months old. I like to sing and act, and I love hanging out with my friends after school.

Living with arthritis from such a young age is hard, but it has some advantages. I’ve been finding different ways to cope for my whole life, which means I have some quite effective strategies up my sleeve. But there are many things that aren’t so great. I learned to walk with arthritis, so my gait was awkward. I don’t know what it’s like to have no pain, and sometimes when I do have lots of pain my body tunes out of it until it’s unbearable.

The arthritis has also gotten in the way of my life outside of school activities. I have to sit down when I sing, and I’ve had to do several performances in my wheelchair. When I’m with my friends, we have to limit our activity accordingly. I haven’t been able to participate fully at school and have had to resort to a mobilised scooter in the past just to get around.

This story has a happy ending though. In June 2017, I had a total hip replacement. Since then, I‘ve been walking up to 3km, running, getting around school without my walking aids. I’ve also been swimming and riding my bicycle.

Something else that’s changed is the amount of medication I’m taking. Before, I was taking a large range of medications, including some very strong painkillers. Now I take hardly any medication. My personal lifestyle has also been greatly altered. I’ve been able to move around the house freely, participate in my outside of school activities like any other person, although I’m still not up to standing up for more than a few minutes. I’ve been discharged from the physiotherapist and have started to see a personal trainer.

In the future, I should be able to participate in P.E. at school, stand up for as long as I like, walk around my neighbourhood with my friends after school. I should have no pain, which is something that I’ve not experienced before. I can’t wait to go to the beach without my crutches and being able to do whatever I want when I get there, without worrying about the consequences.

My top 5 pain management tips

  1. Heat packs. Something that affected me a lot was the cold in the dead of winter. A heat pack when relaxing can often ease the pain, particularly when I go to sleep.
  2. Crutches. These help take the stress off your joints. Obviously this only works for pain in your legs.
  3. Reducing movement before a large amount of exercise. If I know that I’m going to participate in an activity that requires a lot of physical movement, I’ll take it easy for a few days, as if I’m “saving” the soreness for later.
  4. Not constantly being on all the meds. That way, when you’re in a lot of pain you have something you can take.
  5. Stretch constantly. I know that maintaining the right amount of exercising and protecting your joint is hard, but a large cause of pain is stiffness from not moving enough. So, you need to stretch. A lot.

Our guest blogger

Thalia is a positive ambassador for young people living with arthritis and chronic pain.

She’s worked tirelessly to raise the profile of arthritis in young people and how it affects them. She’s held fundraising events, received many awards, created a Facebook page, a vlog on YouTube about her surgery and much more.


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27/May/2018

A book by people like you

Chronic pain is a common and complex problem that affects 1 in 5 Australians.

It’s exhausting, a bit tricky and hard to know where to start.

Fortunately, with our book Managing your pain: An A-Z guide you can start anywhere!

Medications, sleep, laughter, fatigue, breathing. Think of it as a ‘choose your own adventure’ to getting on top of your pain.

The book emphasises practical strategies tried and tested by people like you – consumers living with musculoskeletal conditions. There are also a bunch of quotes and useful insights to keep it real.

You might also like…

We also have a helpful kids pain book called The worst pain in the world. It’s beautifully illustrated and loaded with practical advice for children living with pain (not just those with arthritis). It also gives kids who don’t live with pain an understanding of what their friends or family are going through. Copies can also be ordered through the our online shop.


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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.


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26/May/2018

It really does.

When you live with persistent pain, it can sometimes feel like the world is flying by while you stay still…grappling with pain, anger, anxiety and frustration.

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, and not ignore them or keep them bottled up. Talking honestly and openly with a family member, a close friend, or a health professional can help you move past this moment and get back to doing the things that you want to do.

But it’s not always easy.

There are often stumbling blocks and hurdles and barriers that get in your way. You’ll have your ups and downs, and sometimes you need to work really hard to keep moving. But the rewards are there.

Remember you don’t have to do it by yourself.

Apart from family, friends or a professional, consider getting in touch with a support group. They often meet in person, in local halls, cafes or someone’s home.

Or if that’s not for you, go online. There are so many forums available through websites and social media for you to get support, and in return provide it to others. There’s really nothing more valuable than connecting with others who know exactly how you feel, because they’re going through the same thing.

So reach out today. Talk with someone about how you feel. It’s ok, and it’s healthy to get it out in the open so you can deal with it. If you need help finding a group, contact us and we can help you find one.

“I’ve been helped by acts of kindness from strangers. That’s why we’re here, after all, to help others.” Carol Burnett


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26/May/2018

Have you had a massage lately? We often think of them as an indulgence, or something we get every now and again as a treat. However many people find that regular massages really helps them manage their pain.

Massage is a hands-on therapy that involves rubbing and manipulating the soft tissues of your body, especially your muscles. It can improve blood circulation, ease muscle tension and help you feel more relaxed. A massage can also help relieve stress and help you sleep.

You can relieve many of your own muscular aches and tension by giving yourself a massage. You may even find that you do it unconsciously – when you’re sitting at the computer and you rub your neck, when you have a headache and you gently rub your temples, or when you’re applying a heat rub to your sore knee.

Self-massage tips

Warm up first – ease some of your muscle tension with a warm shower or applying a heat pack (warm not hot) to the painful area.

Use smooth, firm strokes. You’ll feel the difference between strokes that are relieving muscle tension, and those that are adding to it. Adjust the pressure, from hard to gentle, based on your pain.

Add some massage oil (or lotion) – it can help your hands move smoothly over the skin, however, they aren’t essential; it’s a personal choice.

Use massage aids – you can use a foam roller, massage balls or other massage aids; e.g. use a tennis ball or a golf ball to massage the soles of the feet. Simply place the ball on the floor, place your bare foot on top of it and gently roll the ball along the length of your foot. If you’re unsteady on your feet, sit down while you do this. You can also use the shower to provide a massage, especially on your neck, shoulders and back.

Do it regularly – to prevent muscle pain and tension building up.

See a qualified massage therapist –they’ve been trained to know how your body works, how to relieve muscle tension and how to help relieve your pain. They can also get to the hard to reach places, and give you tips and advice on your self-massage techniques.

Massage is a fantastic and simple way to relieve muscle aches and pains. And when you give yourself a massage, you can do it almost anywhere, and it’s free! Try it next time you feel tense and sore.




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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