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seated-at-register.jpg
22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

Finding and keeping a job when you have a musculoskeletal condition can be difficult. Pain, fatigue, medication side effects and the unpredictability of your condition can all affect your ability to work.

The extent to which this happens will depend on many things such as the condition you have, e.g. back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, how severe it is, how well it’s being managed and the type of work you do. Physically demanding work, such as building, nursing and farming, will be impacted by painful joints or restricted movements. And any work that requires you to focus and concentrate, especially for extended periods of time, will be affected by brain fog, pain and lack of sleep.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage these issues. We’ve listed a bunch of strategies here. This is part 1 of our 2 part blog.

Note: we understand that some of these strategies may not be possible for all workplaces or conditions. However the majority of them can be adapted in some way to suit your needs.

Work with your healthcare team to ensure your condition is under control and well managed. This may involve your GP, rheumatologist, physiotherapist, podiatrist and/or occupational therapist. They’ll also help you develop a plan to manage at work when your condition flares.

Evaluate your workspace. Whatever your setting – office, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, transport – there are options for making it more supportive for you. The first step is to talk with an occupational therapist about the issues you’re facing and developing some strategies to help you manage them. They may include simple things such as being aware of your posture throughout the day and changing position regularly to reduce pain, strain and fatigue. They may also include changing your workspace to make it work for you.

For example:

  • using a standing/sitting desk
  • rearranging the setup so that items you use most often are close by
  • sitting on a chair or perch instead of standing for long periods
  • using a headset on your phone
  • getting lumbar supports for your chair or car seat
  • using a trolley to help you move heavy items.

Some of these options may be easy to do without going through your employer, but some changes may need their involvement. If your employer knows about your condition, then you can discuss these changes together. However if you’ve chosen not to disclose your condition, your employer is still obliged to make reasonable adjustments to your workstation or environment to ensure your comfort and safety. Things such as stand up desks, foot rests, wrist rests, height adjustable chair, ergonomic chair are all considered reasonable. For more information read our information on Employment FAQs and visit Safe Work Australia.

Take control of your pain. Chronic pain can affect your ability to do the things you want and need to do, your quality of sleep, your concentration and mood. Basically it sucks 😣. That’s why you need a toolbox of strategies for managing your pain. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to pain management. So having several strategies you know work for you, is essential. They may include gentle exercise, medications, heat and cold, stretches, massage, splints, braces and aids and equipment. It’ll take some trial and error, but it’s well worth the effort to find what works best for you. You can then pull them out of your toolbox when needed, giving you more control over your pain. Your doctor and physiotherapist can also give you tips for managing your pain while at work. For more information and practical tips for dealing with pain, read Managing your pain: An A-Z guide.

Along with pain, fatigue is a massive issue for people with musculoskeletal conditions. Fatigue is very different from just being a little tired. It’s overwhelming physical and mental tiredness that makes every activity a struggle. But there are things you can do to manage so that it has less impact on your life and your work. Find out how.

Acknowledge the unpredictability of your condition. It’s a fact that musculoskeletal conditions are unpredictable. You often won’t know you’re about to have a flare until one happens. Apart from increased pain, stiffness and fatigue, having a flare can be really stressful as you worry about getting things done – at work and at home. So having a plan in place for managing – before a flare occurs – means you can be proactive. This may involve developing a plan with your healthcare team that will help you cope at work, prioritising and pacing your activities so that you get any important, time dependent tasks done when you’re feeling your best, discussing flexible work arrangements (like working from home) with your employer, or taking time off work or reducing your hours until you can get the flare under control. The important thing is that you’re prepared, with a plan of attack in place, ready to go when needed.

Use your scheduled breaks. It’s easy when you’re feeling under pressure – whether it’s from your employer or pressure you’ve put on yourself – to ignore your lunch or tea breaks and just keep working. But this will only add to your stress, pain and fatigue. You need to take some downtime during your day to eat, drink and give your mind and body a break. If you can, get outdoors and breathe in some fresh air. When you return from your break you’ll feel better, have a clearer head, and be more productive.

For more info and tips check out part 2 of this blog.

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

JobsAccess
Australian Government
JobAccess is the national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers. It provides:

  • a wide range of info and services to help people with disability find and keep jobs, get promoted to better jobs, upgrade or expand their workplace skills
  • advice on modifying your work area, talking about your disability, training for your co-workers, negotiating flexible work arrangements and returning to work
  • the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) which gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to buy work related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.
  • and much more.

Work Assist
Australian Government
Work Assist can help you stay in work if you risk losing your job through illness, injury or disability.

I have a job and arthritis: Now what?
Arthritis Society Canada

Fatigue: Beyond tiredness
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


Woman-sitting-back-pain.jpg
22/Oct/2020

And things you can do to manage

This blog was so full of info and strategies we had to split it into 2 parts 😊. You can access part 1 here.

But here’s a recap: We know finding and keeping a job when you have a musculoskeletal condition like back painrheumatoid arthritisosteoarthritis and gout can be really tough.

Pain, fatigue, medication side effects and the unpredictability of your condition can all affect your ability to work.

The extent to which this happens will depend on things such as the condition you have, how severe it is, how well it’s being managed and the type of work you do. Physically demanding work will be impacted by painful joints or restricted movements. And any work that requires you to focus and concentrate, especially for extended periods of time, will be affected by brain fog, pain and lack of sleep.

The good news is there are things you can do to help manage these issues. We’ve listed a bunch of strategies here. This is part 2 of our 2 part blog.

Note: we understand that some of these strategies may not be possible for all workplaces or conditions. However the majority of them can be adapted in some way to suit your needs.

Manage your meds. Sometimes medications cause side effects like nausea, headaches, lightheadedness and drowsiness. This can make it really hard to concentrate at work, and may in fact make it dangerous to perform some work duties such as driving or operating machinery. If you find that your medications are causing issues for you, talk with your doctor about possible alternatives you can use.

You may also need to have a review of your medications if you find your condition’s not under control or you need more help managing pain and other symptoms. Again, talk with your doctor about this.

Get a good night’s sleep. We all go through periods when sleep is elusive. Chronic pain and anxiety are just a couple of things that can affect our ability to get enough quality sleep. But sleep is important for good physical and mental health, and to give us the ‘get up and go’ we need to get to work and work productively. If you’re having issues sleeping, don’t just put up with it. There are lots of things you can do to get the sleep you need.

Take a break. Get up, move and clear your head. We all need to take breaks for our physical and mental wellbeing. So walk to the photocopier or around the block, do some simple stretches, step outside and do some deep breathing or visualisation. Whatever helps you manage your pain, fatigue and brain fog, do it.

Dealing with time off work. We all need time off from time to time, but for many people with musculoskeletal conditions it may happen more often than we’d like. Attending healthcare appointments during working hours or having a flare means you may go through your personal leave quite quickly. If this is a concern or problem for you, discuss your options with your healthcare team. Are you able to attend appointments via telehealth or outside of your usual working hours? An occupational therapist or physiotherapist may have some solutions for working during a flare and to reduce the pain and strain on your joints. And if you’ve disclosed your condition to your employer, discuss your concerns with them. Together you should be able to come up with a plan to help you balance time off and the work duties you need to complete. One of the silver-linings of the COVID pandemic is that we’ve discovered that many jobs can be done productively from home. So working from home may be an option. As too are aids and equipment that protect your joints and save energy, or even changing the work you do at your workplace. Being proactive and knowing your rights is key to working well with a musculoskeletal condition.

Managing changes to your abilities and functioning. Unfortunately some musculoskeletal conditions will change a person’s ability to do certain tasks. For example, someone with back pain may find sitting for long periods of time impossible. Or a person with arthritis in their hands may find repetitive work such as typing extremely painful. Talking with an occupational therapist or physiotherapist can help you find potential solutions to these issues. Whether it’s finding new ways to do work tasks, using special equipment and aids to support you and protect your joints, or managing your pain while at work, they’ll tailor a solution to your specific needs.

These are just some of the things you can do to manage your condition and continue to work. Feel free to share the things you do to help you manage at work with a musculoskeletal conditions. We’d love to hear from you!

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

JobsAccess
Australian Government
JobAccess is the national hub for workplace and employment information for people with disability, employers and service providers. It provides:

  • a wide range of info and services to help people with disability find and keep jobs, get promoted to better jobs, upgrade or expand their workplace skills
  • advice on modifying your work area, talking about your disability, training for your co-workers, negotiating flexible work arrangements and returning to work
  • the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) which gives financial help to eligible people with disability and mental health conditions and employers to buy work related modifications, equipment, Auslan services and workplace assistance and support services.
  • and much more.

Work Assist
Australian Government
Work Assist can help you stay in work if you risk losing your job through illness, injury or disability.

I have a job and arthritis: Now what?
Arthritis Society Canada

Fatigue: Beyond tiredness
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK)

Sleep and pain
painHEALTH 

Managing flares
National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (UK) 


self-care.jpg
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


sleep-web.jpg
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


flares-image-web.jpg
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


dog-in-bed-pain-blog.jpg
21/May/2020

For many of us our pain is always there – sometimes in the background and at other times it’s very much in the front of our minds. It’s a constant – just like taxes 😒 Even with a pandemic causing so much chaos and uncertainty, our pain persists, it’s always there.

And quite frankly it’s a pain in the arse. It hurts. It’s exhausting. And it’s invisible.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last week released their latest report Chronic pain in Australia. It highlights that 1 in 5 of us lives with chronic pain. So next time you’re standing in a physically distant queue at the shops or taking a walk around the park – consider the fact that 1 in 5 of the people see you around you is also living with pain. It’s a massive problem, but there are things we can all do to manage our pain effectively.

Know your pain and yourself

It’s so important when you live with a chronic condition that you understand it. Learn as much about your condition as you can so that you can take an active role in managing it, including the pain associated with it. For example, what makes your pain better? What makes it worse? Do you tend to overdo things when you’re feeling great and end up paying for it over the next couple of days with increased pain? Or when you’re experiencing a flare and your pain is worse – do you get anxious, and everything becomes negative and too hard?

Knowing these things – really understanding how your pain affects you physically, emotionally and behaviourally – will help you manage your pain and your condition better, even in this time of crazy COVID.

Tackle the big three – exercise, eat, sleep, repeat

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding my exercise, diet and sleep have all taken a hit due to the pandemic and iso. Not being able to get to the gym, changes to work and my normal routine and stress has really impacted how and when I’m eating, sleeping and exercising. And not in a positive way.

This has had a very noticeable effect on my pain levels. If you’re experiencing this too, acknowledging it is the first step to changing things. So I can’t get to the gym – there are other ways to be active. So my routine has changed and as a result so has my diet. I can manage that. Stress and pain is impacting my sleep? I’ve managed that before – I can do it again.

It’s all about finding the right mindset. This is a strange, new normal we’re living in. And it’s going to change and evolve as we continue through 2020. We have no roadmap for what’s been, and what’s to come – so we need to do the best we can to change and adapt to the constantly shifting landscape.

Get help

OK, that all sounded sooooo easy, right?? Nope.

We may be able to change and adapt to some things but there will be times when we need to ask for help. From our family and friends, from our doctor, physio, psychologist. Whether it’s medications or physiotherapy to directly manage the pain, or asking a family member to carry the heavy laundry basket to the clothesline, or talking with a friend about your frustrations – whatever it is, there’s help available. You just need to acknowledge the fact that you need it and reach out. And remember the nurses on our Help Line are just a call or email away.

Use your mind

It’s a powerful tool. You can use it for distraction, mindfulness, relaxation, visualisation and guided imagery. None of these things will take your pain away completely, but they can provide temporary relief while you do a painful task, try to fall asleep, or wait for your pain medication to kick in.

‘P’ yourself – plan, prioritise and pace

We’re often our own worst enemy. We do too much when we’re feeling great, and end up feeling rubbish for hours/days afterwards. Something ‘simple’ we can do to prevent this from happening time and again is to plan, prioritise and pace ourselves. First plan – what do you need to do today? Write it down. Now prioritise. How much of those zillion things do you really need to do? Often things we see as hugely important aren’t. And do you need to do them yourself? Can someone else do it? Now pace yourself. It’s not a race – so be generous with your time, spread your jobs over the day and build in space for rest breaks.

Look after your mental health

Living with persistent pain can sometimes be a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s perfectly natural that from time to time to feel sad, worried, angry, anxious, depressed or frustrated. Add a pandemic, and it’s no wonder many of us are feeling as if our worlds have turned upside down and inside out. It’s important that you acknowledge these feelings. You may want to write in a journal, talk with a family member or close friend or talk with a counsellor or psychologist. Don’t ignore these feelings or keep them bottled up.

Your GP can refer you to a psychologist if needed on a GP Mental Health Management Plan. At the moment because of COVID-19 you can arrange to speak to a psychologist via telehealth (over the phone or a video call).

Be kind

To yourself and to others. It’s an unprecedented, really strange time and we’re all doing the best we can. So be kind to yourself – you’ll experience ups and downs, stumbling blocks, and barriers that get in your way. And some days you’ll need to work really hard just to keep moving. So give yourself a break. And remember 1 in 5 people are living with invisible chronic pain. And even more people are dealing with all kinds of stuff we can’t even imagine. So be kind to the people you encounter. It makes us all feel so much better than the alternative.

More to explore

Our nurse Clare discusses some simple things you can do to manage pain while at home in isolation, including pacing activities, exercise, getting a good night’s sleep and heat and cold packs.

We also have some great blogs to give you more tips and info about managing pain:


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07/May/2020

Hands up if you’re feeling tired at the moment? Or if you’re too weary to raise your hand, just a brief nod will do it 😉 It seems like we’re a nation of tired people at the moment (😪).

Why is this? We’re not going out like we used to, to the movies, restaurants, family gatherings, to see friends, sports events, or take the kids to all of their extra-curricular activities. We should be swimming in time and feeling relaxed and rested, right?

Ah, no.

We’re stressed

Stop me if you’ve heard this before but we’re going through unprecedented times. This pandemic is causing massive disruptions to our lives, our families, our work and our routines. This constant uncertainty causes us to feel stressed. All the time.

When we’re stressed our bodies release adrenaline. It’s so we can react to a crisis, the old ’fight or flight’ response. But when the stress is constant, as many of us are feeling at the moment, this has an effect on our health – including making us feel physically and mentally tired.

There are lots of things you can do to manage stress. By understanding what’s causing your stress, you can start to manage it. This may include things like developing a new routine (and sticking to it), exercising, talking with your family about how you’re feeling, finding ways to relax, making sure you’re eating a healthy diet and drinking enough water, getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding excessive use of alcohol and other drugs.

We’re staying indoors more

Because of restrictions we’re staying inside our homes more. So we’re not getting exposed to as much sunlight as we normally would. A lack of sunlight causes the brain to produce more of the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy.

To deal with this, schedule time every day to go outside for a walk or stroll in your yard, open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up and expose yourself to as much sunlight as you can. It’ll help you feel more awake and improve your mood. Just think how much better you feel after being stuck indoors when you get out into the sun. It makes you feel so much more energetic and alive! So this one’s a no brainer. We just have to make time to do it.

We’re sleeping less (or more) than usual

Let’s face it, since this all started our usual everyday routines have been shot to pieces. Work, home life, family, socialising, shopping – it’s all so different at the moment. When you add stress to the mix, our sleep is often affected.

You may find you’re sleeping less than usual because you’re working long hours to catch up on work after spending the day home schooling the kids, or you’re watching more TV and spending more hours online, or stress is causing you to feel more pain and you’re having issues sleeping through the night.

Or you may be sleeping more – trying to rid yourself of this constant feeling of tiredness, or because you’re bored, or because it’s cold outside and you’re feeling cosy and warm indoors, or because you’re feeling sad. Not enough sleep, too much sleep and poor quality sleep will all increase how tired you feel.

That’s why it’s important that you stick to a sleep schedule – even on the weekends. Get out of bed in the morning and go to bed at night, at the same time every day. Your body needs this regularity for your internal clock to function properly, and to help you fall asleep and wake up more easily and feeling more refreshed.

And if you’re regularly finding it difficult to sleep or get out of bed because you’re feeling really sad or down, it’s a really good idea to talk with someone about this, whether it’s family, a close friend or your doctor. Please don’t ignore this.

We’re exercising less

Many of us are finding we’re exercising less because we don’t have access to our warm water exercise classes, tai chi, gyms and exercise groups. Not getting enough exercise can make you feel sluggish and tired. If this continues for some time, we start to get out of shape and feel less inclined to exercise. So it’s really important to make exercise – whether it’s online videos and apps, walking, dusting off your old exercise DVDs, or dancing around the living room – an essential part of your everyday routine. And get the family involved. Everyone needs to be exercising and staying active for our physical and mental wellbeing. If you’re home alone, use a video app to call a friend and exercise together. You’ll find you’ll feel more energised and happier when you’re exercising regularly.

We live with chronic conditions

Apart from all of above affecting how tired we’re feeling, we live with chronic musculoskeletal conditions and other health issues. These often cause us to feel fatigued. Many of our medications and living with chronic pain can also make us feel excessively tired. When you add a pandemic on top of that, the unique issues you’re facing – how the virus may affect you, worry about being more at risk, how to safely access your healthcare team, navigating telehealth – it can heighten you’re feelings of fatigue.

Many of the things we’ve looked at – such as establishing a routine, getting adequate sleep, eating well, exercising and staying connected with your family, friends and work colleagues will help you with some of these issues.

You can also get help from your GP and from the nurses on our Help Line. Contact a peer support group or go online and connect with others dealing with similar things. Even just talking with others who know exactly how you’re feeling can help you feel less isolated.

We may need to talk with our doctor

Finally if you’re concerned that your tiredness is due to more than just the reasons listed above, it might be worth talking with your doctor about it. Your tiredness may be caused by other things like vitamin deficiency (for example iron and vitamin D), side effects of your medications, feeling sad, anxious or depressed or it may indicate another health issue. So make an appointment to discuss it with your doctor – either in person or via a telehealth consultation.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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

Photo by Tracey Hocking on Unsplash


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07/May/2020

Anxiety and COVID-19

Have you noticed how everything seems heightened at the moment? Our stress, fear, boredom, tech issues (meh) and random acts of kindness. Everything we feel or experience seems so much bigger.

We’re having to find ways to manage this “big-ness” as we journey through COVID-19 and isolation. But that’s cool…

I told myself I was ok. Dealing with the same old stuff everyone is dealing with – except home schooling (phew) – I’m in serious awe of the parents out there doing the home schooling deal – wow!

Anyway I told myself and everyone else how fine I was. Busy, busy, busy. Lots to do. I’m working, I have a wonderful supportive partner, I have a roof over my head, I have food and toilet paper. I’m fine.

And then I wasn’t.

Like a lot of people I struggle from time to time with anxiety. And it’s been getting a little tricky lately keeping it under control. I was having sleep issues, stressing about things outside of my control, being snappy to those around me. But I told myself I was fine.

Until the day I took a break from work and went for a short walk. My heart started racing and I had to wrap my arms around myself because I felt like I was about to fly into a million pieces. I hurried home and got back to work. And I ignored it.

From this fragile state it only took a slight incident to send me over the edge and I fell apart. That’s when I realised I wasn’t fine, like I’d been telling myself. I wasn’t ok. I was a mess.

So it was time I actually started practising what I preach. I needed to take care of me.

It’s crazy – I understand the importance of self-care but I was just “too busy”, “too dedicated”, “too indispensable” to stop. That’s what my anxiety was telling me….”busy, busy, busy, can’t stop, must keep going, work all the hours”. So my regular exercise, healthy diet, relaxation, staying hydrated, making time for family and friends, managing my chronic condition and health in general – all of it – had gone out the window weeks ago.

But my body had decided we’d had enough.

I took a day off work (!) and went for a long walk in the park near my home. I called my adorable five year old niece and chatted about the things that were happening in her life and told her about the antics of my two crazy cats just to hear her laugh. I rode my bike in the sun. I had a bubble bath and read my long neglected book. I called a friend. And I took time with my partner to relax, cuddle and have a quiet evening with no screens allowed.

I’m feeling much better for having taken this time. I’m not 100%, but I’m working to manage my time, my stress and anxiety better than I had been.

I decided to write this blog about anxiety because I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who’s “fine”.

We’re living through extraordinary times that have come out of nowhere. We weren’t able to prepare ourselves for it, because we’ve not had to deal with anything like it before.

We exist in a new “normal” that’s anything but normal. So it’s easy for anxiety, stress, frustration, fear, loneliness and all kinds of emotions to sneak up on us, and absolutely blindside us.

We need to give ourselves a break and remember we’re doing the best we can.

But we also need to be honest when we ask ourselves if we’re ok. Don’t just toss out the automatic “I’m fine”. Many of us are so used to doing that when someone asks us about our musculoskeletal condition. It’s like a reflex – “I’m fine”.

So ask yourself “am I really ok?”. Not just on the surface, but deep down where we hide the stuff we don’t want anyone else to see.

And if you’re not, what can you do to look after yourself? Is it putting in place or updating a self-care plan? Is it asking for help – from family, friends or your doctor? Is it talking with your boss so you can take some time off to rest, relax and rediscover what’s important? Is it joining an online peer support group or catching up with friends? Is it setting goals or creating a new routine that makes time for self-care? Whatever it is, it’s important that you’re honest with yourself and others and if you’re not ok, say it. Don’t ignore it.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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

Photo by Grace Madeline on Unsplash


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22/Apr/2020

Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed and frustrated by 2020? You’re not alone! It’s been a bumpy ride so far. Filled with uncertainty, new pressures, lots of unknowns and a lack of control, many of us are feeling anxious, upset and vulnerable. When you have a musculoskeletal condition and live with regular pain and fatigue, the urge to retreat to your warm, cosy bed and pull the covers over your head can be very tempting.

But you’re strong – you’re a mighty warrior living with a chronic condition/s 🙂. You can take control of the situation and do something proactive by examining your self-care plan. Ask yourself – “is my pre-COVID self-care plan realistic now? Or does it need updating in light of the changes to my world?”

What is self-care

Self-care involves the things you deliberately do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. It’s the things you plan for (e.g. water exercise classes, visiting your specialist) and you make time for (e.g. mindfulness, taking your dog for a walk, talking with a friend).

You often see articles about self-care with pictures of day spas, yoga retreats and people exercising on the beach at sunset. All wonderful things to do to take care of your health – but when you live with a chronic condition, and you live with pain and sometimes crippling exhaustion, life’s not that glamorous.

So to create a self-care plan for yourself that’s realistic and achievable during isolation, throw those ideas out the window and let’s get real. Start by recognising and appreciating the things that you can do right now.

Some mornings it’s all you can do to get out of bed, let alone shower. So the very basics of self-care involve good quality sleep, a nutritious diet, exercise, looking after your mental health and keeping yourself and your home clean. If you have family, then you have that added responsibility as well, especially at the moment if you’re home schooling while juggling work.

So wow – that’s already a lot! So let’s break it down into bite-size chunks

Get some sleep

Easier said than done I hear you say. But getting good quality sleep is crucial for our everyday functioning. If it’s an issue for you, especially at the moment, part of your 2020 self-care plan may be to look at ways you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. We have resources to help you – including nurses you can speak to on our Help Line (see details at bottom) and info on our website. Or if it’s a problem you feel you need extra help with, talk with your doctor (in person or via a telehealth consultation) to get professional help.

Eat a healthy, nutritious diet

While it’s tempting when you’re feeling crappy to eat foods you think of as comforting (e.g chocolate, cheese, ice cream, biscuits, alcohol) you need to enjoy them in moderation. While they may make you happy for a while, it’s only temporary. Too much of a good thing can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Eating a variety of healthy foods, in a range of colours (eat the rainbow) will make you feel better overall and will give you more energy. And on the days you’re feeling great, prepare some healthy meals you can pop in the freezer for the days you’re feeling lousy.

Stay active

Exercise is so important when you have a chronic condition, but when you can no longer access your warm water exercise class or your tai chi group, finding a new exercise program can be daunting. If you’re looking online, it can sometimes be hard to judge if the exercise will help or hinder you. We’ve created some information about exercising during this time – including some tips about how you can stay active, as well as how to judge whether an online video or app is right for you. If you need some expert help and guidance, talk with your doctor about seeing an exercise physiologist, a physiotherapist or a sports and exercise physician. You can access them via a telehealth consultation or visit them in person.

Take care of your mental health

It’s really easy when you’re constantly surrounded by virus talk to become overwhelmed. Especially if you’re worried about your health, family, work and finances. And when you’re stressed and not looking after yourself properly, it can affect all aspects of your life including your family (and many of us are living in tight quarters at the moment), your ability to focus on work properly, sleep well, eat well…and so it becomes a vicious cycle.

The good news is there are lots of things you can do to look after your mental health during this time (read our blog for tips and strategies) including getting professional help if you need it. Again you can access the help you need in person or via a telehealth consultation. Talk with your doctor if you want more information about getting professional help.

But a really simple thing you can do immediately is to limit your exposure to all things COVID – pick a time when you’ll catch up on what’s happening – for example the evening news or morning bulletin – and then turn it off and tune it out.

Cleaning – plan, prioritise and pace

Cleaning – yourself, your kids, your home can be an enormous challenge. Hands up if there are days you feel like you need a nap after having a shower in the morning? It happens to most of us living with chronic pain at one time or another. For some more frequently than others. But the best thing you can do is to plan, prioritise and pace yourself.

Even before you get out of bed, while you’re lying in your cocoon, plan what you would like to do during the day. Maybe have a notepad and pen beside your bed, or use a note app on your phone and write it all down. OK, seeing it in one place, you can see that it’s a lot.

So now to the second P – prioritise. What are the things you really need to do? Do you really need to wash your hair today, or can you use the dry shampoo? Do you really need to vacuum the entire house, or just the living area? Do you really need to do 15,000 steps today, or do you need to take it down a notch. You know how you’re feeling on any given day – so plan, then prioritise.

Which then brings us to the 3rd P – pacing. Whatever you’re doing – cleaning, exercising, cooking, working, gardening, playing with the kids – pace yourself. It’s not a race – so be generous with your time, build in space for rest breaks.

And this brings us to the 4th P – peeing…after lying in bed thinking about all of this, you now need to rush to the loo 🤣

And finally, when it comes to cleaning – don’t forget hand washing. We need to do it regularly and thoroughly. We also need to be careful how we cough, sneeze and blow our noses. And avoid touching our face. Check out our hygiene 101 blog for more info.

Make time for the things you enjoy

When you’ve given the basics of your self-care plan some TLC and revised it for the current world, now take some time to consider other aspects of self-care. You may not have the time, energy or inclination to do these sorts of things most days, but schedule time to do the things that make you really happy, or relaxed, or pampered at least once a week – like a bubble bath, taking an hour to curl up with a good book, having a moment of peace and quiet in your garden to relax, doing a jigsaw puzzle, video chat with your bestie. We all need these moments to help us recharge, especially when life is so crazy and unsettled.

Contact our free national Help Line

Our nurses are available weekdays between 9am-5pm to take your calls (1800 263 265), emails (helpline@msk.org.au) or messages via Messenger. So if you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services – contact them today.

More to explore


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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




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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