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13/Aug/2020

I know, I know. We talk about exercise a lot.

But as anyone with a musculoskeletal condition knows, exercise is such an important tool for managing your condition. It keeps your joints moving, it’s vital for bone health, it helps you manage your pain, weight, mood, sleep. It’s practically magic! 😉

However during these weird times, many of us are probably not exercising enough. Our routines are all over the place, we’re working from home/not working/or working strange shifts. There are restrictions (depending on where you live) around going to the gym or the pool, team sports, catching up with friends for exercise or even leaving your home. And because we have to stay at home as much as possible, we’re not getting as much incidental exercise as we once did – such as walking around shopping centres, commuting to work, walking to a colleagues office. That means many of us are more sedentary and becoming unfit and deconditioned. This’s a big problem.

So even though we’re six months into this pandemic in Australia, we need to take stock and be honest with ourselves. Ask yourself – “are you really doing as much exercise as you can?”

Or have you gotten into a routine (I know I have) where it’s easier to stay cooped up indoors, working, watching TV and avoiding exercise outdoors in the cold, wet, COVID-winter? If you answered “no, I’m not doing as much exercise as I could” (like me), what can you do about it?

Steps to becoming more active

  1. The first step was admitting it. Well done!
  2. Now, look at the barriers to exercise. What’s stopping you? This may include things like a lack of time, the weather, being worried about being in public with others, not having access to your usual exercise outlets such as the gym, not feeling motivated.
  3. Once you’ve identified the problem/s, it’s time to do some problem solving. Let’s say the issue you identified is a lack of time. That’s always a tough one. When we have so many things competing for our time and attention, exercise often gets pushed to the bottom of our list of priorities. But it’s important we make it a priority as it has so many benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing. So here are some simple steps to help you come up with some solutions:
    • Identify the problem – done. Don’t have time to exercise.
    • Brainstorm possible solutions and write them down, e.g. exercise in the morning, exercise after work/school, exercise for small periods of time several times a day (e.g. 3 exercise sessions that last 10 minutes each), set reminders on your watch/phone to remind you to get up and move.
    • Choose one and try it. Evaluate how well it works for you. Make sure you give it a solid attempt. Don’t stop after only one try.
    • If it didn’t work out so well, choose another solution and try it.
    • Keep going until you find the solution that works for you.
    • Make it a part of your daily routine.
    • And keep it at the forefront of your mind. Don’t let it slip off the radar again. It may help to write a note on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or the back of the toilet door 😁. Visual clues help us stay motivated.

Motivation

Getting and staying motivated is often a big challenge when it comes to becoming more active. It’s cold, you’re in pain, you miss exercising with your friends, you can’t be bothered – there can be so many reasons why our motivation to exercise disappears. Especially if we haven’t been exercising regularly for a while. Here are some tips to help you if your motivation has gone south for the winter:

  • Remind yourself of the benefits of regular exercise – pain management, improved fitness, joint mobility, muscle strength, better balance, improved sleep and mood, weight management.
  • Add it to your routine. Just like you know you’ll always clean your teeth every morning, make exercise a regular part of your day. It should become that habitual. It may take some time, but if you do it regularly, it will become a habit.
  • Plan to do it when you know you feel the best. If you know you’re generally stiff and sore when you wake up, don’t schedule your exercise routine for the early morning. Schedule it for a time you know you’re feeling loose and limber.
  • Do something you enjoy. You’re more likely to continue to do it if you enjoy it and look forward to it.
  • Exercise with someone – if you have others in your household, include them. They need exercise too! If you live on your own, do some virtual exercise with friends or family. Connect with them over the phone or video and exercise together. Call someone while you both go for a walk – so you not only exercise together, but you get to catch up (just be sure you’re moving at a pace that makes you huff and puff a little – though not so much you can’t speak).
  • Exercise on your own – if you have others in your household, this can be a great way to get some alone time. We’re living in tight quarters at the moment and going a little stir crazy 😜. Scheduling time every day (even if it’s only 10 minutes) will give you time to refresh, breathe and retain your sanity.
  • Make sure you do a variety of exercise – you don’t want to get stuck in a rut. That’s boring and you’re more likely to stop doing something that bores you. Look online at the different exercise videos offering everything from Bollywood dancing, yoga, tai chi, chair exercises and more (see the More to Explore section below for more info. And make sure you read our blog about evaluating online videos for safety and quality.
  • Track what you’re doing. Use a tracking app, a pedometer or a notebook – whatever works – but make sure you track how you’re going over time. Seeing how far you’ve come and how you’ve improved is an amazing feeling. And it motivates you to keep going and challenging yourself 😊.
  • Continue to challenge yourself and increase the intensity of your exercise as your fitness improves. It’ll make your exercise more interesting, and also have greater health benefits.
  • Don’t set yourself up to fail. It’s easy when you’re gung ho and ready to make a change to set unrealistic goals, for example 10,000 steps every day or an hour of aerobic exercise 5 times a week. Or you may attempt to do something you used to be able to do pre-COVID. That may no longer be achievable at the moment, which can be a little disheartening 😥. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start slow and increase your steps/distance/time gradually.
  • Set goals. Having a clear goal can really motivate you to stay on track with your exercise program. Make sure your goal is SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and have a Timeframe. For example, your goal may be to walk a lap around your local park, a distance of 3.5kms. You want to be able to do this without stopping within a month. You plan to do this by walking short distances each day, and going slightly further every day. This goal is specific – it states exactly what the goal is; you can measure it – both time and distance; it’s achievable – as it lists the steps for how it’ll be done; it’s realistic – it gives you a realistic time frame to do it in so they can build up your fitness and endurance; and it has a timeframe. For more info about goal setting read our blog.
  • Make it enjoyable – listen to music, podcasts, audio books when you go for your walk.
  • Reward yourself. Especially if you’ve exercised even though you didn’t feel like it. That’s amazing! You should be proud of yourself. Have a bubble bath. Give yourself a foot massage (or better yet have some else do it). Call a friend just for a chat.

Variety is the spice of life

To get the most out of exercise, you should include a variety of different exercises that help with:

  • flexibility – stretching and range of movement exercises help maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and nearby muscles. They’ll help keep your joints moving properly and ease joint stiffness.
  • strength – to build muscle strength, provide stability to your joints, improve your bone health and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.
  • overall fitness – exercise that gets you moving and increases your heart rate (e.g. walking, swimming, cycling) will help improve the health of your heart and lungs and can also help with endurance, weight loss, prevention of other health problems (e.g. diabetes). This type of exercise is also called aerobic exercise, cardiovascular exercise or ‘cardio’.

Types of exercise

There are so many ways you can exercise so that you enjoy the benefits listed above. It’s really a matter of finding the things you enjoy doing. So why not try:

  • online exercises – so many gyms and fitness instructors have moved their classes online due to COVID so you’re sure to find some that will appeal to you
  • tai chi, Pilates, yoga – again try online videos/classes, or go ‘old school’ and borrow DVDs from your local library
  • swimming, exercises in water – if you live near the beach, have your own pool or the public pools have reopened
  • ride a bike, scooter, skates, skateboard
  • tennis, cricket, basketball
  • croquet, lawn bowls – you can get all the equipment you need to play these in your own backyard or park
  • active video games – for example WII Fit, Nintendo Switch
  • walk the dog (or cat 😹)
  • skipping rope – by yourself or get the family involved – double Dutch anyone? 😲
  • strength training using free weights and resistance bands
  • dancing/playing air guitar…rock on!

Note: not all of these options will be available for everyone at the moment. It’ll depend on where you live and the current COVID restrictions.

Tips to stay safe

Exercise is really important for good health, but we need to be careful we don’t get hurt or exacerbate an existing condition. Here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • see your doctor before starting any new exercise program. If you’ve had a joint replaced, find out from your surgeon or health professional which movements you should limit or avoid.
  • talk to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist – in person or via telehealth – if you need specific help, or want an exercise program tailored to your specific needs and health conditions.
  • don’t exercise a painful, inflamed or hot joint. Instead, gently move the joint through its range of movement to help reduce stiffness and improve circulation.
  • start gently and increase the intensity of your exercise program gradually over weeks or months.
  • always warm up and cool down.
  • pay attention to good technique and try to move smoothly. Don’t force a joint beyond a comfortable range of movement.
  • if you’re short of breath or in pain, ease back on the intensity of your exercise.
  • if your joint feels particularly painful afterwards (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next exercise session.
  • if an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what’s normal for you, then stop this activity.
  • drink plenty of fluids during and after exercising.
  • wear appropriate clothing and footwear when exercising.
  • practise good COVID habits – wear your mask (if applicable), follow restrictions, maintain physical distancing (at least 1.5 metres), don’t exercise if you’re sick and don’t leave your home if you have tested positive to COVID.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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13/Aug/2020

The purr-fect treatment for COVID and MSK conditions!

In the midst of all of the stress, unhappiness, boredom and frustration of this pandemic, something that always lightens my heart is the presence of my cats. Their antics while I work from home are so entertaining (and often distracting 😊).

And nothing lifts the spirits more than seeing ridiculously happy dogs in the park as they take their owners for a walk 🐶.

There’s a reason we share so many animal memes and videos. Animals take us out of our own world for a moment, and make us smile and laugh out loud with their boundless joy and exuberance.

In the absence of a specific treatment or vaccine for this pandemic I think our pets, and the animals around us, are the perfect therapy. They’re always ready for walks, pats, cuddles and conversation. They ease our loneliness, they listen to our rants, they don’t judge our moves as we dance around the house 😉. They give us a reason to get out of bed, to be active and to just keep going when things seem bleak.

Apart from helping us through these tough COVID-times, our pets are wonderful therapy for helping us manage our chronic conditions. They distract us from our pain and can help us manage our anxiety.

Research has shown that owning a pet can:

  • decrease cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • decrease feelings of loneliness
  • reduce your stress
  • improve your mood
  • increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities.

With all of that good stuff, it’s no wonder almost two-thirds of Australian households have a pet, and 90% of us have had a pet at some time. (1)

The time’s right – let’s get a pet!

Hold your horses for a minute. If you’ve been thinking of getting a pet, and you think now’s the right time, it’s important that you do your research. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of adopting a pet. Especially now in the thick of a global pandemic and you’re feeling lonely or bored.

But you need to make sure the fit is right for you and the animal. You need to be willing to take on the pet for the entirety of its life. That’s a big responsibility. You need to have space for them, be able to afford them (including food, bedding, vet bills, vaccinations, litter, boarding), have time to play with them and exercise them.

The RSPCA has several resources to help you decide on the right pet for you. Check the More to Explore section below for links.

I love animals, but I can’t have a pet 🙁

Sadly pet ownership isn’t an option for everyone. You may live somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you don’t have space, you’re allergic or you live with someone who is, or you work long hours and aren’t home very much.

If that’s the case, but you want to be around animals more, there are lots of other options:

  • offer to walk a family members/friends/neighbours pet. Just make sure you follow all the COVID requirements for your area, including washing your hands thoroughly before and afterwards.
  • volunteer your time at an animal shelter – there are lots of things you can do – playtime socialisation, patting cats, walking dogs.
  • look after a family member or friends pet when they go on holiday (remember those? 😉).
  • think outside the litter box. There are others pets you can adopt that may be an option including fish, birds, spiders, mice, rabbits, ferrets and rats. They may provide a bit more flexibility than the traditional cat or dog ownership.
  • watch videos online. The internet is practically one big animal video…crazy cats, daggy dogs, goofy goats. It’s all there waiting for you to find. And even though you’re not in physical contact with an animal, this connection can boost your mood and relieve stress.

What about COVID?

According to the World Health Organization “several dogs and cats…in contact with infected humans have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, ferrets appear to be susceptible to the infection…however, there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID-19.”(2)

Phew. But what if you get sick?

First – the Australian Veterinary Association advises that if you get COVID-19, you should minimise close contact with your pet during this time, such as hugging, face to face contact or sleeping on your bed.(3) 😥

Second – you have to isolate until the Public Health Unit lets you know you can go back into the community.

That means you can’t leave your house except in an emergency or to get essential medical care. But if you have a pet, you might need some help. You may not feel well enough to care for your pet/s, you may need more food and supplies for them or need someone to take your dog for a walk. Or your pet may need to see the vet.

Some things you can do:

  • order food and other essentials online, via pet supply stores or your grocery store, and have them delivered to your door
  • ask a friend/family member/neighbour to pick up supplies for your pet, or take your dog for walks
  • if you’re too sick to look after your pet, ask a friend/family member/neighbour if they can take them in, or look after them
  • if your pet is unwell and needs to see the vet, don’t leave your home. Call your vet and ask for their advice. They’ll work with you to ensure your pet gets the treatment they need while keeping vet staff safe.

It’s vital that you take all precautions to ensure that whoever helps you isn’t exposed to you and the virus. You’ll also need to be mindful of current restrictions. Check your local state/territory health website for info.

Finally – the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (UK) has some information on other things you can do to care for your pets if you’re ill or have to self-isolate due to coronavirus, including brain games to keep your dog occupied and happy. This is a general guide. Please be mindful that some of the restrictions in the UK are different to those in Australian states and territories.

Coming out of COVID-cray-cray

One day things will calm down and we’ll spend less time at home. We’ll be able to go to work, visit friends and stay away from our homes for longer periods of time. So we need to help our pets – those wonderful little creatures that have kept us sane during an insane time – get ready for this change. They’ve had us for AGES, and they’ll miss us being around all the time. This may cause them unnecessary stress and anxiety. The RSPCA has written a great article full of tips and advice on how you can make this transition less stressful for your pets: How can I prepare my pets for easing of COVID-19 restrictions? 

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore

References

(1) Pets in Australia: A national survey of pets and people
Animal Medicines Australia, 2019
(2) Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)
World Health Organization, 17 April 2020
(3) Advice from the Australian Veterinary Association to pet owners: COVID-19 and companion animals
Australian Veterinary Association Ltd

Photo by Danika Perkinson on Unsplash


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30/Jul/2020

Looking after your feet

Our feet are amazing ‘feats’ of engineering (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one 😁).

Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. They support us through thick and thin – whether we’re walking, running, jumping, dancing, skipping or hopping. We cram them into ill-fitting shoes, torture them in high heels and stub them against the bedside table in the middle of the night (or is that just me?).

As well as the many injuries and calamities that befall our feet, many musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout can affect the feet.

They’re the unsung heroes of this pandemic as we hit the streets, parks and trails for exercise. Walking has become the exercise of choice for people at the moment. Many of us can’t – or don’t feel safe to – return to gyms or exercises classes. And lots of people are walking instead of catching public transport to avoid being in close contact with others. As a result we’re all walking many more steps than we did pre-COVID.

So we need to stop taking our feet for granted. We need to look after them so we can continue to do the things we want and need to do as pain-free as possible.

So what can we do?

Give your feet the TLC they deserve. It’s really important to look after your feet. Wash and dry them regularly. Inspect them for anything unusual such as cuts, blisters, changes to the nails and skin. By being aware of your feet and any changes that occur, you can seek advice sooner. And if they’re sore after a day of walking, maybe give them a warm soak in the bath, or in a bucket or a foot spa (if you have one) while you watch TV. Then dry them thoroughly and rub a moisturising foot cream into your skin. Take your time and give your feet a nice massage. Better yet, see if you can talk someone else into giving them a massage while you relax on the couch 😉

Manage your condition. If you have a musculoskeletal condition that affects your feet, it’s important that you work with your doctor and healthcare team to look after your feet and manage your condition effectively. The treatments used for foot conditions will vary from person to person, depending on your condition and how it’s affecting you. And this may change over time as your condition and your feet change.

See a podiatrist. If you have foot pain, or a condition that affects your feet, visit a podiatrist. They’re feet experts and can assess, diagnose and treat foot and lower limb problem, including skin and nail problems, foot and ankle injuries, foot complications related to medical conditions and problems with your gait or walking. Podiatrists can also give you advice on appropriate footwear, and can prescribe custom foot orthotics.

Consider orthotics. Orthotics are corrective insoles that can help alleviate pain by redistributing pressure away from the painful area and support your arches. You can buy off-the-shelf orthotics or you can have orthotics made that are specifically fitted to your feet by a podiatrist.

Fit your feet with appropriate footwear. With our worlds turned upside down due to COVID, and many of us having to stay home, it’s tempting to stay in our slippers all day. There’s something so comforting about warm, fluffy slippers 😁. However our feet and ankles need proper support. Wear the right footwear for whatever you’re doing. Going for a walk? Put on your sneakers. Working at home? Wear your casual shoes/boots that support your feet and keep you warm. And lounging around in the evening? Get those slippers on.

If you’re buying new shoes, make sure they fit properly, support your feet and are comfortable. Look for shoes that are light, flexible at the toe joints and are hard wearing. Shoes made of leather are preferable over synthetic materials as they breathe better. Avoid slip-on shoes and if laces are difficult to fasten due to arthritis in your hands, Velcro or elastic laces may be an option.

Let them breathe. Did you know you have about 250,000 sweat glands in each foot? That’s a lot of sweat! So let your feet breathe to avoid smelly feet and fungal infections. Change your socks and shoes at least once a day. Wear shoes that allow air flow around your feet: leather, canvas, and mesh are good options, avoid nylon and plastic. And avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row. Give your shoes time (at least a day) to dry and air out. And if the weather’s warm, set your feet free and let them go au naturale. There’s nothing better than walking barefoot on warm grass on a sunny day 🙂

Exercise your feet. I’m not talking about walking here…but other exercises that keep your joints moving. Try non-weight-bearing exercises such as swimming, especially if you have foot pain, as they take the pressure away from the painful areas. You can also do exercises while sitting in a chair. NHS Inform (Scotland) has some foot exercise videos you can try. If you want exercises tailored specifically for you, visit a podiatrist or physiotherapist.

Medications might help. If you’re having a lot of foot pain, speak with your doctor about whether medications may be an option. Depending on the underlying condition causing the problem, your doctor may prescribe a short-term course of pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications, or they may prescribe other medications, such as a cortisone injection into a joint for rheumatoid arthritis or medication for acute attacks of gout.

Diabetes and feet. Many people with musculoskeletal conditions also have diabetes. So it’s really important if you have diabetes that you take care of your feet every day because of the increased risk of developing nerve damage, ulcers and infections. Talk with doctor about how to look after your feet properly if you have diabetes.

Surgery may be required. For some people, surgery may be needed if other conservative treatments haven’t helped. A referral to an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in feet is usually required.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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30/Jul/2020

Guest blogger Phil Cole

Hi I’m Phil Cole. I’m 47 years old and have a young family. Ziggy is just over a year old now and my long suffering partner Marie is an amazing mother 💖. She always carries on despite the extra stresses my condition brings to our lives.

My musculoskeletal situation is complicated…

I officially have psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune inflammatory condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis. It affects all of my joints and organs.

But recently I’ve been under the care of an immunologist investigating rare immune diseases, in conjunction with my endocrinologist and many other ‘ologists’.

I’m prone to infections and am mostly always sick with something. The only good thing about this lockdown is I haven’t been out much and been exposed to germs – so I’ve haven’t caught as much as I normally do. Sometimes these infections can last months 😑.

But the jury’s out on what I have, unfortunately. We know it’s immune-related, we know it’s inflammatory, that’s it so far. I’ve probably had it in some form for most of my adult life, but it’s over the last ten years that its really gotten worse. I also have some added complications due to my Army Service – bad knees and other injuries that don’t help.

Day to day life

Like other people living with a chronic condition, it affects my day to day life. And it’s gotten progressively worse each year.

Chronic pain and exhaustion are the most debilitating factors. I have some mobility issues that flare and have had to give up activities I loved – like kite surfing and skiing.

To be truthful every day is some version of the same struggle. Frustration is the hardest thing. It’s like I’m stuck in a sick Groundhog Day (remember that movie with Bill Murray?). There’s no improvement over all. In fact it’s been heading the other way 😑.

My condition affects my future plans to some degree, but overall we try to plan and live as if I will improve someday, as any plans are not just for me.

Coping strategies

In the past my coping strategies weren’t great. It involved a lot of self-medication and isolation.

But I’m really happy to say that all changed after I attended a pain clinic nearly two years ago.
Since then I’ve been off all my opioids and I have more of a framework to help deal with the pain and bad flare ups.

Having the right mindset is really important. For me it’s knowing I can at least run the clock out on this flare up – just get up every morning and keep going. There’s others far worse than me out there suffering.

Regular walking and stretching, mindfulness, hot chips with grated cheese and baked beans helps too 😋

This is all a work in progress – trying to stick to a schedule with all the above isn’t always easy with a one year old terrorist hiding your car keys!

I wish people knew…

When it comes to my condition I wish people knew that a lot of the worst symptoms are invisible to anyone outside of your immediate family. And that’s because they have to live with it too.

Chronic pain isn’t like normal pain, just as exhaustion isn’t the same as being tired. There’s literally no break from it, no return to normal life.

Both of these things are impossible to convey to others. In fact I don’t, or try not to these days.

It’s not anyone’s fault at all. These things are subjective to a great extent and the nature of the degeneration and symptoms are largely hidden from view.

Some annoying/frustrating things I hear about my condition

This will probably ring true for most people living with a musculoskeletal condition, but it can be annoying when people say “you look well”. I know it’s not their fault, they often don’t know any better. But I did have an ‘ologist’ say exactly that to me last week – now they should know better.

Then there’s the usual stuff – “it improves in good weather” or “I’m tired too” or “have you tried X?” or “my aunty tried X and now she’s better”. Most times it turns out that X is a pseudoscience.

This all comes from a good place so it’s not that annoying really. It’s just that it always happens 😑.

So I now try to look at it as more info to consider. One day someone might have just the right idea or advice, so I’ve decided the best thing to do is listen and then apply some critical thinking to the claim.

Some tips and advice I’d like to share with others

Hands down the best thing I ever did to manage my condition was attend a pain clinic. It taught me how to live with chronic pain and even reduce it, as well as how to get off all the drugs I was taking to manage it.

Some other things I’ve learned along the way:

Own it – don’t rely on others to fix you. You may be lucky and your pain goes away or your condition gets better, but realistically, this is unlikely to happen. So own it.

You have to keep on top of all your specialists. The current model is your GP manages all of your specialists, but in my experience this only exists on paper. That’s why you need to be on top of it all. And try to stay up to date as far as the research and current consensus is for your condition. If, for example, ‘eating oranges cures psoriatic arthritis’ then that will show in the consensus. Until then, it’s just speculation, not fact.

It can be hard to keep on top of it all, but do your best. Keep an open mind, but not so open your brain falls out 😁

Learn and practice critical thinking methodologies and have a basic understanding of the scientific method. These are not just catchphrases but a learned skill. You can use these real step-by-step methods to evaluate potential treatments, drugs, research your condition and challenge specialists – at the very least it will save you time filtering the interweb.

Be the custodian of ALL your medical records. Get a copy of every single test and scan you have. Consider keeping them organised online using a cloud drive like Google Drive or Dropbox so you can access them in real time at any of your appointments. Some pathology centres will email the results to you. So it can’t hurt to ask.

If you know how, transcribe all your results into a master spreadsheet. You can see patterns over time. This has been instrumental in my diagnosis and realisation that what’s going on with me is more complicated than a ‘normal’ rheumatological condition.

Other tips:

  • Learn the medical lingo.
  • Try to eat well.
  • Get referred to a chronic pain clinic.
  • Learn about sleep hygiene – or the habits and everyday practices that help you sleep well. This includes things like exercise, having a nighttime routine, turning off screens etc. This is so important!
  • Don’t ever give up, especially trying to find a diagnosis.

I’m participating in Walk in July for MSK

It’s a great excuse to see how I go on a longer walk than I’m used to. It’s also my chance to help out a great organisation and generally rib the CEO Rob Anderson along the way (or get him to buy me a coffee at least!).

Final words

I think most people living with musculoskeletal conditions have the same struggles. Generally there’s only so much you can do to slow the progression of the condition and limit the pain, exhaustion and mobility issues.

At its core it’s a big, lifelong mental battle. It can be very isolating dealing with that every day, you have to try and come to terms with the fact that your life has changed forever and there’s no cure…yet.

So you must adapt, and seek out the positives…you’ll find there’s many if you look for them 🙂

Believe me, I know it’s not always easy to do. There’ll be some dark days ahead – that’s why acceptance is so important.

Things that your old self loved to do may no longer be an option – try and find new stuff to replace that old stuff.

In the end you may find your life becomes much more simplified in many ways, and that’s a really good thing 😊.

Contact our free national Help Line

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

More to explore


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16/Jul/2020

“Whooooa, and don’t it feel good!”

Gotta love the eighties and music from bands like Katrina and the Waves, right?

And even though there’s only a glimmer of sunshine in Melbourne as I’m writing this and I’m a bit chilly from the quick walk I took round the block, I’m certainly feeling brighter than I did 15 minutes ago! Especially with the tune of that song stuck in my head 😁

While I was out I couldn’t help but notice how many people were also out for a stroll. It seems that everyone’s rediscovered walking during the pandemic.

This is one of the most positive things to have emerged due to COVID. People are pulling on their walking shoes and hitting the paths.

Family groups, deliriously happy dogs with their owners, single people with their headphones on – and everyone doing the COVID smile as you pass by. It’s lovely.

Walking is a great way to exercise. It costs nothing, it’s suitable for most people, and it gets you out and about.

It’s a fantastic way to wind down after a long day of work. It can help you relax, especially if you’re feeling stressed or anxious because of the crazy state of the world. There are so many things we have no control over at the moment, but going for a walk? That’s something we can control.

The fresh air, the exercise, and listening to something interesting – your family, a friend, a podcast or music – it’s a great way to boost your mood.

If you don’t exercise much, walking might be a good way for you to build up your activity levels – though be sure to talk with your doctor first to get the all-clear. Then start slow.

Try walking 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and you’ll really notice the health benefits. It can help you manage your pain, lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it can lift your mood, help you get a good night’s sleep, improve your bone and joint health and increase heart and lung fitness.

If you can’t walk 30 minutes at a time, break the walking up over your day. Three 10 minute walks, six 5 minute walks…it all adds up.

And if 30 minutes most days isn’t achievable for you at the moment, set yourself a goal so that it becomes achievable. Think about your daily commitments, your level of fitness, your pain/fatigue levels and all of the other things that affect you day to day. Now create a SMART goal. That’s a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and has a Time-frame that works for you. Read our blog about goal setting for more info.

Walking tips

  • Wear comfortable, appropriate clothing and shoes. Your shoes should support your feet and have a non-slip sole. Clothes should be loose and/or stretchy enough to allow you to walk without restrictions. And don’t forget a hat on sunny days.
  • Warm up and cool down to prevent injuries or pain. While you might be eager to just get out there or you want to stay ahead of a group of people coming up behind you, it’s important that you take the time to let your muscles and joints warm up. And when you’re close to finishing your walk, take the time to slow it down and give your body the chance to cool down. Don’t forget to incorporate some basic stretches after you’ve warmed up and after you’ve cooled down. Check out these ones from the Arthritis Foundation (USA).
  • Remember to physically distance from other people when you’re out for your walk. Keep at least 1.5 metres between yourself and others. That doesn’t include members of your household 😊.
  • Choose quieter times to walk if you live in a busy, densely populated area. Try walking early in the morning, or in the evening, as long as it’s safe to do so.
  • Avoid the really popular parks and paths. It’s just too hard to maintain that 1.5 metres when you’re surrounded on all sides by people. It can also make your walk less enjoyable if there are crowds of people and lots of noise. Find parks and walking trails that are less crowded, or go at a different time of the day/week.
  • Make it social (if you can) – walk with a friend, your family, kids, the dog.
  • Listen to music, audio books, podcasts. Going for a walk by yourself gives you space for some alone time. Listen to something that interests you and relax as you get some exercise.
  • Make walking a part of your regular routine. Go at the same time each day – e.g. before/after work, after lunch.
  • Don’t go out if you’re sick – stay home and look after yourself. This is especially important if you’re experiencing any COVID symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. Find out more about COVID symptoms on the Australian Government website.
  • Be mindful while you’re walking. Really take time to be in the moment and experience the walk. How do your feet feel as they connect with the ground? What can you smell? How does the wind feel on your face? This is an opportunity to really connect with what you’re doing and savour every moment.
  • Explore new places. Obviously follow the directions of the health officer in your state/territory, but if you’re able to explore new walking trails, parklands and suburbs, do it. As many of us have discovered during lockdown, walking the same paths day after day can become a little tedious. Mixing it up will make your walks more interesting. Comedian and radio host Tony Martin and his partner have spent more than 10 years exploring the streets of Melbourne, with the goal to walk every single street! While your goal doesn’t need to be this challenging, it may inspire you to pull out the old Melways or use your GPS to discover new and interesting places to walk.
  • Take a water bottle – it can be thirsty work! And depending how far you’re walking, consider taking a small backpack for your water bottle and any other supplies you think may need such as snacks, a map, band aids (just in case) and your phone.
  • Track your walking with a pedometer or fitness activity tracker. This’s a great way to see how you’ve progressed over time. And many of the walking apps allow you to challenge others, so if you can’t physically walk together, you can in spirit.
  • Increase the distance and intensity of your walks over time. To see the health benefits from your walking, you need to push yourself to go further and harder.
  • And if you catch the walking bug (that sounds a little gross but you know what I mean 😋), consider joining a walking or bushwalking group when restrictions ease. You’ll meet other people who love walking, explore new places together and get lots of tips and advice to make your walking more enjoyable and challenging.
  • And last but not least…walk with us! At least in spirit 😊 Our Walk in July is happening as we speak. People of all ‘walks’ of life (sorry for that), ages, conditions and locations are walking virtually whenever and wherever they want to raise awareness of musculoskeletal conditions and to raise funds for Musculoskeletal Australia. Join us and together we can make a difference to the lives of those who need it most!

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

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but just some of the sites that provide useful info about different walks and trails in Australia.


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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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12/Sep/2019

The weather’s changing. You can smell the blossoms, the freesias and other spring flowers bursting into life. The days are getting longer. The sun’s shining and the temperature’s rising.

Hooray! I’m over winter. The time for hibernating is over. I just want to lose the winter woollies, say goodbye to soup and get out and about.

So I’ve made a list of all the things I want to do now that the weather is getting better. I’m going spring into spring! Here’s a few that may get you inspired:

  1. Get outdoors. We’re so lucky in Australia to have beautiful and accessible parks and gardens. Whether you’re into a gentle stroll, a brisk hike, a walk through history, or all of the above, there’s something there for you. A good place to start is the parks service website in your state or territory, your local council website, and the National Trust website.
  2. Try a new sport/exercise. If your exercise program has become boring, or you’re in a bit of an exercise rut, spring is the perfect time to blow off the cobwebs and try something new. Try trampolining, have a Frisbee tournament, learn to dance the samba/tango/tap/swing, borrow a bike and go for a ride, join a sporting team, go bird watching. The sky’s the limit. Just think about the types of things you enjoy doing, or sound fun to you, and incorporate them into your exercise program.
  3. Take part in a fun run/walk. This is the time of the year when fun runs and walks seem to happen every weekend. Find one that appeals to you – the location, the distance, the charity it supports – and sign yourself up. Even better sign up the family and friends as well!
  4. Volunteer your time and skills. Whether it’s something you do regularly or as a once off, volunteer work can be extremely rewarding for yourself and your community. Think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit the GoVolunteer website to search the database for volunteering opportunities.
  5. Grab your camera or phone and start snapping. It’s amazing the quality photos we can take on our phones. Post your pics on social media, and be inspired by others. Spring is the perfect time to get some gorgeous photos. And it’s amazing how differently you start seeing everyday things when you start imagining them through a camera lens. Things that once faded into the background become stunning architectural shapes, or vibrant vistas. Before you know it you’ll be experimenting with angles, perspective and light. If you need help, there’s plenty of tips and tricks online about taking photos with your phone. Or investigate photography courses in your local area. You’ll learn new skills and meet new people.
  6. Dig in the dirt. Many people find gardening a relaxing past-time, and it can distract us from our pain and our problems. So with our gardens coming alive, why not get out and get your hands dirty. Plant some bright flowers in pots or garden beds around the entrance to your house. Prune trees and shrubs and remove any dead winter growth. Add some mulch to the gardens beds. Then grab a cold drink, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labours. Oh – and if you sometimes find your condition affects your ability to garden, check out this blog post.

More to explore

Photo by Maria Shanina on Unsplash.


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26/May/2018

And that’s just what they’ll do

Walking is a great way to exercise. It costs nothing, it’s suitable for most people, and it gets you out and about.

I love walking. I take a quick walk around the block during the day if I can manage it, but I always make sure I get out after I get home from work. I find it’s a fantastic way to relax after a long day at work.

For me the important thing is to get changed and put my walking shoes on as soon as I get home. If I sit down, or get distracted by others, the opportunity disappears.

I grab my MP3 player, put on a podcast or music, and head out. The fresh air, the exercise, and listening to something interesting is a great mood booster.

On the weekend I like to explore new areas, so I hop in the car, pick up a friend, and we walk in a park, the bush, in the CBD, at the beach. This keeps my walks interesting, and I also have the benefit of discovering new places.

If you don’t exercise much, walking might be a good way for you to build up your activity levels – though be sure to talk with your doctor first to get the all-clear. Then start slow.

Try walking 30 minutes a day on most days of the week and you’ll really notice the health benefits. It can help you lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, it can lift your mood, help you get a good night’s sleep, improve your bone and joint health and increase heart and lung fitness.

If you can’t walk 30 minutes at a time, break the walking up over your day. Three 10 minute walks, six 5 minute walks…it all adds up.

Walking tips

  • Wear comfortable, appropriate clothing and shoes.
  • Warm up and cool down to prevent injuries or pain.
  • Make it social – walk with a friend, your family, kids, the dog.
  • Listen to music, audio books, podcasts.
  • Make it a part of your regular routine – go at the same time each day – e.g. after/before work, after lunch.
  • Explore new places to walk.
  • Take a water bottle – it can be thirsty work!
  • Track your walking with a pedometer or fitness activity tracker.
  • Increase the distance of your walks and intensity of your walks over time.
  • Take your walk inside if it’s raining or a hot day – walk in a shopping centre, around the office, around your house.
  • Join a walking or bushwalking group.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your walking shoes and get out there!




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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