In this edition of Connected tISSUES we are shining a spotlight on the complex and often serious musculoskeletal condition, psoriatic arthritis (PsA). PsA is a condition that presents differently in different people. In simple terms, PsA causes pain and inflammation in the joints and is usually associated with the skin condition psoriasis (but it can occur without someone experiencing this…we told you it was complex!) 

Psoriatic arthritis can be challenging to recognise because of the varied ways it can present and because of overlapping symptoms with other conditions. This difficulty can sometimes lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. Our on-demand webinar Psoriatic Arthritis Diagnosis and Management by Dr Adam Rischin is a great resource for anyone seeking information on PsA, its symptoms, tests that can assist with diagnosis and effective treatment options. 

PsA can affect anyone. Our nurse recalls a 30-year-old male contacting the free Musculoskeletal Health Australia B.A.M. Helpline because he was struggling with the effects of his psoriatic arthritis. The impact this condition was having on his life was heartbreaking.  He was living with quite severe plaque psoriasis (plaques appear as raised, inflamed, and scaly patches of dry skin that may be itchy and painful). This young mans mental health, financial security, social, personal and professional life had also been negatively impacted by his condition. It was sad to learn that he had left his job due to the embarrassment he felt, embarrassment that was caused by a symptom of his condition (he was extremely conscious of the silvery flakes of skin he ‘was leaving’ on the chair at work and he didn’t want other people to have to sit on that after him). He was living with chronic pain due to the inflammation in his joints. His quality of life had been severely impacted and he was desperately looking for understanding, help and connection. 

Whilst there are a number of treatment options available to people living with PsA most recently a medication called Apremiast (OTEZLA) was added to the PBS. Apremiast is showing some positive results for plaque psoriasis which is good news as up to 30% of people with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis. 

For more information on Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) go to the Musculoskeletal Health Australia website and download the PsA Information Sheet. For those living with PsA, make sure you access our self-care plan to help you understand, manage and live well with your condition, or call our helpline and speak to our nurse (Monday to Thursday 9am to 5pm) on 1800 263 265 or email

Other sources of information on PsA:



Tips for preventing falls

The 80’s song ‘catch me I’m falling’ could have been my family anthem. We’re clumsy, uncoordinated, and with two left feet, always slipping, tripping, and falling. 😁

It‘s just the way we are. I’ve even gotten to the point of doing a ‘ta-da’ after a trip, extending my arms over my head like a gymnast at the end of a routine.😀

But now, as I’m getting older, it’s not so amusing. I’m conscious of the more serious repercussions of falling. In fact, just last week, I tripped over my cat, whacked the side of my head on the kitchen counter and broke my glasses. Fortunately, I wasn’t seriously injured. But it made me take stock, stop thinking about falls as something I have to put up with and start being more proactive in preventing them.

Because the good news is that falls aren’t inevitable. They can often be prevented, or at the least, any injuries that occur can be minimised.

Let’s start with some facts

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that falls are Australia’s largest contributor to injuries that require a stay in hospital and are a leading cause of injury deaths.(1) More than half of the hospitalisations were due to broken bones – often hips, vertebrae and wrists.

Falls can happen anywhere and to anyone, but a fall that lands you in hospital is more common in older people and most likely to occur in the home.

The stats are alarming, and like me, you may think these were falls from a height or down stairs. But the truth is, ‘over half of all falls leading to hospitalisation occurred on a single-level surface (for example, by slipping), and only 7% of falls leading to hospitalisation involved stairs or steps.’(1) 😱

And if you have osteoporosis and your bones are already fragile, the risk of breaking a bone due to a fall is much greater.

So to avoid becoming one of these stats, we can’t see falls as an inevitable part of life and getting older. They’re a serious problem, and we all need to take steps to prevent them.

We know that falls can result in broken bones, but they can also cause:

  • Dislocated joints (e.g. shoulder)
  • Head injuries
  • Bruises, scrapes and sprains
  • A loss of confidence which can lead to restricting activities due to the fear of falling. For example, avoiding walks in the park or going into places that are unfamiliar, crowded or have stairs/steps due to fear of falls,

What causes people to fall?

Health issues

  • If you’ve fallen more than once in the past 6 months, you’re more likely to fall again.(2)
  • Medical conditions that lead to reduced strength and endurance (e.g. arthritis), loss of sensation (e.g. diabetic neuropathy), impaired balance (e.g. Parkinson’s disease) and cognitive impairment (e.g. dementia).
  • Medicine side effects, especially if you’re taking several medicines.
  • Poor eyesight and vision problems.
  • Incontinence. Rushing to the toilet can increase your risk of falling, especially at night.

The environment

  • Trip hazards in your home and the community, e.g. clutter, cords and cables, wet and/or slippery floors, uneven footpaths, and pets.
  • Poor lighting.
  • Inappropriate or ill-fitting footwear and clothing.

Reducing your risk

Falls are usually caused by a combination of factors. Changing some of these factors can lower your chances of falling. Or, if you do fall, reduce your risk of serious injury.

Exercise regularly

Australian physical activity and exercise guidelines recommend that all adults be active most days, preferably every day, for 30 minutes or more. Exercise is vital for good health, maintaining independence, and lowering your risk of falls and fall-related injuries. Physical activity helps to maintain and improve your mobility, strength, posture, coordination, balance and flexibility.

People with better posture, better balance and stronger muscles are less likely to fall or be injured. On the other hand, people who aren’t very active are more likely to fall and be injured than those who are more active.

Talk with your doctor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for information and advice about how you can safely become more active.

And read Exercise for preventing falls by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners for more info.

Look after your health

  • Talk with your doctor about your medicines. Some medicines can help reduce falls, such as pain-relievers that decrease your pain and allow you to move more comfortably and be more active. However, some medicines or combinations of medicines can cause dizziness, drowsiness or confusion, which increases your risk of falling. Understanding your medicines and how they affect you is an important strategy for reducing this risk.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with regular meals throughout the day to avoid feeling lightheaded, weak or dizzy. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water each day.
  • Limit alcohol intake as it can affect your balance and coordination and increase your risk of falling.
  • Have your eyes tested regularly by an optometrist. If you wear glasses, keep them clean. If you have different glasses for different situations, e.g. reading or distance glasses, make sure you use the appropriate ones for the task. Be careful when going up and down stairs if you wear multifocals.
  • Wear sunglasses outside to minimise glare and squinting and to protect your eyes from UV damage.
  • When moving from a light to a dark space, or vice versa, allow time for your eyes to adjust.
  • See a podiatrist if you have problems with your feet that affect your balance or how you walk; for example, pins and needles, pain, swelling, or poor circulation. They can help you address these issues. They can also give you advice about appropriate footwear.
  • Take time to regain your balance after lying down or standing up after sitting.

Move around safely

  • If you’re unsteady on your feet or have painful feet, hips or knees, you may need some support to get around. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can help you decide if a mobility aid (e.g. a walking stick or walker) is appropriate for you. They’ll also help you learn how to use it correctly and adjust it to your requirements.
  • Plan your outings to fit how you’re feeling. For example, if you’re at the shopping centre and feel tired or your feet begin to hurt, you might need to sit and rest for a while. Or, avoid going for a long walk if you’re having a day when your pain and fatigue levels are high. Take a shorter walk instead.
  • Be aware of the weather and how it can affect your environment. For example, footpaths are often slippery when wet, especially if there are wet leaves on them. Or, on sunny days, sun glare can make visibility more difficult, and you may not be able to see as clearly as usual.

Choose your clothing and footwear carefully

  • Avoid long trousers or skirts that may get caught underfoot or on furniture.
  • Wear well-fitting, supportive shoes with non-slip soles. Avoid high heels, floppy slippers, shoes with slick soles, and walking around in your socks.
  • Hip protectors may be an option for people with osteoporosis or those who fall often. They’re plastic shields or foam pads that fit into the pockets of specially designed underwear and reduce hip fractures from a fall. Your doctor can give you more information about hip protectors.

Reduce the hazards in your home

  • Make sure mats, rugs and carpet edges are lying flat on the ground and well secured. If they’re loose or curled up, they can cause you to trip.
  • Clean up spills from the floor immediately. If you have balance issues and bending over is a problem, ask someone else to clean the floor or use a light mop.
  • Ensure your walkways are clear of clutter, and you have plenty of space to walk between furniture without anything getting in your way.
  • Remove cords and cables from walkways. Secure them to skirting boards or close to the wall.
  • Install non-slip mats in the bathroom.
  • Pets can be a trip hazard (as I learned the hard way), especially if they like to be close to you or it’s meal time. 😼 So be aware of where they are when you’re up and about. 🐶
  • Make sure your home is well-lit so you can always see where you’re going. If you get up in the night frequently to go to the toilet, make sure you have a bright bedside light or use a torch so you can see clearly. Motion sensor lights are also handy and can be plugged into power points on the way to the toilet.
  • Consider installing a handrail on at least one side of any stairs and next to baths, showers and toilets.
  • Safety strips on the edges of outdoor stairs are also a good idea. They provide additional grip and help you see exactly where the edge of the step is.

What to do if you fall

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, you can still have a fall.

So if you have a fall, it’s important that you try not to panic (easier said than done 😑). And although your first reaction may be to get up quickly, especially if you’re in public, because you’re embarrassed (been there, done that), take a moment.

  • Assess the situation. Are you hurt? Is it safe to get up? Have you damaged your glasses? Or lost your walking stick?
  • Make a decision whether or not to try to get up. Factoring into your decision will be whether you’re safe where you are, e.g. have you fallen onto a footpath or the road?

If you can get up:

  • Take time to recover. Sit and let yourself get over the shock. Drink some water. Take stock of your injuries.
  • Tell someone you’ve had a fall and/or seek medical advice. Don’t just brush it off. Falls can signify that something’s wrong – e.g. medicine side effects, balance problems, or a new health issue.

If you can’t get up:

  • Try sliding or crawling to seek help.
  • Use your phone or personal alarm, call for help or make a loud noise to attract attention.
  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible until help arrives
  • Seek medical advice/or call an ambulance.

Services to help keep you safe

If you’ve done all you can to prevent falls and are still concerned about your risk, there are services available to help you.

  • Falls and balance clinics provide multidisciplinary assessment and management planning for people who’ve had falls and have mobility and balance problems. People receive information on making their homes safer and are referred to physiotherapy, occupational therapy, exercise classes and other allied health professionals. Talk with your doctor about whether this might be an option for you.
  • Personal alarms. There are two basic personal alarm options; a pendant you wear around your neck and a smartwatch worn on your wrist. Pressing the button on the alarm will trigger contact with the service company, who’ll then contact your nominated relative, friend, neighbour or a response service. Some people can access free or reduced-cost personal alarms through government schemes such as the Commonwealth Home Support Program, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Visit their websites or speak with your doctor to see if you’re eligible. A variety of private companies provide this service for a fee if you don’t qualify for the free service.
  • Red Cross Telecross is a free service offered by the Australian Red Cross. It aims to provide people who live alone and are at risk of illness or accident the peace of mind that someone is looking out for them. Each morning, every day of the year, trained volunteers make a short call to people’s homes. If the call goes unanswered, Red Cross will take action to make sure that the person is OK. For information about accessing Telecross, call Red Cross on 1300 885 698.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issuestelehealth, or accessing services. They’re available Monday to Thursday between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email ( or via Messenger.

More to explore


(1) Falls, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022.
(2) Falls and the elderly, healthdirect, 2020.


Originally written and published by Lisa Bywaters 2022.


Budget-friendly tips for staying warm this winter

Sadly winter is more than just lazy Sundays when you can stay at home, warm on the couch with a loved one. Reality means we need to eventually (and reluctantly) head out of our cosy homes and face the cold, wet winter. And when we’re at home, because of crazy energy prices and rising living costs, we have to make hard decisions about how to spend the household budget. Heating is one of the more significant costs in winter, so many people are forced to reduce it to save money.

For those of us with conditions like  fibromyalgialupusosteoarthritisrheumatoid arthritisback pain, scleroderma, and Raynauds’ phenomenon, this can be a painful problem. We often feel the cold more keenly with increased joint and muscle pain or lack of blood circulation to the extremities.

So, how can you stay warm and keep the costs down this winter? We’ve got some suggestions for you to try.

Dress for the weather.

Let’s start with the basics. You need to dress for the temperature and wear layers. It can sometimes feel cumbersome and bulky, but it’s one of our best defenses against the cold. So put on the warm pants and jumper, embrace your inner Wiggle and wear a skivvy, pull on your thick socks and/or tights and appropriate footwear. If you’re still cold, consider adding thermals to your layers.

When you head outdoors, add more layers – including a coat, hat, gloves, and scarf. You can also buy a fantastic range of heated vests, socks, scarves, and gloves. They can be a little pricey, but they may be worth that initial outlay if you’re outdoors a lot. Check online or in-store at outdoor suppliers.

If you’re at home and still feeling the cold, grab a blanket for your legs as you sit at your desk or on the couch. You can use any warm blanket, doona or heated throw. Whatever you choose, just be careful you don’t trip on it when you get up.

Shop around.

Don’t assume you’re on the best energy plans for your gas and electricity. Take some time to see if there’s a better deal. If you live in Victoria, visit Victorian Energy Compare. For all other parts of Australia, visit Energy Made Easy.

Deal with draughts.

When the wind’s howling outside, you know it’s trying to find a way indoors 💨. So cover the bottom of your door with a door snake or an old towel, or add some door seals. Pull your curtains and blinds over the windows at night and during miserable days to keep the warmth inside. If you have floorboards, consider putting down rugs (just be careful they don’t become a trip hazard).

If you can safely do so, close or cover air-conditioning vents, exhaust fans, and unused chimneys. However, it’s important to be aware that some gas appliances require a certain amount of ventilation or fresh air, or they can be unsafe. They should also be serviced every two years or sooner if you notice anything unusual. If in doubt, speak with a licensed gas fitter. Energy Safe Victoria has lots of useful info about heating your home with gas and what to look for when searching for a licensed gas fitter.

Sustainability Victoria also has helpful information on draught-proofing your home. You can also watch these handy DIY draught-proofing videos from the City of Port Phillip (Melbourne).

Turn down the temperature.

While it’s tempting to crank the heat up, the most efficient temperature to set your heater to (if you can select the temp) is 18-20 degrees. While that may not sound particularly warm, we’re often outside during the warmer months wearing short sleeves when it’s 18-20 degrees. It’s just a matter of perspective.

And only heat the areas you’re using. If you can turn the heating off in unused parts of your home, do it. Shut the doors and use a draught stopper to prevent the warm air from the rest of the house from escaping into these areas. And turn the heating off when you go to bed or leave home.

Install heavy curtains.

Thick curtains made from heavyweight, tightly woven fabrics can prevent heat from escaping your home. For the best results, curtains should be fitted as close to the window frame as possible, extend below the sill and well over the sides of the window frame, and a pelmet fitted over the top. This acts to seal the window from the rest of the room and prevent heat loss. Curtains will also keep the hot air outside in summer.

Let the sun shine in.

Open your curtains and blinds on sunny days to let the sun shine on your windows. Even with a chilly wind, the sun will bring wonderful warmth into your home.

And remember to close them when the sun starts to go down. As someone who goes for walks when it’s dark in the early morning and evening, I’m always amazed by how many people have their windows uncovered. You can practically see the heat escaping through the glass. So close them to keep the warmth in and the gaze of the sticky-noses (like me) out 😉.

Cool down at night.

You sleep better when your body can cool down, so turn the heater off at night. It’s also safer to sleep with the heater off. You can remove the chill from your bed using a hot water bottle or an electric blanket. Just remember to turn your electric blanket off before sleeping.

Winter-proof your bed.

There’s nothing like slipping into a deliciously warm bed on a cold night, especially if there’s soft flannelette involved! So swap out your lighter, everyday bedding for heavier winter ones. And add layers – a top sheet (if you don’t already use one) and extra blankets. Finally, if you have floorboards in your bedroom, adding a rug under your bed can prevent draughts from making their way to your bed.

Get active.

When the weather allows, go for a brisk walk outdoors, wearing appropriate clothing, and you’ll warm up in no time. Save on pricey petrol and walk to the shop/school/post office instead of driving.

When you’re at home, exercise indoors using an online program, a DVD or an app. Play with the kids. Clean the house. Do anything that gets you moving, and you’ll feel warmer than if you sit in one place for hours.

However, if you’re having a flare or experiencing a lot of pain, be as active as you can within your limits. And use your heat packs to help relieve muscular pain.

Shorten your showers (if you can).

Many of us use our shower to warm up sore joints and muscles so we can get moving. However, hot water uses a lot of energy; even a few extra minutes will add to your bill. If you can, shorten the time you spend in the shower. Aim for four minutes or less. You can use a timer or sing your favourite song. Hunter Water has a great playlist of four-minute(ish) songs to get you inspired.

Give your heater some space.

Anything that blocks a heater will prevent the warm air from flowing around the room uninterrupted. So move clotheshorses and other obstructions away from the heat source.

Hot air rises, so if you have ceiling fans, flick the reverse or winter mode switch and turn the fan on low. This will pull the cooler air towards the ceiling and push the warmer air down to you.

And to stay safe, fire authorities say you should keep clothing and other fabrics at least one metre from your heater. Never place them on heaters.

Snuggle up.

Get comfy on the couch with your partner, kids, and pets. Grab a warm blanket or doona, share your body heat, and enjoy being together.

Use heat packs and hot water bottles.

If you’re feeling stiff and sore, heat packs or hot water bottles can provide temporary pain relief and help you get moving. But you need to be careful when using them.

If you’re using a heat pack or wheat bag, let it cool completely before you reheat it. Don’t sleep with your wheat bag or smother it behind you in your chair or bed. This can cause it to overheat and catch fire. Always carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never overheat them in the microwave.

If you’re using a hot water bottle, use hot water from the tap, not boiling water. Wrap it in a cloth or use a cover so it doesn’t come into contact with your skin.

Always examine your hot water bottles and heat packs before use, and toss them out if you notice signs of wear or damage. And always check their temperature before use to ensure they’re not too hot.

Warm up from the inside out.

Many delicious winter recipes bring comfort and warmth on the most miserable days. So crack open the cookbooks and get cooking! Or go online for inspiration for yummy, warming curries, soups and stews. We’ve got some great recipes to get you started! Can’t be bothered cooking? Simple. Grab a cup of hot chocolate, tea or coffee. It’ll warm your insides and your hands. Perfect! ☕🍵

Choose energy-efficient heaters and hot water systems.

If you’re in the market for a new heater or hot water system, make sure you’re buying one that’s energy-efficient and best suits your needs. Read Canstar’s guide to energy-efficient heaters and Choice’s article on buying the best hot water system for more info.


Insulation keeps your home warm in winter and cool in summer by preventing heat from escaping or entering your home. This keeps your home at a more consistent temperature and reduces the need to crank up your heating or cooling.

If your home isn’t properly insulated, this is something you can do that’ll have long-term benefits. There’s a substantial upfront cost, but it may be an option for some households. Find out more about insulation, including the different types available and how to install it, from the Australian Government’s website, Your home.

Billing and payment help.

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, also has some information about support for Australian households, including info on potential rebates that may be available.

We’ve also put together lots of info to help you if you’re struggling with financial stress.

Contact our free Helpline

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issuestelehealth, or accessing services. They’re available Monday to Thursda between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email ( or via Messenger.

More to explore


When we say the word “Australian” it conjures up images of sun, sand, fun and the laid back, lovable (NOT gullible) Aussie. But a recent study commissioned by MYFitnessPal and conducted by the Dublin City University Business School found that Australians are the most gullible when it comes to health advice on TikTok.

The study found that “9 out of 10 Australians have taken nutrition advice from the social media platform more than once”. Overall, two in five Australians (42%) are “trusting the social media platforms for nutrition and wellness advice”.

This is a worrying trend and one that highlights the critical importance of knowing where you can go for reliable, evidence-based health information and advice.

When ‘asking’ the internet for health information there are some trusted and reliable sources that are kept up to date with the latest information and advice – for example Musculoskeletal Health Australia’s (MHA) website ( There are unfortunately, many websites, social media groups and platforms that contain information that does not have the research and evidence to ‘back up’ their claims. This is why being ‘health info savvy’ is so important!

A few MHA tips on where to go and how to find good health information online:

  1. Speak to your health care team about online information sources that they trust – check them out and bookmark them for future use
  2. Be clear on the question you are looking for an answer to – searching a list of symptoms is often going to have you going down a rabbit hole and into a wonderland of perhaps questionable information and health claims
  3. Check what evidence there is to support any claims being made – has there been research published? Who was the research done by? Who paid for the research to be done?
  4. Are the claims too good to be true? If you think they are, it’s a good idea to do more research, check to see if there are any other sources of information that either support or debunk the claims being made.

Another good reference is the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care How to find good health information online (  See some of their tips include:

  1. Look for information that is relevant to you and decide what questions you have.
  2. Look for trusted sources these include websites from hospitals, condition specific organisations, government, and universities.
  3. Look for information that you can understand as good quality health information should be clear and easy to understand as well as suggesting where to get more information and support.
  4. Look out for warning signs. Good quality information should not be trying to sway your opinion, sell you products, make you feel fearful or ask for personal details.
  5. If you connect with people online, remember other people’s experiences may not be typical and might be different from yours. Talking to other people can provide information and support but remember it’s just their opinion.
  6. Check the information with your health care professional. It is helpful to talk to your doctor and other healthcare providers so that you can get the information you need to make your decision.
  7. Ask for help if you need it to find health information online or judge its quality. You might ask a family member or friend who you trust, a healthcare provider, a local consumer organisation or a librarian.

Some other things to consider when you do a ‘search’ and to assist you to navigate (is) the CRAAP – the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose Test.

Currency – Is this information up to date? When was it published or posted online? How old is the information? Has the information been recently revised or updated and do the links work?

Relevance – Is the information relevant to you?

  • Does the information answer your questions?
  • Is the site Australian?
  • Does the site connect you to local services?

Authority – Is the information from an authoritative, reliable source?

  • Who is the author and are they qualified to write or speak on this topic.
  • Are they an expert in the area?

Accuracy – Where does the information come from and is it accurate?

  • Is the information based on medical/scientific studies or personal experience?
  • Is the information supported by evidence and has it been published in peer reviewed journals?

Purpose – Why was the information created and shared?

  • Is the information intended to educate people, entertain or just sell you products?
  • Who is funding the site?

Your health is important! Taking the time to research and evaluate information will increase your knowledge and health literacy and ensure you are in a better position to make informed health decisions.

Another important way you can help Musculoskeletal Health Australia build understanding and awareness and support others to access quality information and support is… if you’re not sure a social media post, website or discussion forum is evidence based and trustworthy, don’t share it with other people.

For quality, evidence based and reliable information and support on back pain, arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions head to any of the following sites AND make sure you bookmark them and come back regularly to see what new information has been added:

Please call our free, national Help Line* on 1800 263 265, or email for more information and support about musculoskeletal conditions, musculoskeletal health and living well.

(*Monday to Thursday 9am to 5pm, excluding public holidays)







It’s that time of year again and early indications are we are in for another ‘bumper’ flu season. Let’s also not forget the seemingly ever present and lingering COVID-19. So, it is important everyone has the most up to date information on what they should and should not do to safely get through the 2024 flu season! 

What – The Facts 

Influenza (also called flu) is an infection of the airways that is easily spread. It affects people of all ages and can be very serious for babies, young children, pregnant women, and people with underlying medical conditions.  

Vaccination is a safe and very effective way to protect yourself and those around you from serious illness caused by influenza.  

Who – should be vaccinated against influenza? 

Yearly influenza vaccinations are given to protect against the most common strains of the virus. It is recommended for all people aged 6 months and over. It is important that you talk to your health professional about getting vaccinated. 

When – is the best time to be given? 

You should get your annual influenza vaccine anytime from April onward to be protected for the peak flu season, which is usually June to September. Influenza vaccination can be given at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccination.  

And don’t forget – COVID-19 vaccination 

Yes, COVID-19 is still around (even though we may be tired of hearing about it), and it is important to be up to date with your vaccinations especially as we head into winter. Make sure you talk to your health care professional about your vaccination options. 

(Read more: ATAGI statement on the administration of COVID-19 vaccines in 2024 ( ) 

For those who live with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, the Australian Rheumatology Association has produced an information sheet about COVID-19 vaccination.

Also, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 make sure you talk to your doctor who may prescribe antivirals if you are eligible. Please note research has confirmed that antivirals should be given as early as possible and only to those who are at a high risk of developing severe disease. 

How – do you get your vaccinations 

Speak to your health care professional about getting your flu and Covid-19 vaccinations. Vaccinations are available through your GP, and pharmacies across the country. 

Key take away messages 
  • You should get a flu vaccination each year. 
  • COVID-19 is still around, and you should keep up to date with your vaccinations. 
  • It is safe to have both vaccinations at the same time. 


Please call our free, national Help Line* on 1800 263 265, or email for more information and support about musculoskeletal conditions, musculoskeletal health and living well.

(*Monday to Thursday 9am to 5pm, excluding public holidays)





Did you know that back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world? (1)  In 2017-2018, 1 in 6 Aussies reported having back pain – that’s almost 4 million people.(2)  And these stats don’t take into account people who have back pain caused by conditions such as osteoporosis.

With so many people affected by back pain, it’s likely that you’ve experienced back pain or you know someone who lives with back pain. Or both.

So it’s crazy to think that people with back pain are still having to deal with disbelief or suspicion about the reality or extent of their pain and the impact it has on their lives.

We saw this reflected in the responses we received to our 2023 national survey from people with back pain.

Why is this? Why is there so much stigma attached to back pain and back injuries?

Well, for one thing, like most musculoskeletal conditions, back pain is invisible. And it can seem to come and go for no particular reason. For someone who’s never experienced back pain, it may seem like a convenient excuse to get out of work or to receive sympathy. This is untrue and unfair.

It’s time to shine a light on the very real issue of back pain.

How your back works

To understand back pain, it helps to have a basic understanding of the structure of your back. It’s an amazing feat of engineering that provides support for your whole body.

The spine is made up of bones (vertebrae) stacked together to form a loose ‘S’-shaped column.

Each vertebra is cushioned by spongy tissue called intervertebral discs. They act as shock absorbers and give your spine its flexibility. Pairs of small joints (facet joints) connect vertebrae to one another. Ligaments, tendons and muscles, provide further support to your spine and help protect it from injury.

Your spinal cord runs through the centre of the vertebral column and connects your brain to the rest of your body.

Why do people get back pain?

The cause of back pain is not always clear. The good news is that most people with back pain don’t have any significant damage to their spine. The pain comes from the muscles, ligaments and joints.

Causes of back pain include:

  • non-specific back pain – this is the most common type of back pain. It has no ‘specific’ cause, such as a disease or infection.
  • arthritis – osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are two types of arthritis linked to back pain.
  • osteoporosis – is a condition where bones lose density and strength. Vertebrae can become so porous and brittle that they break easily, causing pain.
  • stress – a side effect of stress is increased muscle tension. This can lead to fatigue, stiffness and pain.
  • sciatica – is a painful condition that develops when the nerve that runs from the lower back into the leg is compressed or squeezed.
  • lifestyle factors – such as lack of exercise, obesity, lack of sleep and smoking can cause back pain.
  • accidents – including car accidents, workplace injuries, falls, sports injuries – can damage your back, leading to back pain, which may be acute (only lasting for a short time) or chronic (lasting for more than three months).

Diagnosing back pain

Because most people with back pain have no underlying condition or damage to their back, diagnosing will involve lots of talking with your doctor. Together you’ll discuss your back pain, including potential causes or triggers, if you’ve had back pain before, things that make your pain worse, things that make it better. Your doctor will then check out your back to see if there are any obvious causes or issues.

Your doctor may also refer you for some tests, especially if they think there may be a more serious cause for your back pain.

However, imaging (e.g. x-rays, CT or MRI scans) isn’t useful or recommended in most cases of back pain. Scans may seem like a reassuring thing to do so we can rule out anything scary. But unnecessary tests can be expensive, and some involve exposure to radiation that should be avoided unless absolutely essential.

A thorough examination by your doctor will decide whether more investigations are appropriate or helpful in developing a treatment plan that’s right for you.

It‘s also important to know that many investigations show ‘changes’ to your spine that are likely to represent the normal passage of time, not damage to your spine.

For more information about questions to ask your doctor before you get any test, treatment or procedure, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Managing back pain

Most cases of back pain get better on their own, and you won’t need to see a doctor. The following tips may help relieve your symptoms and speed up your recovery.

  • Understand your back pain. What makes it better, what makes it worse? Knowing as much as possible about your condition means that you can make informed decisions about your healthcare and play an active role in managing your condition. And remember, the good news is that most back pain isn’t caused by anything serious. It’s painful, but it will get better.
  • Rest your back (temporarily). Avoid strenuous activity but where possible, continue light activity (e.g. walking). Bed rest for more than a day or two isn’t helpful and will worsen your back pain.
  • Get back to your normal activities. Try to be as active as possible and get on with your day-to-day life, including work and exercise. If you’re returning to heavy manual jobs, this may take longer.
  • Move. Don’t stand or sit in the same position for too long. Get up and stretch, go for a walk, move about. There’s a reason physios say ‘motion is lotion’. Moving keeps your joints and soft tissues more flexible and less painful.
  • Learn ways to manage pain. There are so many strategies you can use to deal with your pain. Knowing what works best for you is essential when living with back pain. Read our A-Z guide to managing pain for tips and techniques you can use to relieve your pain. And check out the More to Explore section below for links to great videos on managing pain using your brain.
  • Try to manage emotions such as stress, anxiety and frustration. While it’s completely natural to feel these things when you’re in pain, they can actually make your pain worse. That’s because pain involves your perceptions, feelings and thoughts. The worse you think your pain will be, the worse it feels. This can become a vicious cycle. Talking with a family member or a close friend, or a health professional about how you’re feeling means you can start dealing with these feelings and break this cycle. Strategies such as breathing exercises, meditation, massage, heat, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and gentle activity like tai chi may also help you keep your stress and anxiety under control.
  • Apply heat and cold therapy. Hot and cold packs applied to the area of pain may help relieve pain temporarily. Make sure you protect your skin from the heat or cold (e.g. wrap your ice pack in a tea towel). Only leave on the affected area for a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes then allow the skin temperature to return to normal before reapplying as needed.  The Australian Clinical Care Standard for low back pain recommends using heat wraps as a first-line approach alongside other treatments, such as regular physical activity, to relieve back pain.
  • Eat a healthy diet and manage your weight.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Not getting enough good quality sleep can have an impact on your back pain. Read this article by The Sleep Foundation to find out ways you can sleep better with back pain.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Medications may help in the short term to get your back pain under control. Your doctor may prescribe a short course for you, or you may purchase some meds and/or liniments over-the-counter. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist for more info.
  • Seek advice. If you’re concerned your back pain isn’t improving, make an appointment to discuss it with your doctor so you can develop a plan tailored to meeting your specific needs and goals.

What about surgery?

In most cases, the evidence doesn’t support the use of surgery to treat chronic back pain. Most people can manage their back pain with education, exercise and making lifestyle changes.

If your doctor suggests back surgery as an option, ask questions so you can make an informed choice. Choosing Wisely Australia has 5 questions to ask your doctor or healthcare provider to help you get started.

Final words

Back pain is a significant issue for so many Australians. But the good news is that it’s rarely caused by anything serious. And there are lots of things you can do to manage it, so you can get on with living your best life.

Contact our free Helpline

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available Monday to Thursday between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265 or email ( or via Messenger.

More to explore


(1) Musculoskeletal conditions
World Health Organization, 2021
(2) Back problems
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 


Are you like me and find supermarkets ridiculously cold? It doesn’t matter what season it is outside; inside a supermarket, it’s Arendelle, and Elsa has just turned everything into snow and ice ❄⛄.

This can be really uncomfortable, especially if you have a musculoskeletal condition. And if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon, it can make your extremities – especially your fingers – turn white and numb.

What is Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Apart from having a really cool name – it’s a phenomenon, for goodness sake! 🙃 – what is Raynaud’s??? First, it’s named after the French doctor who originally described it, Maurice Raynaud, and being French, it’s pronounced ‘ray-nose’ (with a silent D).

Raynaud’s phenomenon causes the blood vessels to the extremities, usually the fingers and toes, to constrict more than usual in response to cold temperatures or stress. When this happens, the blood flow is restricted, causing the extremities to become cold and turn white, then blue. When blood flow returns, the skin becomes red and returns to its normal colour.

Raynaud’s phenomenon can occur on its own – this is primary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Or it can occur alongside or ‘secondary’ to another disease or condition – this is secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Both primary and secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon episodes can last from a few minutes to hours.

Other parts of your body, such as the nose, lips and ears, can be affected too.

Fortunately, Raynaud’s phenomenon rarely causes permanent damage.

Maintaining a balance: vasoconstriction and vasodilation

Your body protects your internal organs (your core) by maintaining a stable core temperature – it’s not too hot, not too cold, but just right 🐻🐻🐻.

One of the many ways your body maintains this stable temperature is through vasoconstriction and vasodilation. This essentially means that your blood vessels (vaso) narrow (constrict) or widen (dilate) as needed.

In the cold, blood vessels constrict to reduce blood flow to your extremities, such as the fingers and toes. This keeps your core warm. In the heat, blood vessels dilate, and blood flow increases to your skin, moving the warm blood away from your core.

These processes help your core remain at a constant temperature, usually around 36-37°C.

For people with Raynaud’s phenomenon, for some unknown reason, blood vessels constrict, not to keep your core temperature stable but in response to cold, stress or emotional upset.

Blood vessels in your extremities narrow quickly, and your skin changes colour due to a lack of blood supply. During a Raynaud’s episode or attack, you may experience pins and needles, tingling and/or numbness in your fingers or toes. You might find it difficult to do things with your hands, as lack of blood can make them clumsy and stiff. And when the blood returns to the area, you may feel slight discomfort or stinging pain.

These changes occur in the extremities, most often the fingers. Circulation in the rest of the body is generally normal.

Primary Raynaud’s phenomenon

This is the most common form of Raynaud’s phenomenon. It’s also called Raynaud’s disease. Women, generally under 30, are more likely to develop primary Raynaud’s phenomenon than men. It can also run in families, so if you have a family member with primary Raynaud’s, you’re more at risk of developing it.

Secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon

People living with conditions such as scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) and rheumatoid arthritis may develop secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon. This usually occurs later in life but can happen at any age, depending on the underlying cause.

Other risk factors for secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon include:

  • mechanical vibration – for example, using a power tool for extended periods
  • medicines – e.g. beta-blockers, some migraine or cancer drugs, amphetamines
  • smoking.

Diagnosing Raynaud’s phenomenon

Your doctor can determine if you have Raynaud’s by talking with you about your symptoms. It can be helpful to take a photo of your hands if you experience a Raynaud’s episode so you can show this to your doctor.

Although it’s generally not too difficult to diagnose Raynaud’s phenomenon, it can sometimes be hard to tell whether it’s primary or secondary Raynaud’s. Your doctor may use a range of methods to work this out, such as:

  • taking a complete medical history, including asking about family members who may have Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • a physical examination
  • blood tests
  • examining fingernail tissue with a microscope.

Living with Raynaud’s phenomenon

Most people with Raynaud’s phenomenon can manage it effectively with self-care and lifestyle changes. In some cases, medicines may be necessary.


To prevent a Raynaud’s episode, the best thing you can do is to keep your body and extremities warm. Dress appropriately for the cold with gloves, thick socks and warm layers. It can be helpful to keep a spare pair of gloves or hand warmers in your car or bag that you can use if you’re caught out in a cold or stressful situation (e.g. a trip to the supermarket! 😱).

If you’re outside and your extremities start feeling cold and numb, go indoors and soak your fingers or toes in warm (not hot) water. Or you can warm them with a heater. Just be very careful of the heat – it’s easy to burn yourself when your skin is numb.

If you can’t go indoors, try these things to increase the circulation to your extremities:

  • Wiggle your fingers or toes.
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Make circles with your arms.
  • Massage your hands or feet.
  • Place your hands in your armpits. However, if you’re like me, your armpits aren’t always warm enough, and you may need to ‘borrow’ someone else’s warmth! Make sure it’s someone you’re close with – random strangers won’t appreciate your ice-cold fingers in their armpits! 😂
  • If a stressful situation triggers the attack, remove yourself from the situation, take some deep breaths and try to relax.

Medical care

Talk with your doctor if your Raynaud’s isn’t controlled by these simple measures. You may need to use medicines that widen your blood vessels and improve circulation.

For secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon, it’s also essential that the underlying condition (e.g. lupus) is treated effectively.

Tips for avoiding triggers

There’s no cure for Raynaud’s phenomenon, so avoiding things that trigger a Raynaud’s episode is key.

  • Avoid being out in the cold for long periods, especially if you’re not dressed warmly.
  • Make sure your whole body is kept warm, using several layers of clothing to trap body heat.
  • Keep your extremities warm with gloves, woollen socks, earmuffs and/or a beanie.
  • Use hand warmers. These small, often disposable products produce heat on demand and are helpful when gloves aren’t enough; you can buy them from supermarkets and chemists.
  • Remember, hand sanitisers often have a cooling effect, so when using them, be prepared to warm your hands quickly.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes or drinking caffeinated drinks as nicotine and caffeine constrict blood vessels.
  • Review your medicines with your doctor; if they’re causing the problem, discuss possible alternatives.
  • Be aware that holding something cold, such as a can of drink, can trigger symptoms.
  • Learn to recognise and avoid stressful situations.
  • Keep a journal of when episodes or attacks happen, as this may help identify triggers.
  • Look after the skin on your hands and feet – with our frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitiser, it’s easy for our hands to become dry and cracked. Cracked skin is an opening for germs to get in and potentially cause an infection.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain blood flow and skin condition. Being active also has many other health benefits.


For most people, Raynaud’s phenomenon is uncomfortable and a nuisance but is basically harmless, with no lasting effects. However, in rare cases, loss of blood flow can permanently damage the tissue. This may lead to skin ulceration, tissue loss and scarring.

Talk with your doctor if you notice any changes in your symptoms.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available Monday to Thursday between 9am-5pm (excluding public holidays) on 1800 263 265; email or via Messenger.

More to explore


It’s all in the hands! 

Hands…they tend to be two things we take for granted. They really do an awful lot for us. But what happens when using our hands is painful or difficult? 

Hand osteoarthritis – signs and symptoms 

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis. It commonly affects the hands, fingers, base of the thumb and the wrist. OA causes the cartilage on the ends of your bones to become thin and rough. When this happens, bones don’t move as smoothly as they should causing pain and stiffness. OA of the hand most commonly affects women over the age of 50.  

For more detailed information click here.

What are the hand signals? 

As mentioned, pain and stiffness can be the first sign. You may also notice changes in the shape and structure of the joints in your hand.  Some people will develop firm, knobby swellings on the finger joints which means the bones are trying to repair themselves but as a result there is excess bone developing. 

Thumbs up – what to do 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis of the hand. So, the focus is on relief of symptoms and trying to avoid excess strain on your hand joints. As we all know, doing something that we know is going to be painful usually means we avoid it, but it is really important to exercise these joints. Other things we can do include using pacing strategies and avoiding lifting or carrying heavy weights.  

A hand therapist can help with this as well as advice on aids and other strategies.

Latest updates 

A new study using an existing drug called methotrexate for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the hand with synovitis (inflammation of the lining of the joint) is showing some promising results especially with improvements in pain. The study looked at the safety as well as the benefits of a 6-month course of methotrexate. 97 participants were randomly given 20mg of methotrexate once a week as compared to placebo. The methotrexate group had a moderate but clinically significant reduction in pain providing important evidence that it could have a role in treating this condition. This is a small study, and further trials are needed to see if the benefits continue after 6 months as well as how long treatment is needed. But it is a promising start!  

As with all medications, and as part of discussions with your health care team, you will need to weigh up any possible side effects of methotrexate.  

The lead researcher of the study, Prof Cicuttini, is planning an extension trial and hopefully answer these and other questions like can it prevent joint damage which is often quite severe in post-menopausal women with OA of the hand with inflammation. 

So…grab life by the hands 

 Whilst OA hand is very painful there are things that can help. 

  • putting less strain on the joints
  • implementing simple strategies like pacing and  
  • using practical and well researched aids to provide support and assistance can help. 

Making sure you are up to date with the latest information, support and research (through MHA of course) is essential. As well as working with your health care team about options including the use of medications like methotrexate to provide relief. 

Also, make sure you register for MHA’s upcoming webinar Understanding and managing thumb arthritis on 23rd April at 7 pm. Click here to register  


A well-established drug can improve hand osteoarthritis symptoms: study – Monash University  

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issuestelehealth, or accessing services. They’re available Monday to Thursday between 9am-5pm (excluding public holidays) on 1800 263 265, email or via Messenger.




My Health Record

We’ve put together some basic information to help build your knowledge about this important health initiative.

What is it?

My Health Record is the national digital health record system. It is a secure digital place to store your health information and keeps everything together. It’s an online summary of your key health information and aims to provide more efficient care for you and our family. When you have a My Health Record, your health information can be viewed securely online, from anywhere, at any time. This is especially important in an emergency.

You can keep key health information like allergies, immunisations, pathology, imaging reports, prescription and dispensing information, hospital discharge summaries, specialist referrals and emergency contacts all in the one place which is invaluable if you have multiple care providers.

It is private and can only be seen by you, your healthcare providers and anyone else you choose to share it with.

Importantly, it can be used all throughout your life, from birth through adulthood years and into your old age. Meaning you can track your health information over time.

It will also mean you can access and view your own health records as soon as they’ve been uploaded.

Anyone in Australia who has Medicare, or an individual healthcare identifier (IHI) can use My Health Record. You need a MyGov account to access your record.

You can get a My Health Record at any time.

There is also an online learning module to help you learn more about My Health Record.

More to explore


Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition costs us physically, mentally and emotionally. But what many people don’t understand are the substantial financial costs associated with having chronic conditions. They’re expensive.

Healthcare costs

These are the most obvious. Medications, lots of trips to your doctor, your specialist/s, allied health professionals, tests, exercise classes, surgery, orthotics….they all add up. A lot!

People who don’t have a chronic condition may assume that a lot of this is covered by government subsidies, GP Management Plans, health insurance, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, with a little sprinkling of magical fairy dust to cover the rest. Depending on a person’s situation some of this may be covered. But much isn’t.

There’s significant cost in seeing allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, podiatrists, occupational therapists, hand therapists, dietitians and psychologists. While GP Management Plans assist with the cost, there’s mostly only five visits provided and these are used up very quickly. There may also be a gap payment over the Medicare Rebate. And there are also often considerable out of pocket expenses to see a specialist privately or longer waits when you see them publicly.

This can put a significant strain on a person’s finances.


Living with a chronic musculoskeletal condition is varied and episodic. That means you often don’t know how you’ll wake up. Your pain and stiffness may have been under control and manageable for some time, but then one day you wake up feeling crap. Your joints are swollen, it hurts to move, and you’re soooo exhausted. This makes it difficult to get up and move around, let alone get to work and put in a full day, as well as all the other things you have going on – family, friends, studying, chores, and a social life.

This may lead to time off work, and using up all your sick and personal leave. But if the situation (or workplace) becomes unmanageable it may result in someone having to permanently reduce their hours, change jobs, become unemployed or retire early.

Any of these things will obviously affect your everyday finances. However it can also affect your future finances as superannuation is impacted by reduced or lost income.

Wow. This became really depressing really quickly.

The good news is there are services to help you if you need to change careers, or need financial assistance while you re-evaluate what you can or can’t do. We’ve added a bunch of these to the More to Explore section below.

And while we know none of these services are perfect, they can provide you with many of the tools and resources to help you through this tough time.

Hidden costs

Lost employment and medical costs – check. They’re probably the most visible costs. But there are many hidden costs. We’ve listed just a few.

  • Home and car modifications – so that you can continue to do the things you want and need to do as easily and pain-free as possible you may need to make changes to your home and/or car. They may be simple and relatively inexpensive – e.g. adding a swivel seat to your car to help you get in and out, or more complicated and pricey – e.g. installing a chair lift to help you get up and down the stairs in your home. An occupational therapist can help you work out what modifications will assist you, and can also advise you of any available schemes or assistance programs you may be eligible for.
  • As well as changes to your home or car, you may also need to buy various gizmos and gadgets that: protect your joints (e.g. tap turners, pick-up reachers), help you manage your pain (e.g. heat packs) and generally make life a little easier (e.g ergonomic mouse for your computer, walking aids). Again these can range in price.
  • Getting out and about if you’re in pain, or dealing with serious brain fog, can be tricky if you don’t feel up to driving. It was only made worse with the COVID pandemic, when many of us felt vulnerable catching public transport. So you may have resorted to catching a taxi or using a rideshare company. But over time this does add up. You may be eligible for a taxi subsidy – each state/territory has their own scheme – so it’s worth checking to see if you can access this.
  • Food, glorious food. Let’s face it there are many times you feel flattened by your condition and cooking is the last thing you want to do. And now with the convenience of delivery apps, you can get almost anything delivered to your door. Unless like me you live in an outer suburb in which case it’s fish n’ chips, pizza or burgers – yum, but not the healthiest options. These deliveries can be a lifesaver, but the cost can also very quickly add up.
  • Events and holidays. This’s a tough one. Because of the nature of chronic conditions and often not knowing how you’ll feel from day to day, you can pay for future events and then have to cancel or change at the last minute. Like tickets to a concert – you often buy them so far in advance and you’re excited for literally months! And then the night comes and you know you can’t go – you’re too tired, too sore, too whatever. So you have to forfeit your ticket, or give it away to a friend. Or you’re on holiday, but you end up having to pay to make changes because you’ve had a flare and you need an earlier flight home, or you need to catch more taxis than you’d planned to, or you need to buy a pillow because the one at your hotel is a rock. It’s the crazy, unpredictable stuff like this that’s hard to plan for and adds to financial stress.


Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available Monday to Thursday between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email ( or via Messenger.

More to explore

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Musculoskeletal Health Australia (or MHA) 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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