Ditch Your Handbag!

Even for well people, this situation is not good. For many people with a chronic condition (perhaps a musculoskeletal condition), it is even worse. It is vital we pay attention to our posture and our body balance. By body balance I don’t mean standing on one foot (although that IS a very good exercise) I mean ensuring our muscle strength and length on each side of our body is balanced, that our chest and upper back muscles are balanced. For every push exercise, we balance with a pull exercise. Rock hard quads are great, but don’t ignore the hamstrings!

What has that to do with handbags? Look at the photo. If I walk around too often like the middle image, what do you think might, over time, happen to my shoulders? The muscles on one side will be over worked and I may develop a postural abnormality. This can lead to pain and most of us do not want that.

If you rarely use a handbag, fantastic. However if you are travelling to and from work on public transport five days a week, then walking around town (getting incidental exercise) at lunch time, the hours add up.

Even if you do not yet have a condition to manage, this handbag on one shoulder habit is still not a good thing. Slinging a backpack on one shoulder is exactly the same effect. Not a good thing. Because we are creatures of habit, we do tend to use the same shoulder each time. If we swapped it around evenly, it might not be so bad.

You may keep a pretty handbag for social events. Or a businesslike one for job interviews. Other than that, ditch the handbag and invest in a backpack. Or several. There are a wide variety around these days and many look remarkably like handbags or can be disguised as one quickly if necessary.

There are even ones that can be brought around to the front for access without taking them off – very nifty.

If you do not have the shoulder mobility to use a backpack and you carry a handbag, remember to share the load between arms.

Short and sweet, just my tip of the day!

 

Incommunicado Quads and Walking Sticks

I know I’ve been incommunicado – unfortunately the quads in my right leg also went silent – so silent I couldn’t move my right leg. At 1 am on a Friday morning, not knowing what was wrong, I’ll admit to being a little panicked.

This was a few days after I’d had some very minor, completely unrelated surgery, so it was a bit of a busy time. My knee was already playing up then, as the hospital had helped me into a wheelchair from the taxi on arrival for admission.

Initially I thought I’d just been lying funny and my leg had “gone to sleep” and would recover in a few minutes. When it didn’t, I was a little more concerned. I couldn’t actually make it out of the bedroom – every time I tried, using the windowsill as a walking stick, then swapping to the bed frame – I’d get halfway across the end of the bed and feel SO nauseous I’d have to lie down again. Took me three or four attempts to actually get out of the bedroom. The doctor later told me this would have been due to pain, yet I do not recall any pain, I just could not use my leg. Well, yes, it was very painful if I put any weight on it, but I was studiously avoiding doing that – or so I thought!

To cut a very long story short, I dragged my poor daughter out of her bed, a 40 minute drive away, to take me to the emergency department. By 10 am I could lift my leg about 1.5 centimetres off the bed in ED. By noon I could bend it 90 degrees! Yay! I did not want to be admitted because the following week I was starting a clinical drug trial and intervention at this point might very well have excluded me. More on the drug trial in my next article – it is FANTASTIC.

So I was allowed home with a prescription of rest and elevation. The knee was rather swollen. Something else I didn’t need. It was the swelling in the knee that cut off my ability to use my quads. I should have known: earlier in the week I’d used an ice pack. I remember thinking “This ice pack isn’t very cold” then popping in on my left knee for a moment and thinking “This ice pack is FREEZING”. Clearly there was already a bigger problem brewing than just a sore knee.

My quads shutting down had nothing to do with my psoriatic arthritis. This was just a new problem arriving with very bad timing.

An MRI later and the results were in: “significant osteoarthritis, particularly behind the patella”. Oh, great – just what I need – not.

I got one of those awfully boring grey hospital sets of crutches so I could get around. Of course I thought I’d only need them for a day or two. Umm nah. I did manage to get down to one crutch, but I hated the grey, the cuff didn’t fit properly over my denim jacket and I was about to go to a conference in Sydney (more on that in a later article too). So I bought a very pretty walking stick (see above). If I had to use one, I was going to at least be semi-stylish!

Second problem was how to rehabilitate this knee. My rheumatologist advised (just as well, really) exercise to build my muscle strength back up. With the challenges I’ve had since January with medication changes and the resultant psoriatic arthritis flare, my exercise had taken a temporary back seat. It doesn’t take long to lose strength, especially as we age! I am reasonably sure this contributed to the osteoarthritis letting me know it was not at all happy with me. In order to make 110% sure I was doing the right thing, I enlisted the help of an exercise physiologist, Jack. Yes, I’m a personal trainer, but in this specific case I wanted to triple check my approach was correct. Jack has higher qualifications than I do and I do not hesitate to call in the big(ger) guns if necessary. He did get me to start a little slower than I might otherwise have done (a good thing), but by the second appointment he essentially let me loose. I did pick up some nice new very specific rehab exercises from him and am very grateful for his guidance and expertise.

I retired my walking stick on August 29th after six weeks. Yesterday I was back on the leg press, high reps, low weights. VERY low weights. I did one set at 40 kgs and two sets at 60 kgs. I was doing 160 kgs last year! This picture won’t mean much to readers, but to me it was getting my mobility back!

I’ve also been doing hydrotherapy. I’m “allowed” to do as much hydrotherapy as I like. Jack was thrilled I was doing squats in the hydrotherapy pool, I was thrilled he was thrilled with my adaptation! I do them out of the pool as well, but in the pool is good, especially with this darn knee.

Back in 2014 I’d had a Synvisc shot in my left knee (which was great) but of course that strongly indicates that left knee is not all that wonderful. It also indicates (although I didn’t have an MRI of the right knee back then) that perhaps both knees were a little under the weather back then. I had an arthroscopy on this right knee many years ago and until now had no further issues. Well, now I know I have two knees requiring a little extra care and attention. With the extra load the left took while my right was on strike, by the time I retired the walking stick, my left knee was reminding me it is no longer a perfect 20 year-old knee. I threw my hands in the air and applied the rehab exercises to both knees.

I’m lucky – I have been able to retire the walking stick. Using one is like driving, it takes a long time before it becomes second nature. I felt I was on “L” plates the whole time. I’d drop it when trying to juggle bag, stick and anything else I happened to have – such as a morning coffee. Getting on and off trams was a challenge but at least I was no longer one of the invisibly ill and people jumped up to give me the special needs seats. I now had a badge. I never seemed to be able to lean it anywhere without it falling over – poor Cleo (my cat) nearly got whacked by the flying walking stick several times as it fell to the floor. I felt I just could not get it right. I also felt SO SLOW.

I have a new appreciation and understanding of those who use mobility aids permanently or semi-permanently. In the last week, I carried it with me, but used it less and less as my knee recovered – however then people look at you in very odd ways as you are carrying but not actually using a walking stick. I never thought of getting a folding walking stick – lesson learnt!

That particular situation is much better addressed by Kristen Waldbieser, who does not need her wheelchair 100% of the time.

Between minor surgery and the above, I hope you forgive me for being very quiet. I’m going to make up for that in the coming days. I have a drug trial and a conference to write about! Stay tuned!

No Remission for Me – At Least Not This Time

My experiment didn’t pay off. Am I sorry I did it? Not really, because knowing me, had I NOT done it, I would have always wondered. That is a very personal characteristic: it would not apply to everyone! While I am a firm supporter of modern medicine, I don’t like taking any more medications than absolutely necessary – had I not done that three month wash-out, I would have always wondered was I taking medication when I didn’t need to. Now I know! I need a medication!

The one thing I have learnt is this autoimmune arthritis, currently considered to be psoriatic arthritis, has a tighter grip on me than I thought.

So what happened? I was fine until about two weeks before the three month wash-out period ended. First I got a sore toe on my right foot. I thought nothing of it as I had been wearing in some new shoes plus it was possible I’d stubbed the toe without realising it. Then I got a VERY sore brachialis origin – thought maybe I’d strained myself in the gym, but couldn’t quite figure out what I had done, given I am so careful. Plus my right shoulder was tiring when I was swimming.

A week before I was due to see my rheumatologist, my left foot started swelling. Right at the moment I have only one pair of shoes I can wear and that is only because they are sandals with adjustable straps! These are my feet compared after a day at the office.

Today, I have a sore toe on my right foot, a swollen left foot, my whole right shoulder and upper arm are causing me issues and the discomfort is radiating up my neck. My fingers are a little stiff, but nothing too bad. My knees are grumpy, both of them. I’d being trying to avoid prednisone, but I’ve capitulated. Only a small dose though, to tide me over.

On a good note, my skin and nails look fantastic!

Two weeks ago I started methotrexate. Too soon yet to feel any improvement: so far no side effects. My dermatologist will be very happy – he wanted me on it straight away.

I am sad I’m back on medication, but I am grateful there are medications that will help. This is my third medication since the start of 2015. I am hoping this one will improve the fatigue and the brain fog, both of which have always been a bigger problem for me than actual pain (until right now, that is).

The brain fog is partly why I haven’t been writing – thinking is actually a struggle, particularly at the moment. Aside from that, I was wary of writing that I was fine until the jury was in at the three month mark. I knew I was taking a risk and did not want to sound celebratory until I knew whether I had anything to celebrate!

Will I do it ever again? I think, given my age, probably not. If I can get the brain fog to lift, I’d be ecstatic, as it is the one symptom that I find really soul destroying. I’m  good at managing the level of pain I experience, it is the brain fog that drives me nuts. I used to be an avid reader – now I am not simply because the combination of fatigue and brain fog makes it a challenge rather than enjoyment. Mind you, it is all relative I suppose. I was speaking to a contact the other day, bemoaning the cognitive impact. The response was something along the lines of, “Well, I’m glad I didn’t have to debate you before you got sick, you’re sharp enough now!” Maybe they were just trying to be nice. But us sufferers, we feel the loss very keenly.

The fatigue is helped by exercise, but with swollen foot and dodgy shoulder, I’ve been instructed to rest for the moment. This is SO not me, I’m struggling with abiding with that instruction. Mind you, it is difficult to go to the gym when my runners don’t fit!

In another two weeks I can hope for some improvement. Regular blood tests are again the order of the day, something else to fit into my schedule.

I have four weeks of UV B light therapy to go. Although it only takes a couple of minutes, it does require careful scheduling and at three times a week I will be glad when it is over: I won’t have to dash from work to the dermatologist at a specific time. A little flexibility will be restored!

Yes, I’m disappointed, but I’m happy I had the opportunity to try. Many people are too unwell to even consider such a trial. The fact I could, I am taking as a positive.

Now, just let me get back in the pool!!! I miss my swims!

I Am Medication Free! For Now, Anyway……..

Right now I am medication free! No, I have not forsaken the wonders of modern medicine in any way shape or form, but in careful consultation with my rheumatologist I am taking nothing at the moment. How long this will be the case, I am unsure: we will reassess in February. If anything goes belly up, I’ll just make a phone call.

NEVER CHANGE YOUR MEDICATIONS WITHOUT YOUR DOCTOR’S APPROVAL.

Why is this happening? The medication I was on, my second inflammatory arthritis medication, was GREAT for the arthritis. However, it is considered not so great for my skin. This is my left arm a couple of days after the biopsies. This is the worst patch, always has been the problem area. Ignore the scar circled in black – that was the result of having a run-in, literally, with a broken fire extinguisher. The area circled in green is one of the biopsy sites.

Why is my suture not covered? Well, the steri strips started to come off, so I soaked them off. I can not use bandaids of any sort any more, my skin is so fragile – I remove them and the skin comes with them. Rather nasty, so I just don’t go there. It is bandages after bllod tests these days.

About two years ago we investigated my skin and it was then diagnosed as photosensitive eczema. It looked a little different back then. This November I have a completely different diagnosis. This does not mean the original diagnosis was incorrect – things change. In 2016 I was on different medications. Around the time of that first diagnosis I changed my arthritis medication and early this year (2018) I ceased taking medication for my hyperthyroid, having undergone radioactive iodine treatment. So a few changes in the two years.

My skin diagnosis now is atypical psoriasis, believed to be exacerbated (considerably) by my arthritis medication. My dermatologist discussed the matter with my rheumatologist and off the medication it is! I am starting UV B light therapy in the new year – can’t wait! I say atypical because it looks more like subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE) (per dermatologist) than psoriasis, but the biopsies, thankfully, told a different story.

My nails, which usually readers never see due to my passion for polish, look like this. Not all the time, it comes and goes, but the little fingers are particularly unhappy at the moment.

The next medication in line for me, agreed to by my dermatologist, rheumatologist and gastroenterologist, is methotrexate. By the time I saw my rheumatologist, I had been medication-free for a month and I don’t feel too bad at all. I asked about the possibility of seeing how I go without any medication. Other medical professionals are investigating some other symptoms I’m experiencing, some of my blood tests have been a bit erratic – it might be easier to isolate a cause if I’m medication free. That consideration aside, the less medication the better makes me happy. Methotrexate only takes four weeks to “kick in” and I’m certainly not going to be a martyr about it – if I feel I’m going downhill, I’ll be in my rheumatologist’s office very quick smart. I have backup medications in case I flare.

As I have to change medication anyway, it is an opportune time to try and see what happens. My arthritis related blood tests have improved considerably since late 2014 when I was diagnosed.

So how am I finding it? My feet have niggled at me a few times, both my knees are slightly grumpy at night if I walk too much during the day, the base of my thumbs hurt a little bit with certain grip actions (think holding my drink bottle to unscrew the top). If I have a really busy day I do stiffen up at night – but then that is not exactly new, I don’t think it has gotten worse – it is also more likely related to the degenerative changes in my lumbar spine than the arthritis. Other than that, I can’t complain. I swam 1,100 metres today, the first time I’ve managed a swim session over 1,000 metres for quite some time. I did 40 minutes strength training yesterday, my quad strength is actually improving. I did 9,000 steps (accidentally) on Thursday with no ill effects.

My biggest concern is my fatigue/lethargy may return. For me, that was a major problem. Settling the thyroid helped, of course. Now my bloods are indicating my parathyroid is not behaving – endocrinologist appointment in January to try to get to the bottom of that.

The BEST part is I can go out in the sun – sensibly, of course. I’ve spent two years avoiding any sunlight because of my skin, slathering sun cream from head to toe: slip, slop, slapping to within an inch of my life. Yes, I still have to be Sun Smart, but at least I can be normally Sun Smart now instead of paranoid! I also feel better psychologically: I felt as if I was a constant Seasonal Affective Disorder patient.

I don’t know if I will stay free of medication for the arthritis. I see this as an experiment. I do seem to be susceptible to the side effects of medications so if I can stay as healthy as I am now, I’ll be happy. Any deterioration, I’ll be in my rheumatologist’s office. It takes a while for the drug to wash out of one’s system, so I won’t really know for three months – I’m only a third of the way through.

I am very grateful to my specialists for allowing me to try this. It would not be an ideal option for a lot of patients, I know. I am certainly not recommending what I am doing and would definitely NOT be doing it without having discussed all the pros and cons with my guardian angel doctors. I am monitoring myself carefully.

The physical fitness and strength I’ve slowly spent four years building back up has certainly helped me manage my condition so far, but no, there is no guarantee by itself it is enough.

We shall see – wish me luck!

Tiger Pacing

Pacing THRU, Pacing UP, Pacing DOWN

Pacing is very important in the management of chronic conditions, including chronic pain management.

A year ago today I wrote Pacing for Beginners, an article that essentially talked about pacing UP, In other articles, such as Beat the Boom Bust Cycle, I have referred to pacing, in the context of pacing THRU. What’s the difference? Isn’t pacing, pacing? Well, not really.

We need to understand the difference so we don’t get stuck doing one, when in fact the other or both may be more beneficial for our long-term condition management. We risk pacing DOWN.

Pacing THRU

Many chronic condition patients suffer fatigue. The degree will vary from day to day, the severity will be different for each patient. Natalie van Scheltinga has a very good description in Fatigue In Chronic Illness Explained, using “The Battery Analogy”. Some people find this analogy works better for their situation that the oft-cited Spoon Theory. Both are good illustrations of how the fatigue can affect one’s daily life.

We are all different. Both these images below are daisies, yet one has WAY more petals than the other. Think of each petal as a unit of energy. We could make this really complex and compare the size of each unit of energy, but let’s not delve that deeply today. Most chronic illness patients have a certain number of petals they can use per day. Increasing the number of petals, if possible, is a good thing.

White Daisy

Pacing THRU is about getting through the day with the energy we have. Yes, we DO have to be careful not to go overboard. Even now, as healthy as I now am, I am still technically “sick”. I know that a two hour commute to work would not be something I could do on a regular basis. On the days I do my strength workouts, the strength workout is the only major “task” I do that day. I am playing around with my routine currently, more on that later.

Pacing UP

Pacing up is used in clinical pain management settings. It is, of course, also used in sports, personal training and a host of other activities. I paced UP, over a four year period, from 5-minute walks several times a day to whole body strength work-outs and swimming. No-one runs a marathon without building up to it.

Pacing UP is not just about being able to walk further than yesterday or regaining the ability to sweep the floor. It is also about energy levels. As we improve our physical endurance and strength and reduce or eliminate our pain, we sleep better, energy levels improve, functionality improves. Our overall quality of life improves.

It should be noted pacing UP does not always involve movement. For example, if sitting causes pain, pacing UP may be used to extend the body’s tolerance to sitting. For the purpose of this discussion today, I am referring to movement.

Pacing DOWN

If we only pace THRU and don’t have a strategy in place to pace UP, we run the risk of pacing DOWN. When we pace DOWN we run all the de-conditioning risks I repeat regularly (some may say I repeat ad nauseam). We will get sicker, likely experience more pain, lose more functionality.

de-conditioning

Our quality of life will deteriorate, we risk losing our independence, our freedom and possibly our financial stability. Pacing DOWN is not good. As with pacing UP, pacing DOWN happens gradually. We may not even really notice it: until the day we realise we can’t do something we used to be able to do easily or we notice our pain has increased. Yes, for some this will be because of disease progression – for many others it will be the result of inadvertently pacing DOWN.

We are a little delicate, like the dandelion seed head. Remember as children blowing them? It doesn’t take a lot to blow us away either. Yet we are also stronger than we realise. Bring that strength to the fore, use it.

Dandelion

Pacing THRU and UP

It is a recipe. A lot of THRU and a little bit of UP to start. Mix gently and simmer over a low heat.

Most chronic illness patients will need to do both. Initially, more THRU than UP. The plan should be to reach a point where UP become easier and THRU becomes less of a concern. DOWN? Avoided totally.

Practical example from my own experience. For some time my routine has been two strength workouts a week, one  swimming session and daily walking. I’ve been pacing UP within those sessions; increasing weights, increasing swim set metres. This is where balancing UP and THRU comes into play. I have a target number of steps for the day, at the moment 7,500. When I am in the gym, I still clock up steps. When I am in the pool, I don’t, even though 1,000 metre swim is considered roughly 4,000 steps. So, if I were to increase my total swim use of energy, should I still aim for my 7,500 steps? I’d have paced UP my swimming, but I would NOT have paced THRU my day and run the risk of draining myself and paying for it the next day. Then I would possibly actually drop my activity level the following day, which is not to my long-term benefit. Sure, one day here or there is not a massive issue, but if a pattern develops, it becomes a problem as it can lead to pacing DOWN. Yes, my ultimate aim is to have both: increased swimming distance AND my steps target. I have to balance getting there.

The appropriate balance needs to be carefully planned out for each person, depending on their particular situation, conditions and degree of condition progression. Sometimes we can feel discouraged. Giving up, giving in, is not an option.

SMART Goal Setting

It is important to set goals to measure progress when pacing UP. Please click through to Make 2018 YOUR Year for SMART Goals, where I outline how and when to use goal setting to assist you. I know 2018 is drawing to a close, but the strategy remains the same!

I am looking at new goals for myself for 2019. That’s why I am playing around with my routine. When I moved from one strength session a week to two a week, I needed to be careful to not overdo any particular day. I increased my total for the week, but each individual session is less that my original single weekly session. If I increase my swimming, how much do I adjust my step target on those days? What will work for my body? So I’m trialing options at the moment. I’ve reached a stage of improvement where I can do that.

This article is of a general nature and does not constitute specific exercise advice for any individual person. For patients with particularly complex or advanced conditions, this may not be appropriate. If in doubt, seek professional guidance.

Contact me for a confidential chat as a starting point to pacing UP.

Main image “Pacing Tiger” Heather Ruth Rose/Shutterstock.com

Further Reading:

4 Resilient Ways to Cope With Chronic Pain – Huffington Post

Doctors and Exercise – Limberation.com

posture

Is Your Posture Exacerbating Your Pain?

What exactly IS posture? When I was a young girl we were taught “shoulders back, tummy in” and a lady NEVER looked down when descending stairs. We learnt to walk with a book on our heads. I am sure many of you remember similar lessons.

Good, or ideal, posture is when there is a state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the body against injury AND/OR the progressive development of irregularities. More on that in a bit.

Faulty posture is when we sit or stand or move in such a way that we create a faulty relationship between various parts of our body, primarily musculature, which places undue/increased strain on some muscles and not enough effort is required of other muscles. This leads to imbalances: some muscles become weak, others may become tight. Some may become stretched, others shortened over time. Pressure can be applied to other soft tissues causing additional pain or discomfort or restricting function.

What all this can lead to is a worsening, or progression, of any musculoskeletal issues we may be having. As regular readers will be aware, I have several back issues, the reason I converted to kyBoot shoes in the first place.

It may not be chronic conditions that cause faulty posture. It may be chronic habits! The most common such chronic habit is sitting at a desk all day. Office workers can develop upper crossed syndrome (UCS). The person may end up with permanent forward head, increased cervical lordosis, rounded shoulders and thoracic kyphosis. This all involves tight/shortened upper trapezius and levator scapulae and six other muscles in the region. Seven muscles, including serratus anterior, rhomboids and lower trapezius all weaken. Not sounding good is it?

How are you standing?

Injuries that may result include headaches, bicep tendonitis and impingement of the rotator cuff. Chronic habits can lead to chronic conditions! It worth noting the rotator cuff is actually made up of four different muscles: infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres minor and supraspinatus.

What we tend to do is adjust how we sit, stand or move to relieve a discomfort or pain we may be feeling. This is called guarding. While this is certainly logical in cases of acute injuries, for example, if we have broken an ankle, in situations of chronic conditions like my back, guarding may not be so helpful at all over the long term as it can reduce the muscles’ ability to support the very structures you need those muscles to be strong enough to support. The muscles of the core and posterior chain support the spine for example, but if I don’t stand, sit and move correctly, over time those muscles will not function as well and the back pain I will experience will get worse. I know – I’ve been through it!

Personal trainers, fitness coaches, allied health professionals such as physiotherapists and osteopaths can all assess posture. A fitness professional may refer a client to an allied health professional for additional assistance if deemed necessary, or may prescribe specific exercises or exercise technique adjustments to help strengthen weakened muscles and improve posture.

What, as an individual can YOU do to help yourself when the professionals are not around to monitor your posture? Learn to be your own monitor. Make sure you know what good posture not only looks like, but what it FEELS like. I have a very good eye for detecting postural abnormalities in other people, yet I have had to focus really hard on detecting the same in myself. I know where my ankles should be in relation to my hips, where my ears should be in relation to my shoulders, where my shoulders should be in relation to my hips. But I can’t always see myself and we slip into old habits easily.

Habits are hard to break. We do a lot of life on auto-pilot: drive the same route home each day, walk to the train station without thinking about it. Our posture is also often a habit. We have to work hard at developing a new habit.

Knowing it and doing it can be two different things. When out walking, I will monitor my reflection in shop windows for example. I had, over the years, developed some degree of kyphosis and rounded shoulders (I was a desk jockey for so many years). As a result of the back issues I have, I had also developed a tendency to lean slightly forward. These aspects of poor posture are easily detected in a reflection. I consciously correct myself.

What if I am in the park and there are no shop windows? If I apply mindfulness to my body I can feel myself not standing tall, I know I do not have a neutral spine because I am leaning forward. I make the effort to correct my posture.

Fair warning: when you start doing this, it is actually tiring. The muscles have become weak over time and it does require physical effort to hold yourself in the correct position and keep walking. Just as those muscles became weak over time, they WILL regain strength over time if you persevere.

Yes, you may feel a twinge of pain as well as you straighten up – yet that passes and you actually think, “Gee, that DOES feel better!” A caveat on that – you may need to do strengthening and corrective work before you get to that point, depending on your current situation.

While a fitness professional or allied health professional may have prescribed daily exercises and these certainly will help, being conscious of your posture throughout the day will see results achieved faster.

This is not to say I never have back problems any more. I have degenerative structural changes in my lumbar spine. If I have a day where I completely overdo things, or do something I shouldn’t (such as sit for too long), yes, I will still end up stiff and possibly sore. With the right stretches, some walking and maintaining my strength workouts I now bounce back quickly without any need for pain medications. My kyBoot shoes have been a major component of my personal tool kit over the past twelve months.

I highly recommend consulting with a professional who can assess posture and prescribe exercises that will focus on the problem areas. Increasing or maintaining functional movement needs a long-term comprehensive program including footwear, stretching, appropriately targeted exercises (including strength work) and constant awareness to prevent lapsing into old habits.

For desk jockeys sit-stand desks are great, but be aware research is indicating neither sitting NOR standing all day are good for our bodies, there are health risks in both situations. Movement is the best medicine. I have a sit-stand desk in the office and I am also lucky in that I walk around a large campus quite a bit. Between alternating sitting and standing, and the walking, I move a lot during an office day. Not nearly as much as a nurse or a policeman on foot patrol, but more than many desk bound people.

Ensure you transition between sitting and standing with correct ergonomic positioning of your desk (and chair). If in doubt, ask your Occupational Health & Safety team for advice. The University of Western Australia has good reference material too, including a page on sit-stand desks.

This is an edited article originally published on the kyBun website.

Images used under license from Shutterstock.com

chronic conditions care courage consistency coaching

Care, Consistency, Courage and Coaching

Chronic Conditions

Care, consistency, courage and coaching are my “4 Cs” of chronic condition management.

Care

There are different types of care. Top of the list is great medical care. You must have a good relationship with your primary care provider (general practitioner, GP). I’m not suggesting you be family friends who go out for dinner (that could be difficult) but you should feel comfortable that your GP “gets” you and that you trust their level of care. This is the medical professional on your team that herds the cats (your specialists) and keeps the information flowing, in a sense the gate-keeper.

Self-care is extremely important. Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and scented candles, although those are nice. Self-care includes doing the things you MUST do to maximise your health, minimise your pain. Making the time to do stretches, walk, swim, lift weights, sleep, eat well: “doing the hard yards” as my father would say. Yes, the other sort of self-care, the time-out, rest, relax: also very important.

Mental health care is extremely important. As I have written about that in “We Need Mental Health as well as Physical Health, I won’t say more here. Reducing stress is part of mental health care.

Being careful is also a form of care. One example I have written about before is changing exercises where necessary. My own example is I no longer do dumbbell chest press because getting off the bench irritates my spine.

Being careful with our body weight is important – for many, weight gain can mean increased pain levels.

breakfast
Breakfast

Consistency

Consistency is paramount. When we were healthy, our bodies could recover from a week or two of no exercise, a night on the booze or day of crap food. Sure, we may have suffered a hangover or the scales may have jumped a kilogram, but we easily recovered from the damage.

Once we have a chronic condition/illness/disease not only are our bodies not as resilient, we are likely on medications that, while doing very good things for us, may also compromise other aspects of our “internal workings”. My own example is my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) medication suppresses my immune system – logical when you think about it, of course, given RA is an autoimmune condition, my own immune system attacking me. This means I have to be super careful not to catch bugs/viruses, as I recently did. I ended up in ED with what felt like a ping-pong ball in my throat.

Exercise, such as stretching and resistance training, will stop your body deconditioning and greatly assist with pain management. However, the gains we make can be lost VERY quickly once our bodies are unwell. Consistency is vital to ensure we maintain our gains and keep building on our achievements. I have discussed exercise in more detail in Doctors and Exercise, so please click that link for a more comprehensive presentation about the importance of exercise.

de-conditioning

During a consultation with my endocrinologist he asked, “Do you take your meds?” Frankly, I was shocked – what a strange thing to ask, I thought, of course I take my medications! He asked because my thyroid was misbehaving again and my blood tests were not within the reference range – again. Clearly some patients don’t take their medications as prescribed.

Most medications for chronic conditions require consistency to be effective. If you feel the dose or the medication isn’t working as it should, TALK TO THE SPECIALIST before changing anything. You may do more harm than good. If the problem is remembering, set alarms in your phone. Some medications can take three or more months to reach the required level of effectiveness.

Be consistent. With medications, exercise, diet, rest, sleep, hydration.

consistent exercise
Consistent daily steps

Even if you have to dance to get there!

Courage

Yes, courage. It takes courage to start AND to keep up the fight. “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”. The treasure is maintaining quality of life for as long as possible. For some, the cave is MOVEMENT! It can be hard to think about movement when we are in pain. Or we feel we can’t “keep up” in the gym. Today is my swimming day. The predicted high is 13 Celsius. Do I REALLY want to get into my bathers and hit the pool, or would I prefer chocolate cake and a nip of Bailey’s Irish Cream? Consistency! Courage! Just do it!

leg press

The benefits are worth it. I have avoided a knee replacement and radiofrequency denervation of the lumber spine. Yes, I MAY need both some time in the future (distant future, I hope) but for the moment, I’m good. I’m on no pain medications.

Four years ago I started with four x 5 minute walks a day.

Now a gym session looks like this:

  • 4 sets leg press
  • 3 sets chest press
  • 3 sets shoulder press
  • 1 set body weight squats
  • 3 sets Smith Machine squats
  • 3 sets tricep extensions
  • 3 sets bicep curls
  • 3 sets lat pulldowns
  • 3 sets leg extensions
  • 3 sets pec dec
  • 8 minutes on the rowing machine

I got VERY annoyed recently when I lost muscle strength and had to drop my leg press weight down from 160 kgs. While we still don’t have a medical explanation, I am building back up again, so perhaps it was just a temporary glitch. We have temporary glitches.

I didn’t get to where I am now without care, consistency and courage.

Coaching

Professional athletes all have coaches. They have goals. WE also have goals (hopefully SMART goals)!

Perhaps we need to look at ourselves as endurance QOLs –  Quality of Life is the goal we strive for, not necessarily running 3,100 kilometres in 45 days! Our mental challenge can be just as extreme, even if our physical achievements are not. 8 Steps to Retain/Regain Quality of Life

People are all different, conditions vary greatly. Even so, the sooner you start managing your condition instead of your condition managing you, the better your chances of retaining your quality of life for as long as possible.

Sometimes all that is needed is help to get started. Sometimes a patient may prefer longer term support and encouragement.

Coaching helps the chronic condition patient take control. There is a fifth “C” – Control!

Too often patients feel they are “OK for the moment, I’ll worry about all this later” (when my job is not so stressful/the kids are older/the house is paid off). My advice is don’t wait. Start now to protect your future.

Contact me for a confidential chat as a starting point.

Note this article is intended for chronic condition patients who have a medical clearance or medical advice to exercise. This can be at any level from beginner.

11 Tips for Dealing With Major Disruptions to Your Routine

I’ve been very quiet of late. There IS a good reason! Sometimes, despite the best laid plans of mice and men and women, our lives, our carefully planned routines, are disrupted.

A quick recap of the situation prior to the disruption. In 2016 I started part-time employment in a location that was a LONG way away from home. Relocating close to work was one of the lifestyle adjustments I made as discussed in Beat the Boom Bust Cycle.

This year, I had to move. As it turns out, this has been a GREAT change, but all of a sudden I was faced with home hunting, packing, organising the move, the paper warfare relocation involves and all the other bits and pieces that go along with moving. All on top of my normal daily commitments. Clearly, PACING was paramount if I was to come out the other side relatively unscathed!

I knew I just could not do it all without risking an arthritis flare or some other health set back. Writing was put on the back burner: it was one of the things that was, in reality, not a “Must Do” on the “To Do” list. Packing certainly was! Getting utilities connected certainly was!

The benefits? Beautiful leafy block (pictured above), quiet suburban street, cheaper and (best of all) GROUND FLOOR!

I didn’t come through it totally unscathed. Clearly moving is stressful at the best of times plus my rheumatoid arthritis medication is a immune suppressant. PLUS it IS winter! So I caught a virus about two weeks after moving day. I try to avoid catching bugs, but I think the body was ripe for invasion given the aforementioned circumstances! I was out for the count for several days!

Other life events that can be physically challenging include weddings (our own, or a family member), family holidays, community events we may be involved in organising, school fetes; the list is endless.

If it is a wedding and you are mother or father of either of the happy couple, the lead up is full of additional activities and you want to be in the best shape possible on the day.

Here are my tips for keeping our body healthy when we face a complete disruption to our physical routine that has the potential to cause us pain or a condition flare.

  1. Plan, start preparations early. Stop what you are doing if pain starts. Build rest periods into your plan.
  2. Accept help! My daughter and son-in-law helped me pack. A friend helped me unpack at the other end. If you are involved in the organisational stages as well as “on the day” or post-event clean up, make sure you do not say, “Oh, no I can manage”.
  3. Take annual leave if possible. I took a week.
  4. DO NOT be tempted to “help” the removalists on the day (if you are moving, otherwise adapt this tip to suit your situation). You organised help for a reason: whether they are paid experts or volunteers, resist the urge to throw yourself into the physical fray.
  5. Maintain your daily stretching regime. It can be easy to let such things slip when faced with exciting things going on. Your stretches are even more important now to counteract the pressure you are putting on your body.
  6. You may also have prescribed remedial exercises to do – maintain those too, for the same reasons.
  7. Ensure you get adequate sleep.
  8. Pay attention to your posture. With all the bending I was doing, I was diligent about hinging at the hip to ensure I minimised pressure on my spine.
  9. Do something appropriate to support your body during this time. For example, I booked a massage the second day after the move to iron out the niggles.
  10. Eat well, ensure you consume enough protein. Stay hydrated.
  11. If this is a big social event (rather than moving home), I strongly recommend continuing to wear your usual shoes on the day (in my case kyBoot shoes). While you might get away with “pretty” shoes or heels for an hour or so, any longer could well result in pain which could be very unpleasant on the day.

Every person is different, every person’s objectives and capabilities are different. If you are father of one of the bridal couple, your one burning desire for the day may be to walk your child down the aisle and maybe walking is your personal challenge. Plan ahead, practice, seek advice from your allied health providers well in advance. If necessary, consider adaptations: for example, at the recent royal wedding Prince Charles didn’t walk the full length of the aisle with Meghan.

Yes, I did resort to Panadol and a heat pack on my back the actual day of the move, but I have even impressed myself with how well my body coped (apart from the darn virus). The annual leave certainly helped, as I was not under pressure to rush. I could work unpacking for an hour, rest for an hour, do my stretches, get my exercises done; all without feeling as if I needed to hurry or as if I should be somewhere else.

Get back to your normal exercise routine as soon as possible. I took a day off from organising the new place to have that massage and go for a long walk.

My main objective, aside from a successful move, was to ensure I did not undo all the good work I have done to date. I did not want a rheumatoid arthritis flare. I was confident if I made sure I took my physical limitations into account, accepted or asked for help as necessary and took my time, I would be fine. Was my back a little stiff? Yes, a little, but at no time was I in excruciating pain or taking strong pain medication. I didn’t expect to come through it without my back grumbling a little, given the degenerative damage.

I have boxes that need lifting to the top shelf in the wardrobes: they are not hurting anyone sitting on the floor and that is where they are staying until someone better able to do it visits! Yes, it is tempting, but I’m NOT doing that to myself! Stick to your rules! Some of us are all too susceptible to striving to be “normal” and do what we used to be able to do. That is not a good idea! My study looked like this for several days (don’t tell anyone, but it still looks very similar) but it isn’t hurting anyone and I stay in one piece physically.

I ventured, for the first time EVER to Ikea and bought a small dining table and chairs that I assembled all by myself! This is a terrible photo, but I am proud I survived the move well enough to do this! It is an extension table, ideal for apartment living, so was more complicated than a straight table.

While unpacking, I came across this poem. Some days, like moving day itself, stuff just has to be done. But afterwards? Keep this in mind!

“Dust if You Must” ~ Rose Milligan

I painted my nails instead of dusting!

Last thought – amazing the things you find when you unpack stuff.

Here is me in a Melbourne publication in 1998.

Incidental Exercise

Never underestimate the value of incidental exercise. For many years 10,000 steps a day has been considered a desirable minimal level of daily activity for health. I’ve shared the video below in other articles, about the dramatic drop in activity from our active past to our now relatively passive present. Here it is again as a reminder!

I love that video because it illustrates so well the change in how we live. Our bodies were designed for the active past lifestyle but too many of us live the passive present depicted.

Back in 2014 I participated in the Global Challenge. Looking at the website for the 2018 event, I see it has changed since 2014, but the objectives remain the same. This is an annual event to encourage office workers particularly to get out and about and moving. I am proud to say I won all the trophies available, despite some challenges such as ending up on crutches due to a very, very grumpy knee.

2014 was the year I found out I was sick. Looking back, what I find interesting was my actual steps per day in early 2014, compared to that recommended steps a day number of 10,000. We received our pedometers well before the event started and several of us started wearing them to see how much of an improvement was needed. I found I was walking approximately 2,500 steps a day. I was shocked, as I had a history of being active, but, as they say, “life happened” and I had found myself in a very inactive phase.

To paint the picture of my life at the time, I was a senior manager with a company car. In the morning, I would walk out my back door, jump in my car, drive to work, park in the basement, take the elevator up to my floor, sit in my office or meeting rooms all day, at the end of the day repeat the journey in reverse. At home I was helping children with homework, cooking dinner – there was little time for me to take care of myself. I should have made the time!

Now I deliberately use every opportunity to clock up a few extra steps: my kyBoot shoes definitely help. Without the heels I can decide, weather permitting, to walk an extra 1,000 steps down the road from my office before catching the tram.

The photo at the top of this page was taken on just such a day recently. It was a beautifully sunny end of the day, not too hot, the trees provided such a pretty filtered sunlight effect and the evening birdsong was a lovely musical accompaniment: I really enjoyed just de-stressing from the office by stretching my legs.

I am extremely lucky in that the tram line goes directly from my work location to my home location with many stops along the way. I can easily walk part way, tram part way. Not everyone has such a convenient transport situation.

If you drive to work, is it possible to park a little further away from work? That isn’t possible for me, on the days I do drive to work my only parking option is the staff car park. This is one of the reasons I prefer to take the tram as it gives me more options for incidental exercise.

Cycling to work is great exercise already: my knees don’t like cycling, so it is not an option for me. Luckily my body doesn’t object to walking in any way, which is one of the reasons incidental exercise is so important to my welfare and the management of my rheumatoid arthritis and damage in my lumbar spine.

How many of us travel to the gym or the pool, to diligently undertake exercise, in our car? My swimming pool is only 1.5 kms from my home. I have reached the point now where walking 1.5 kms is easy. One issue I have to be careful of is exposure to the sun, so I can only do that walk weather permitting. I also need to be careful not to overdo it. I am well aware that a three kilometre walk and a swim may send me into the #spoonie Boom/Bust cycle if I am not careful. Pacing is paramount. My gym is located at work: I do the same incidental steps as on a normal work day.

I walk to my general practitioner’s clinic rather than drive.

As I am a person with chronic health conditions, I don’t get to 10,000 steps on a daily basis due to the energy/lethargy issues that go with my conditions. Yet. I am slowly building up and each month I am more active that the previous month.

Look at your daily routine and determine what adjustments you might be able to make to increase your level of daily activity. I am a firm believer that frequent movement is better for our bodies and our health than being stationary all of most days then working out like mad in the gym for 45 minutes maybe three days a week. I was very happy to have my belief confirmed when I did the Pain Management Program! The reality was brough home to me more recently when I spent a day in the Emergency Department (why is a story for another day) – my body almost turned to concrete through not moving. I was very stiff after lying on a hospital bed all day.

Yes, I certainly do work out in the gym because resistance training is very important, especially as we mature, but moving as much as possible is perhaps even more important, yet so difficult for many of us to achieve.

I know from my own experience with my conditions, the days I am not working in the office and move a lot more I get to the end of the day with no stiffness or little niggles anywhere. Days when I am more stationary I will end the day in discomfort. Not pain, but discomfort. Move more. Movement is medicine has become my mantra.

This is an edited version of an article I first wrote for Kybun.

Preventing Tomorrow’s Pain

What I am doing in this video must NOT be confused with pacing up activity levels. I am not starting activity, I have my conditions under control. I irritated my body today, therefore I needed to “stretch it out” in layperson’s terms. I know this isn’t all about my arthritis today either: my lumbar spine damage was certainly reminding me it exists.

Speaking of stretches, yes, I did those too.

Do I feel 100% now? No, I don’t. I’m still a bit tender, but I know I will wake up pain free in the morning.

I am not suggesting this is the right solution for everyone. Part of managing our conditions is about learning what works for us as individuals.