Juvenile Arthritis: Symptoms and Treatment Options

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTPLeave a Comment

Did you know arthritis is not only found in the elderly? That’s right, kids can get arthritis too.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JA) refers to a group of conditions involving joint inflammation (arthritis) that first appears before the age of 16.1 An estimated 300,000 children in the U.S. – that’s 1 in 250 kids – are affected by some form of JA.2 The mean age of onset of JA is 1-3 years old.3 There are seven types of JA as distinguished by symptoms, the number of joints affected, family history and lab tests.

JA is classified as an autoimmune disorder, which means the body begins to attack itself. In the case of JA there is excessive inflammation of the joints. We do not know what causes this excessive inflammatory response in kids with JA.

Common Symptoms of JA:4

  • Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
    • Worse in morning or after naptime
    • Symptoms are common in knees, hands and feet (but not limited to these joints)
  • Loss of joint range
  • Limping
  • Recurrent fevers
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle aches
  • Growth problems

Can Physical Therapy Help?

There is no cure for JA. With proper management, however, the symptoms and pain can be reduced. Medication is used for pain relief, but physical therapy is also a common part of the treatment plan. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve the child’s quality of life.

Exercise can help to maintain muscle tone and preserve the range of motion of the joints. Physical therapy can also help decrease the amount of stiffness felt in the joints. It is important for children to remain active and involved in sports and activities with their peers. Pain is usually the limiting factor for kids with JA and can limit the amount of activity they can handle; however kids should be encouraged to participate in activities during periods of remission. Kids with JA can be encouraged to participate in activities such as biking and cycling, which are low impact and common within their peer groups.

Physical Therapy for JA can focus on:4

  • Muscle tone
  • Strengthening
  • Range of motion
  • Stretching
  • Education on joint protection and pain reduction techniques
  • Home exercises
  • Muscle relaxation techniques
  • Splints or orthotics
  • Heat packs, cold packs, ultrasound, and paraffin wax dips can help with pain relief

Juvenile arthritis is a fairly common condition and although we do not know the causes of this disease, there are ways physical therapy and physical activity can help kids continue to participate in their activities and reduce their pain.

Learn more about juvenile arthritis by requesting an appointment at an Athletico Physical Therapy clinic near you!

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

References:
1. “Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis – Genetics Home Reference – NIH.” S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/juvenile-idiopathic-arthritis.
2. “Juvenile Arthritis.” Www.arthritis.org, www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/juvenile-arthritis/.
3. “Imaging in Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis: Overview, Radiography, Computed Tomography.” Background, Pathophysiology, Etiology, 21 June 2017, emedicine.medscape.com/article/409980-overview.
4. “Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.” Physiopedia, www.physio-pedia.com/Juvenile_Rheumatoid_Arthritis.

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