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Exercise for Kids with Juvenile Arthritis

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 19 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Juvenile Arthritis And Exercise

Adults with arthritis understand how difficult it can be to perform the movements necessary for everyday chores. For children the challenges may be even greater since for them, the boisterous activity that would normally be a part of their lives can be painful or impossible, making it especially hard for them to watch siblings and peers having fun.

Challenges of Juvenile Arthritis

Kids with juvenile arthritis (JA) can face numerous challenges, from limited mobility to social isolation, and one of the most important tasks for parents of kids with JA is to help them to live with as few restrictions as possible. Finding a rheumatologist that specialises in JA can be quite helpful because sensitive, knowledgeable doctors can make an enormous difference in the quality of the lives of kids with JA. There are a number of types of JA, so it is vital that a qualified rheumatologist assess symptoms, settle on an accurate diagnosis, and work with the parents and child to develop a treatment plan.

Juvenile Arthritis Facts

A lot of misinformation exists about JA, but getting accurate information is important for kids and their parents. JA is a type of arthritis that occurs in kids under 16 and can cause pain, stiffness, and inflammation in one or more joints. Continuous pain and inflammation that lasts for longer than six weeks without being caused by an injury may be indicative of JA, but only a rheumatologist can make the formal diagnosis. Juvenile arthritis is one of the most common childhood disorders and affects both boys and girls. JA is not contagious. Since kids don’t always complain about their pain, parents should be on the lookout for possible JA symptoms:

  • Stiffness first thing in the morning
  • Walking with a limp or having trouble using a limb
  • Uneven growth of the legs
  • Intermittent symptoms; periods of stiffness and pain alternating with symptom-free times
  • Visual difficulties, although children are not often aware of the problem. Regular eye tests are crucial for kids since early symptoms are undetectable by parents.

How Parents Can Help

When a child has JA, it is bound to affect the entire family. Siblings may experience jealous feelings because of the attention that is paid to the child with JA and parents sometimes treat the affected child differently than their other children, requiring less from the child with JA in terms of responsibilities and behavioural standards. As well intended as this is, it is vital that parents encourage kids with JA to perform well in school, keep up with their household responsibilities, and make an effort to exercise and stay fit.

Exercise, Fitness, and Juvenile Arthritis

Depending on the severity of symptoms, kids with juvenile arthritis may have difficulty with even the simplest of movements, such as those necessary for dressing and personal care. Nonetheless, parents must strive to focus on the things that their child can do, rather than assuming that the child needs assistance with everything. Since early morning stiffness is common, kids with JA may want to begin their days with a warm bath or shower to help ease the discomfort. Activity is beneficial and movement actually helps to alleviate stiffness, so although kids with JA may not be able to participate fully in traditional physical education classes, physiotherapy is important for their JA symptoms as well as their overall health. In addition to physical therapy, many kids with JA can participate in some sports, although those that require jumping or jarring motions, such as basketball or skiing, may be too stressful on already inflamed joints. Gentle workouts, designed with the help a rheumatologist and physical therapist, can help kids to find relied from some of their symptoms as well as contributing to their overall wellness. Some things to remember about exercising for kids with JA:

  • Joint tightness can be reduced by exercise. Without movement, joint deformities may occur, making it impossible to straighten the joint.
  • Exercise can reduce joint pain.
  • Avoiding movement will weaken muscles, increasing pain.
  • Even during flare-ups, moderate activity is necessary.
  • Physical therapists can offer advice for exercises that improve joint mobility.
  • Swimming is often considered the exercise of choice for kids with JA.
  • The benefits of exercise may not be immediately obvious, but in time, well chosen exercises will pay off.

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