Written by: Alena Walrath, PTA
Most of us would associate arthritis with old age, but did you know it affects children too? According to The Arthritis Foundation, 2/3 of people with arthritis are under age 65, which includes children. In fact, arthritis affects approximately 300,000 children in the United States.
Arthritis affecting children, known as “juvenile arthritis,” is an autoimmune disease, which means that the child’s immune system attacks his or her joints, causing swelling. The swelling often leads to joint pain and stiffness. It’s not always easy to tell if a person has arthritis, because sometimes, while joint pain is present, no other symptoms are visible. Pain is often worse after periods of inactivity, especially first thing in the morning after sleeping, or with certain activities. There are several different types of juvenile arthritis that can cause additional symptoms including fever, rash, limping, fatigue, weight loss, vision problems and damage to other organs.
Unfortunately, juvenile arthritis is chronic and there is no known cure. Symptoms can be managed with exercise, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and new biologic medicines as recommended by your rheumatologist. Using heat or ice can often be helpful, but most children prefer heat.
If your child is experiencing joint pain and swelling or other symptoms of juvenile arthritis, the first step is to contact your child’s pediatrician. If your pediatrician determines that your child does have arthritis, he or she will most likely refer you to a pediatric rheumatologist, who specializes in treating children with musculoskeletal conditions including arthritis. Visit http://www.kidsgetarthritistoo.org/ to learn more.