Juvenile Arthritis Awareness

Published - Jul 17, 2020

Written by Lisa Walker-Torgenrud MOTR/L, CHT, Clinic Director of IRG Pacific Handworks - Bellevue 

What do you think of when you hear the word “arthritis”? Most people link this word with the inflammation that typically causes pain and stiffness in our joints as we age. It is important to know though that arthritis does not only affect older adults. Children can also develop arthritis.

Juvenile arthritis, also known as pediatric rheumatic disease, describes the inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that develop in children under the age of 16. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 300,000 kids and teens in the United States currently have some form of juvenile arthritis.

Juvenile arthritis is typically an autoimmune condition. Our immune systems typically work to protect us against viruses and bacteria. When you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system attacks the body’s healthy cells. There are multiple symptoms of juvenile arthritis that a child may have, however, he or she will not have all of these symptoms. It is common for symptoms to come and go. 

Symptoms include:

  • Swollen, stiff, and painful joints (most common symptom). Joints may look red and be warm. Joint symptoms may worsen after waking up in the morning or staying in one position too long.
  • Loss of joint function (reduced range of motion) or joint deformity
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Swelling in lymph nodes
  • Eye inflammation causing dryness, pain, redness, sensitivity to light and trouble seeing properly
  • Feeling tired or run down
  • Decreased appetite 

There is currently not a cure for juvenile arthritis, however, children that have an early diagnosis and complete treatment plan have the best chance for a high quality of life. This treatment plan may include medications, healthy eating habits, regular physical activity and stress management.

Management of juvenile arthritis also typically includes physical and occupational therapy. The goal of these therapies is to teach the child ways to stay physically active with their peers without causing more joint damage, as well as how to perform daily tasks with ease.

Physical therapists work with children who have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis to maintain their joint function and range of motion, maintain strength, teach joint protection and energy conservation and minimize pain.

Children with juvenile arthritis will also work with an occupational therapist to maintain upper extremity (hand) function. It is very common for these children to benefit from being fitted with hand braces or splints to minimize joint deformity that this disease commonly causes. Appropriate splinting of the child’s hands and wrists will maximize the range of motion of the affected joints, as well as provide support to minimize pain during daily activities.

Occupational therapy can also benefit children with juvenile arthritis by working to increase their independence in activities of daily living. For children and teens, these activities include tooth brushing, bathing, dressing, writing for school and playing. The therapist will instruct children and their families in the use of assistive devices and adapted methods to make these activities easier for the child to complete on their own.