When you think of the word “arthritis,” the first thing that comes to mind isn’t usually a child – instead, arthritis is often associated with those who are at a later stage of life, such as individuals who are elderly. What you might not know is that arthritis can actually affect individuals of all ages, including children. Currently, an estimated 10,000 teenagers and children in Canada are living with a form of arthritis known as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA).
What is Arthritis and How Does it Impact a Child?
Arthritis is a condition that causes the synovial membrane (which is responsible for lining joints such as the ankles and knees) to become inflamed and produce fluid, resulting in pain, swelling, and stiffness. The affected area(s) can also be warm to the tough.
Except for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, which are very rarely diagnosed in children and instead tend to be diagnosed in mostly adults, generally speaking, arthritis affects both children and adults in similar ways, though it is not known what causes a child to develop arthritis, and the symptoms can vary from child to child, day to day, or even hour to hour. For example, symptoms may be more severe one day, and can be less severe on others. However, when the symptoms worsen for an extended period of time, this is often referred to as a “flare up.”
The Classifications of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
There are currently 7 different forms of JIA that a child can be diagnosed with, including:
• Oligoarthritis (affecting 1 to 4 joints)
• Polyarthritis (affecting over 5 joints)
• Systemic arthritis (accompanied by a fever and rash)
• Enthesitis-related arthritis (including inflammation of tendon insertions)
• Psoriatic arthritis (accompanied by psoriasis)
While arthritis generally only affects the joints and their surrounding tissues, other areas of the body can also be impacted including the heart, lungs, skin and liver (systemic arthritis), as well as the eyes (oligoarthritis.)
How is Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Treated?
Upon diagnosis, a physical or occupational therapist, or a family physician like Dr. Ali Ghahary, will often recommend exercise as it can be beneficial in providing pain relief as well as helping with range of motion. Regular physical activity will also help keep the bones and muscles strong, improve energy levels as well as sleep, and can even improve a child’s mood. If your child is experiencing a severe flare-up, however, healthcare professionals recommend limiting physical activity as well as any high-impact fitness. Alternatively, heating pads can also relieve muscle spasms and reduce arthritis-related pain, while cold packs can decrease swelling and inflammation in the joints.