Did you know Children can get arthritis too?
Arthritis is commonly thought of as a condition for older people but children can get arthritis too. Wear and tear on our joints, or osteoarthritis, affects many of us as we age. Childhood arthritis, called Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), affects around 1 in 1,000 children under the age of 16.
There is no known cause of Juvenile Arthritis. But what is known is it’s an autoimmune disease where the immune system starts attacking the joint linings.
This can cause inflammation, swelling, increase in synovial fluid (the fluid that lubricates our joints) and joint damage. These joint changes cause pain, stiffness especially in the morning, restriction in joint movement and reduction in general mobility.
What happens if it’s not treated?
If the inflammation is not treated there can be damage to joint cartilage and bone. Pain and stiffness leads to less use which results in muscle weakness and loss of freedom of movement. Most common joints affected are the knees, ankles, wrists and fingers. The role of our paediatric physiotherapist is to help in the diagnosis of children who present with often severe restriction in movement, and then to help them get moving again.
Even toddlers get Juvenile Arthritis. They may suddenly stop walking or have a strong painful response to touch or movement of their knees or ankles.
Some children may have only a few episodes or ” flare-ups” and never have another. However about 60% of children go on to have chronic JIA with joints affected at varying times across their lifetime. This can be tough for kids, dealing with not being able to join in with their friends playing sport or in the play ground or having to sit out during P.E. lessons at school. It may also affect their social life too – trouble walking around the mall, managing steps up to the movies or bike riding with mates.
JIA is often called the invisible disease, as it’s not always obvious a joint is painful. Chronic pain is debilitating psychologically for kids and their families and they need support and understanding in dealing with this disease.