For most of us who associate arthritis with old age, learning that roughly 300,000 children in the U.S. suffer from this condition may come as a shock. In reality, arthritis can affect people of all ages, including children and young people. Understanding the type of arthritis your child has is one of the first steps towards relieving symptoms and improving your child’s quality of life.
What Is Juvenile Arthritis?
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), is an umbrella term that includes several forms of chronic arthritis in children that share certain historical and/or clinical characteristics:
- Inflammation is present in one or more joints
- The range of motion of the affected joint is limited
- Tenderness is felt when the joint is moved
- Increased warmth is present in the affected joint region
Symptoms must be present for at least six weeks (continuously or intermittently), and the patient must be less than 16 years of age to be diagnosed with JIA.
As the term idiopathic (meaning “unknown) implies, nobody can tell for sure what triggers JIA in children. Studies conducted so far into the biologic and clinical manifestations of JIA provide strong evidence that it may be an autoimmune disease, in which elements of the immune system (lymphocytes and antibodies) react against the patient’s own body structures (muscles, joints, tissues, etc.)
Genetic and environmental factors may also be implicated in the onset and development of the disease. Research into the frequency of JIA has shown that if one identical twin develops the disease, the chance of their sibling developing it is 25% to 40%. In the case of non-identical twins with one of them diagnosed with JIA, there is a 15 to 30 times increased risk (compared to the general pediatric population) that the other sibling will develop the condition, as well.
Symptoms and Signs of JIA
JIA affects the body in different ways, and different patients may experience the symptoms differently. Here’s what to expect if your child has been diagnosed with this condition:
- Flare-ups. Symptoms usually get worse during periods of stress, infection, or due to changes in medication, but they can happen for no apparent reason. When experiencing a flare-up, your child may lose his appetite, have lower energy levels, and complain of pain and joint stiffness.
- Mood changes. A lot of patients with JIA have difficulty sleeping and resting and may often have feelings of frustration or despair for not being able to move around freely.
- Eye inflammation. Eye redness, pain, and blurred vision are common symptoms of JIA. 10 to 20% of people with JIA are at risk of developing a potentially serious inflammatory eye condition called uveitis, which, when left untreated, can cause other complications and even sight loss.
- Dental problems. Children affected by arthritis can have a hard time brushing and flossing their teeth properly, and some may even have trouble opening the mouth for proper brushing. Juvenile arthritis can even interfere with the alignment of the jaw, making it all the more important for children with JIA to be seen by a dentist and orthodontist regularly.
- Pain. Joint pain may or may not be a complaint in children with JIA, but some often move with a limp and appear more rigid and clumsy, especially in the morning or following a nap. Swelling of the joints is common and often noticed first in larger joints such as the knee.
How Can You Help Your Child Live Well with JIA?
As debilitating as arthritis can be, this condition can held in check with a combination of medication, physical therapy, and exercise. In recent years, concerned parents have turned to complementary and alternative treatments for relieving arthritic pain and stiffness, primarily because they are pain-free, completely safe, and lack the dangerous side effects of conventional treatment protocols.
Natural therapies such as acupuncture are ideal for children and young people who cannot tolerate conventional drugs, and it can help at almost any stage of your child’s condition. Regular acupuncture treatments can break the cycle of pain and sometimes obtain permanent relief, although it cannot cure or reverse the process of arthritis. Physical therapy, massage, hydrotherapy, and heat and ice therapy can also help relieve pain in a natural way and make daily activities easier.
Because juvenile arthritis may often lead to postural and movement modifications, it is important to work closely with a licensed chiropractor, who can teach your child how to maintain a good upright posture and keep the body moving efficiently. Your chiropractor can also design a daily exercise plan for use at home, whose aim will be to increase the strength and flexibility of muscles in order to prevent further damage to the joints.
Contact your local chiropractic clinic and find out how your chiropractor can help your child cope with the pain and lessen the effect of JIA on your child’s usual activities.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.