Even though arthritis is not typically associated with young people, juvenile arthritis affects approximately one in every one thousand children in the United States. It’s real and left unmanaged, it can have a deep impact on a child’s life.
However challenging such a circumstance might be, the right exercise and movement strategies can significantly reduce symptoms, sometimes alleviating them completely. Put plainly: juvenile arthritis is a treatable condition, and those suffering from it can live a full and normal life.
Physical therapists tend to break treatment down into three key categories: controlling symptoms, maintaining function, and preventing damage to joints. This, of course, is from the perspective of physical therapy. Most juvenile arthritis sufferers will also work with a pediatric rheumatology team to reduce pain, prescribe medication, and guide the child to a healthy, pain-free adulthood.
Still, nearly all treatment plans include a regular physical therapy regimen.
Physical therapy can help children suffering from juvenile arthritis by improving joint motion, reducing pain, and increasing strength and endurance. Therapists work closely with each child to develop a tailored exercise plan that will improve joint function, strengthen muscles, and ultimately help control the symptoms. This may even include special splints to encourage normal bone and joint development.
Here are some of the areas to focus on:
- Muscle tone, strengthening, and relaxation techniques
- Range of motion and stretching to improve flexibility
- Assistive devices for daily activities (where necessary)
- Take-home exercise plans
- Parent-child education
It is also important to pay close attention to the specific activities each child participates in. This way, treatment plans can be fine-tuned for each child. Should it make sense for the child’s condition, the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ can be used to encourage movement and weight bearing exercise with lower-impact on joints. Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep children on task and maintaining their regimen. It’s understandable—most children would rather be anywhere else than a physical therapy clinic. In these situations, there are a few strategies that help ensure adherence to the PT regimen:
- Encourage parent involvement, which can include accompanying the child to appointments, requesting take-home materials, and supervising home programs. Try doing the exercises with your kid!
- Reward systems, such as sticker boards or other tracking methods can incentivize a child’s participation and commitment. This can be at home and at the PT clinic.
- Specific goals, like trying out for the softball team, or being fit enough to enroll in dance class, can serve as central motivators between a child and the therapist.
- Journal it! When made a habit, a journal can turn into a log of progress and motivational tool—a child can flip through the pages and see how far they’ve come.
- Training buddies, such as friends, siblings, and other family members can go a long way. Think about how much better you perform when someone you know accompanies comes along for the afternoon jog.
- Creative solutions, because a change in pace can help reset a souring attitude toward therapy. Hiking, beach activities—even motion-based video games can be exactly the change of pace a child needs to make it over the hump.
It’s no pleasure cruise—not for sufferers of juvenile arthritis, nor their parents and caretakers. Working through this condition requires a steady hand, commitment, and discipline. Still, there are ways to breathe life into the therapy routine, make it fun and achievable for the child. The result is an effective gameplan that, in time, helps manage juvenile arthritis symptoms, hopefully resolving them completely.