Juvenile Arthritis Month: when it hurts to play

By Shayna Brouker • Published: July 16th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Being a kid during the summer means playing tag, riding bikes, swimming in the pool, running through sprinklers and climbing monkey bars. But if you’re a kid with juvenile arthritis, playing can be painful. July is Juvenile Arthritis Month and time to shed light on a disease that affects about one in every 1,000 kids each year.

Juvenile arthritis actually covers a number of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that affect children under 16. In juvenile arthritis, or J-A, as it is commonly known, the immune system attacks the body’s own joint cells and tissues, resulting in painful swelling. It usually strikes joints, but it can also affect eyes, skin and the gastrointestinal tract and may cause chronic fever and anemia. It can affect the heart, lungs, eyes and nervous system.

The most common type of J-A, is juvenile idiopathic arthritis. The standard for a diagnosis of juvenile arthritis is swelling in joints for at least six weeks, but pinpointing which variety your child has can take longer. Symptoms include tightening of muscles and soft tissues, bone erosion, joint misalignment and changes in growth patterns. Doctors don’t know why kids get J-A, but genetics could be to blame.

There is no cure for juvenile arthritis, but a treatment plan involving a trifecta of medication, physical activity and eye care can help children lead a normal life. The goal is to alleviate inflammation and pain so kids can be kids. Moderate physical activity, like walking or swimming, keeps joints flexible and supple and also helps kids keep the pounds off. Any extra weight puts extra pressure and pain on joints. So don’t let juvenile arthritis get in the way of summertime play — plan family activities like hiking and swimming so kids can stay in the fun and sun. With a watchful eye and can-do spirit, juvenile arthritis doesn’t have to keep kids on the sideline.