Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Self Care
Getting plenty of physical activity, eating well and learning how to cope with the challenges of the disease will be beneficial for children with arthritis.
Morning Stiffness Relief
Morning stiffness is one of the easiest ways to measure how active a child’s arthritis is. The longer the stiffness lasts, the more active the disease. Taking a hot bath or shower, sleeping in a sleeping bag or sweatsuit, doing range-of-motion exercises and using a hot or cold pack can help relieve stiffness. Although most children do better with warmth, there are a few who do well with cold treatments.
Exercise is an essential part of a child’s plan. It helps keep bones and muscles strong and preserves range of motion. Physical activity will also help a child achieve and maintain a healthy weight, relieving added pressure on weight-bearing joints like knees, hips and ankles. Encourage activities such as swimming and bike riding, which exercise the joints and muscles without putting too much weight-bearing stress on the joints. Activities such as jumping on a trampoline or jogging often are not recommended. However, sports like basketball or soccer may not be off limits for a child if his or her arthritis is well controlled. Special exercises and protective equipment further reduce risk of injury. Family support can help to keep a child motivated to be physically active.
Therapeutic exercise is the best way to preserve range of motion and strength and can help make it easier for children to perform activities of daily living. Range-of-motion exercises help with joint stiffness to prevent joints from becoming fixed in a bent position. Joints with poor movement are at increased risk of osteoarthritis, even if the inflammation is controlled. Strengthening exercises build muscle strength that can help support weak joints. A physical or occupational therapist can teach parents and a child and how to perform therapeutic exercises at home. Most exercises must be done daily.
A healthy diet is important for all children. While some people have reported improved symptom relief from eating or eliminating certain foods, there is no specific diet that can cure arthritis. Following a diet low in processed foods and saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans can be beneficial for a child’s overall health and help ease inflammation.
Weight loss and gain can be associated with JIA. Weight loss may occur due to a loss of appetite. Chewing may be painful for children with affected jaws. Eating smaller, nutritious meals and snacks more often may help a child get the proper amount of calories. Some children with JIA may gain excess weight due to side effects of corticosteroids or limited physical activity. Being overweight puts extra stress on joints like the knees and hips. A registered dietician can help parents to improve their child’s diet.
Having JIA has a big impact on a child’s life, both physically and emotionally. Helping a child learn to cope with the emotional aspects of arthritis will benefit the entire family. A parent’s attitude toward arthritis will set the tone for the child. Helping children to learn as much as possible about the disease and its treatment will help them can feel part of the decision making and in control of the disease. Parents should talk to their child about how he or she feels about arthritis and express anger or sadness. It’s probably best to try and avoid making JA the center of attention by expect a child with arthritis to behave as well as siblings and share in household responsibilities. Coping with the challenges of a chronic illness can be difficult. Professional counseling may help to facilitate the adjustment. A child’s doctor or a medical social worker can provide information about resources.
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