While physical therapy is sometimes necessary to keep affected joints moving and to preserve your child’s range of motion, regular exercise is a key component of all JA treatment plans. Exercise is important to:
- Keep joints mobile
- Keep muscles strong
- Regain lost motion or strength
- Make everyday activities like walking, dressing, or eating easier
- Improve general fitness and endurance
Sports and recreational activities are also necessary for students with arthritis to help develop confidence in their physical abilities. First, consult the doctor or physical therapist for guidance about sports/activities that exercise joints and muscles without putting too much stress on them. Activities such as swimming are easy on the joints and may be at the top of the list. Contact sports are not generally recommended, but soccer and basketball might be alright: The physical therapist may know special exercises to help your child train for their sport of choice. And don’t forget to ask for advice on joint protection, such as protective equipment to reduce the risk of injury.
Next, encourage your child to pick an appealing-yet-appropriate sport and get started! If necessary, assign some external motivational rewards to keep him/her interested and participating.
Some children with JA are plagued with fatigue and may not "feel" like exercising at times. Reassure them that physical activity actually energizes the body during the day and improves sleep at night, thereby combatting fatigue.