Exercise is an essential part of treatment for all forms of juvenile arthritis. For children with arthritis, exercise helps keep joints mobile and muscles strong, while regaining lost motion or strength. As a result, everyday activitites like walking or dressing become easier.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy can make it easier to move joints that are difficult to move. While medications reduce pain and inflammation, only therapeutic exercise can restore lost motion in a joint. These exercises can make it easier for children to walk and perform other activities of daily living such as eating, writing, dressing, etc.
Range-of-motion exercises keep joints flexible. They are especially important for children who have trouble moving a joint or if joints have become fixed in a bent position. Joints that do not move well are at increased risk of degenerative arthritis, even if the inflammation is controlled.
Strengthening exercises build muscle, strength and endurance. Stronger muscles can help support joints that are weak. Doing these exercises on a regular basis is challenging, and your child will need a lot of family support.
A physical or occupational therapist will teach you and your child how to perform therapeutic exercises at home. Most exercises must be done daily. The therapist will show your child how to use hot baths, hot packs, hot wax and/or cold treatments before exercise to make the therapy easier. Download exercise tips.
Sports and Recreational Activities
Recreational activities help your child exercise joints and muscles, develop important social skills and have fun. But remember that recreational activities cannot take the place of therapeutic exercise.
Participating in sports and recreational activities helps children with arthritis develop confidence in their physical abilities. Encourage activities such as swimming and bike riding that exercise the joints and muscles without putting too much weight-bearing stress on the joints. Activities such as jumping on a trampoline and jogging are generally not recommended. However, even aggressive sports like soccer and basketball may not be off-limits for your child, if their arthritis is well controlled. Special exercises and protective equipment can further reduce risk of injury.
*Contact your local office to learn about camps and other activities for kids.
Splints and Orthotics
Splints help keep joints in the correct position and relieve pain. If a joint is becoming deformed (bent in the wrong position) or is at risk for it, a splint may help position or stretch that joint gradually back to its normal position.
Commonly used splints include knee extension splints, wrist extension splints and ring splints for the fingers. Orthotics or shoe inserts may be provided to help with any difference in leg length and trouble with balance.
An occupational or physical therapist usually makes the splint and fits them to your child. Splints are made from different firm materials including plastic. It is a good idea to bring your child's splints to all clinic appointments so they can be checked.
Morning Stiffness Relief
Many children have stiffness when they get up in the morning or after a nap. Morning stiffness is one of the best ways to measure how active arthritis is: The longer the stiffness lasts, the more active the arthritis. Taking a hot bath or shower, sleeping in a sleeping bag or a sweat suit, sleeping on a heated water bed, 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 (a plastic bag filled with ice or frozen vegetables).