Exercise Basics for Kids with Arthritis

Regular physical activity will help your child feel – and move – better.

Physical activity is important for any kid, but exercise has unique benefits for kids with arthritis. With a little help from their doctors, coaches or physical therapists, kids with arthritis can safely exercise and play almost any sport they want without injuring their joints. 

How Exercise Helps Kids with Arthritis

Even though exercise plays a crucial role in arthritis treatment, a 2016 Pediatric Rheumatology Online Journal study showed that kids with arthritis don’t get as much physical activity as their peers. Another earlier study in the Journal of Rheumatology found that kids who were less physically active had more severe pain and more pain-related limitations in their activity. Staying active has many benefits, including:

  • Keeping joints flexible
  • Helping control pain
  • Helping maintain a healthy weight
  • Keeping bones strong
  • Helping muscles get strong to support joints
  • Improving mood, sleep and energy
  • Building confidence

If you’re worried about your child injuring his joints, the evidence shows it’s safe to exercise, especially if the child is working with a physical therapist, says Susan Klepper, PhD, PT, assistant professor of clinical physical therapy at Columbia University in New York City. 

“There are lots of studies that show that exercise training, whether it’s land or water-based, is safe,” says Klepper. “In other words, the number of joints that are swollen or painful don’t increase after exercise programs that generally run anywhere from one to three times a week, lasting six to 20 weeks long. These kids don’t report more pain, they don’t report increased morning stiffness or any other classic signs of disease.”

Types of Exercises to Try

Kids with arthritis need different kinds of exercise to improve their health and strength. The best activities will vary depending on the child’s age, how severe or well-controlled her arthritis is and what she likes to do. Exercise should include a mix of:

  • Stretching and flexibility
  • Strengthening
  • Aerobic and conditioning
  • Balance

To learn more about the best exercises for your child, click here. 

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