Physical Therapy for Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, sometimes referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, is an autoimmune disorder that causes symptoms of arthritis in children. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints and commonly affects children younger than 16, causing pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. Symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may come and go, and may last for a short time or for years. This condition may lead to growth problems and eye inflammation in some children.

Exercise and physical therapy may be effective at keeping joints flexible. Although pain and discomfort may sometimes limit activity for children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, exercise is key to reducing the symptoms of arthritis and maintaining function and range of motion of the joints. Physical therapy may help to:

  • Relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Maintain muscle tone
  • Preserve joint function
  • Prevent structural damage or deformity

The goal of physical therapy is to minimize symptoms and help patients to maintain a normal lifestyle. A physical therapy program may include the following techniques to treat pain:

  • Applications of heat or cold
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Massage
  • Nerve stimulation

In addition to pain management, a physical therapy program often includes exercises to stretch muscles and increase strength. Aerobic exercise such as swimming, walking or cycling may also be suggested to improve muscle endurance and physical capacity. Patients are often encouraged to practice certain exercises at home to increase range of motion and prevent the progression of long term deformities in the joints. Splints and other devices may be recommended to help maintain normal bone and joint growth and a physical therapist may work with an occupational therapist to create a tailored device for the child. An occupational therapist then teaches the child how to perform daily activities while wearing a splint or brace.

A regular, general exercise program is also an important part of a child's treatment plan. By adhering to a treatment program that includes a physical therapy regimen,children with rheumatoid arthritis can maintain a normal lifestyle.

Additional Resources