How is Juvenile Arthritis Treated?
Treating juvenile arthritis takes a team approach. In addition to seeing your pediatrician or pediatric rheumatologist for treatment, you’ll see several other doctors as well. Your team will likely include a physical therapist, who can help you gain strength and range of motion in your joints, as well as an occupational therapist, who can help you move your body to perform specific tasks, such as getting dressed or holding utensils. You may also see a dietitian, who can manage your diet and nutrition; an ophthalmologist, who’ll look after your eyes; a psychologist, to help you handle the emotional stress of having a chronic illness; and many other specialists who can help in different ways.
Of course, you’ll be an important member of your own team, too. When you have ideas about what’s working and what isn’t, speak up. Let your doctors know if you want to try a new activity that you haven't yet been able to do. Your input will help guide their approach to your specific case of juvenile arthritis. This isn’t a disease with a one-size-fits-all treatment plan.
In general, treatments for juvenile arthritis include exercise, medication and, sometimes, surgery. While immediate relief is probably one of your goals when you start treatment, many treatments for juvenile arthritis focus on the long-term. Medications prevent joint damage that could lead to surgery. Daily exercises preserve flexibility you can’t regain if you stop for a few years and then start up again. Even if symptoms ease up or disappear, it’s important to stick to your treatment plan. Without treatment, the disease may still be at work within your body.
Sometimes you’ll feel frustrated – especially if treatment doesn’t seem to be helping. If you’re having trouble or feel like quitting your treatment, seek out support. Your doctors may change medications that cause side effects you don’t like. Your parents, teachers or school nurse can help you with problems at school, such as if you need extra time to switch classes or alternative gym activities when symptoms flare.
Friends can help, too, whether they’re trusted old pals distracting you from your problems or new friends who share your diagnosis. You can meet other kids with juvenile arthritis through the Arthritis Foundation’s camps and conferences.
When your joints are sore and painful, moving around may be the last thing you want to do. So you may be surprised to learn that moving more can actually help. Most doctors prescribe range-of-motion exercises to keep joints flexible and strengthening exercises to keep muscles strong to support them. Even if a joint has not been working properly for a while, exercise can be beneficial. Therapeutic exercises can help people do specific everyday activities that have become difficult over time. For example, if you have trouble walking, getting dressed or holding a pencil, you’ll most likely get a set of therapeutic exercises to do every day.
Your team will probably also recommend you get other types of exercise that feel more like play and less like work. While running hurdles and competitive gymnastics may be too hard on your joints when they are actively inflamed, you should be able to play most sports. Doctors tend to especially like recreational activities such as swimming and biking for their patients. That’s because the movements are good exercise but don’t put a lot of weight-bearing stress on joints.
Page 1 | 2