Do you know someone with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), or are you caring for a child recently diagnosed with this condition? Here are a few tips to help them step on the road to recovery and improve their quality of life.
Getting regular exercise is very important to strengthen their muscles and reduce stiffness in their joints. The endorphins released during exercise can even help reduce pain. Encourage the child to continue to play with other children and choose activities they enjoy to ensure their continued mobility. Swimming is favoured most because it places very little stress on the joints. However, if you notice your child is on the verge of a flare up, or their symptoms are returning, their doctor may suggest limiting activities and resting until the flare subsides. Remember to discuss what types of activities are safe for the child, since some exercises can actually worsen the symptoms!
Heat and cold therapy
When the child is in pain, application of either heat or cold can be especially helpful along with taking pain medications. Heat is usually helpful for reducing stiffness and relaxing the muscles. Examples of heat applications include a hot water bottle, heating pad, or a warm bath or shower. Ensure the heat therapy chosen is not too hot so that the child does not get burns! For this reason, never let the child fall asleep with a heating pad or blanket.
Cold therapy may be more useful for controlling pain, especially when the joint is red and swollen, as it helps to reduce inflammation. Examples of cold applications are an ice pack wrapped in a towel, cold compresses, or even a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel. In this case you want to avoid freezing the skin so it is important to limit the time the therapy is used to perhaps 15-20 minutes each time. Alternating between hot and cold (e.g. every 20 minutes) may be useful in some cases. The child will be able to tell you whether hot or cold feels better in their particular case.
When children are in pain, they may lose their appetite and eat less, leading to weight loss. If the child is taking corticosteroids, their appetite can increase and they may gain weight. Monitor the child’s weight and try to provide them with healthy meals including fruits and vegetables, avoiding empty carbohydrates and junk food. Since children with JRA are at an increased risk of osteoporosis, they should be consuming foods rich in calcium and vitamin D like milk and low fat yogurt. Speak to their health care provider about their need for additional calcium and vitamin D; not only will it protect the child from osteoporosis, but can also help in healthy bone development as they continue to grow.
Be aware of their emotions
A child with JRA may be experiencing a lot of different emotions. Stress and anxiety caused by pain can benefit by introducing relaxation techniques to the child. Distractions may also help keep their mind off the pain. The child may also feel angry, sad, lonely, or isolated while suffering from this condition. Encourage other household members to be more understanding about these emotions and consider seeking support from a counsellor or psychotherapist. Despite what the child is going through, try to remember to treat the child as normally as possible, so they can continue to grow and mature like any other child.