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Currently, there is no cure for juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a disease characterized by inflammation of joints. This article outlines three lifestyle modifications that can help improve disease activity of patients with juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis refers to a condition in which children and adolescents suffer from inflammation of joints. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease. The good news is that most children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis outgrow the disease in adulthood. Therefore, they will eventually no longer need treatment. In the meantime, there are some lifestyle modifications that your child can do in order to prevent progression of the disease, ease symptoms and reduce damage to joints.

Physical activity

One of the most important things your child can do to help his or her condition is to do regular exercise. Exercise is vital in keeping bones and muscle strong. Exercise will also help preserve the ability of your child to use his or her joints to their full extent and maintain full range of motion. Another reason why physical activity is so beneficial is that it keeps your child at a healthy weight, which is very important for arthritis as having extra weight can add more pressure to the joints.

Doctors suggest that the best type of exercise for patients with arthritis is therapeutic exercise, which helps restore and preserve joint function and movement. Therapeutic exercise is conducted alongside experts such as physical and occupational therapists. These specialists can teach your child the right types of exercises that will be beneficial for their condition. For example, there are specific exercises that help preserve range-of-motion and can help reduce joint stiffness and prevent joints from becoming fixed in any sort of position.

Additionally, the therapists can help exercise your child’s body in a way that helps strengthen the muscles around bones and increase muscle strength. Stronger muscles can help support weak joints, which is important as weak joints are at a higher risk for developing osteoarthritis later in life, which an adult form of arthritis.

The exercises that are taught by physical and occupational therapists can be performed in the comfort of your own home, which is very beneficial as most exercises have to be conducted every day. If joints are inflamed or painful, application of a hot or cold pack can help ease the inflammation and prime the joints for exercise.

Another great way of getting exercise is to encourage your child to join sports and recreational activities so that your child can have fun as well as exercise. Some great low-impact sports include swimming and bike riding. However, it is important to keep in mind that you cannot replace therapeutic exercises with sports and those still need to be practiced daily.

Eating healthy

Studies have not shown a correlation between any sort of specific diet and symptom relief. However, it is well known that a healthy diet is very important for all children, and following an anti-inflammatory diet that is low in processed foods and saturated fats while simultaneously high in fruits, vegetables and foods with omega-3-fatty acids (such as salmon and olive oil) and antioxidants, can be very beneficial. Furthermore, as a proportion of children with arthritis are overweight or obese, eating a nutritious and healthy diet can help your child achieve and maintain a normal weight, which improves the health of their joints.

Additionally, some children with arthritis suffer from weight loss as the jaw can be one of the joints involved in the disease, making chewing painful. In that case, you should give your child small, nutritious meals more often so that your child can get the proper allotment of calories and not lose weight.

Finally, some patients report experiencing symptom relief if they eliminate some foods. Hence, it can be helpful to keep a food diary for your child and track your child’s food intake in relation with flare-ups of symptoms.

Adequate sleep

Similar to eating a nutritious diet, sleep is vital for the physical and mental well-being of children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. It is during sleep that your body starts to work hard at repairing itself. Unfortunately, children with arthritis often have difficulty sleeping due to pain and stiffness of joints.

In order to help your child get the proper amount of sleep, make sure to establish a sleep schedule. Therefore, your child should wake up at the same time and go to sleep at the same time every day. It is best to aim to for at least eight hours of sleep every night, though younger children often require more sleep. If your child is having trouble sleeping, taking a warm bath can help calm them down and put them to bed. It is essential to not skimp on proper sleep.

Conclusion

These lifestyle changes can really help improve the quality of life for your child and also manage the condition by reducing inflammation and flares. One of the best and easiest ways to measure your child’s disease activity is by measuring their level of morning joint stiffness. The rule is, the longer your stiffness lasts, the more active the disease is.

If your child follows these lifestyle modifications, which including conducting therapeutic and regular exercise, eating nutritious meals, keeping their weight low and getting enough sleep then you will find that the disease activity is much lower.

  • Long, Amy R., and Kelly A. Rouster-Stevens. "The role of exercise therapy in the management of juvenile idiopathic arthritis." Current opinion in rheumatology 22.2 (2010): 213-217.
  • Cleary, A. G., et al. "Nutritional impairment in juvenile idiopathic arthritis." Rheumatology 43.12 (2004): 1569-1573.
  • Butbul Aviel, Yonatan, et al. "Sleep and fatigue and the relationship to pain, disease activity and quality of life in juvenile idiopathic arthritis and juvenile dermatomyositis." Rheumatology 50.11 (2011): 2051-2060.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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