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Exercise is a very important component of treatment for juvenile idiopathic arthritis. This article outlines six different ways that your child can stay active and exercise.

One of the most well-known benefits for patients with all types of arthritis, including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, is exercise. It is very important to encourage your child to perform exercise regularly as it has several benefits including helping maintain range-of-motion of joints, reducing inflammation in affected joints, strengthening muscles around the joint and preventing osteoarthritis in the future.

Additionally, exercising can help your child either achieve or maintain a weight in the normal BMI range, which is beneficial as extra weight adds more pressure on to already inflamed joints, causing them to worsen over time.

Often, children can be resistant to participating in physical activities and performing exercise. This is a problem that is especially prominent in this era of video games, computers and television. Hence, it can be hard to encourage your child to get moving and exercise. These are the six ways your child can stay active if they have juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

1. Therapeutic exercise

This refers to exercises taught by physical and occupational therapists, and are usually composed of individualized exercise plans that are designed to exercise your child’s joints. The different types of therapeutic exercises your child’s physical and occupational therapist can help teach them include:

  • Range of motion exercises. This type of exercise helps improve the range of motion, but it also reduces joint stiffness and improves function. The types of exercises your child will be taught tend to be gentle and can be done safely. These exercises should be conducted daily and as regularly as possible.
  • Stretching. Stretching can help reduce stiffness and keep joints flexible. By doing these exercises every day, other activities become a lot easier. It is important to make sure your child warms up before stretching.
  • Strengthening exercises. The physical therapist can also teach your child strengthening exercises that can help improve your child’s muscle strength, particularly around muscles of affected joints. There are several different types of strengthening exercises and your child’s physical therapist can help determine which type of exercise would be right for your child.

2. Family activities 

One of the best ways to encourage your child to stay active is by exercising as a family. With the whole family participating, exercising is not going to feel like a chore or a task but instead, a fun activity. Some examples of activities you can do together with your child are taking a walk together after dinner, doing bike rides, or swimming on the weekend. Doing activities together is a motivator for your child and can help them exercise without even realizing.

3. Swimming

One of the best forms of exercise for children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis is swimming. Exercising in the water put less pressure and is less stressful for joints.

Hydrotherapy, which involves exercising in a warm pool of water under the supervision of a physical therapist, may also be prescribed. Some of the best ways to incorporate swimming in your child’s daily routine is bringing them to a local pool where they can swim laps, splash around or take part in swimming classes. If your child is a teenager, then you can take them to a water aerobics class.

4. Yoga

This type of exercise helps improve joint flexibility, which is often affected in patients with arthritis. While yoga maybe not suitable for small children, teenagers with juvenile idiopathic arthritis can truly benefit from yoga. Yoga helps teach how to relax and stretch muscles, which is a good skill to learn for anyone with arthritis. However, it is important to make sure that you consult your child’s doctor before you put them into a yoga class and make sure to start them in a beginner class. If possible, find an instructor that has already had arthritis patients in the class before or else make sure the instructor knows that your child has arthritis.

5. Team and recreational sports 

Performing exercises by yourself can be lonely, and therefore, one of the best ways to encourage your child to exercise more is to put them into a team or recreational sport. Not only is it fun for the kids, but it also sneaks in exercise into their daily or weekly regimen. As long as your child’s disease is stable, you have consulted with the doctor and have informed the coach of your child’s condition, there is no reason your child should not participate in team sports.

However, it is important to take some extra precautions, such as the use of knee braces or avoiding playing certain positions, so that your child is protected. It is probably best to consult with your doctor regarding what types of sports will be best suited for your child’s condition.

6. Low-intensity aerobic training

Low-intensity aerobic training, such as qigong (similar to tai chi). Researchers have found that children that did a regimen of qigong for 12-weeks improved significantly with regards to their balance and overall physical capabilities, as well as a clinical improvement in physical function.

Some of the exercises to avoid include weight-bearing activities, such as jump rope or skipping. However, depending on the child’s condition, these may not be harmful to them. Always consult your child’s doctor before embarking on a new exercise regimen.

  • 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.
  • Takken, T., et al. "Exercise therapy in juvenile idiopathic arthritis: a Cochrane Review." Eur J Phys Rehabil Med 44.3 (2008): 287-97.
  • Takken, Tim, et al. "Aquatic fitness training for children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis." Rheumatology 42.11 (2003): 1408-1414.
  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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