Exercise

Physical activity for JIA Children

Physical activity is essential for good health, physically and emotionally, and even more so for children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

It assists to:

  • Relieve stiffness, improve joint mobility and range of movement

  • Maintain/enhance muscle and bone strength

  • Improve physical function and independence

  • Helping maintain a healthy weight

  • Improving mood, sleeping and energy

  • Building confidence

Children with arthritis need different kinds of exercise to improve their health and strength. The best activities will vary depending on the child’s age, how severe or well-controlled their arthritis is and what they like to do. Exercise should include a mix of:

  • Stretching and flexibility

  • Strengthening

  • Aerobic and conditioning

  • Balance

It is important that your child remains as active as possible, every day. This may mean finding physical activities or sports that they enjoy but that do not cause too much discomfort.  When joints are stiff, painful or inflamed, physical activity can be difficult, and some activities may be inadvisable. Check with the child’s Paediatric Rheumatologist on the sport best suited for your child.

Generally, non-contact sports will be best for children with JIA to reduce the risk of joint injury or damage. Low impact activities such as cycling, yoga and swimming are ideal as they do not place too much stress or strain on joints.

In addition, your child should have an individually tailored exercise program that they do every day. Your child’s physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can advise you on suitable exercises.

Play

For children, play is a vital part of physical, cognitive and social development.  Play takes them away from their day-to-day for a while and provides an opportunity to be an astronaut or superhero even if for just a while!

If a child with JIA is in pain, having a flare of symptoms, or has physical limitations, you may need to invite a few children into their play circle rather than expect them to join the neighbourhood rough and tumble.

If you are concerned about your child’s emotional health or feel that they need assistance with ‘just being a kid’ ask your child’s treating team for advice about seeing a play therapist or child psychologist.

Family activities

Help encourage your child by exercising as a family. Family walks after dinner or bike rides on the weekend can be a great way to sneak in some fun exercise. Someone doing the activities with you is a motivator, and it makes it so much more fun and engaging

Team sports

Many children love sports and want the experience of playing on a team. While you may not think it’s such a good idea, children with JIA can benefit from sports. As long as the Rheumatologist, physical therapist, and child’s coach are on board, there is no need to keep them off the playing field. It might take some extra precautions, such as knee braces or only playing certain positions. There also may be times your child needs to unexpectedly sit out of a game due to increased arthritis activity. But as long as you find a team with an understanding coach, certain sports shouldn’t be an issue.

Fortunately, there are many forms of exercise that are both safe and beneficial for children with arthritis, even when arthritis is flaring.

Here are some sport suggestions

Aquatic exercise

If you have access to a pool, aquatic exercise may be one of the best things your child can do for his joints. The water’s buoyancy supports the weight of the body, reducing stress on weight-bearing joints. Water’s resistance helps build strong muscles. Exercising in a heated pool adds the benefit of soothing relief, which can make exercise easier. It can also help kids maintain activity even when joints are flaring.

Swimming

Like other forms of aquatic exercise, swimming is generally an excellent form of exercise for children and adolescents with arthritis. Swimming improves cardiovascular health, muscle strength and range of motion and is safe for most joints. 

Cycling

Cycling as a low-impact exercise that improves cardiovascular fitness as well as muscle strength and balance. To minimize the impact on the joints, have your child ride on paved paths rather than rough terrains – and always be sure they wear a helmet. Stationary cycling is also a safe choice and appropriate for any kind of weather. 

Yoga

Although research on yoga in children with arthritis is lacking, yoga’s benefits for adults with arthritis – reducing pain over time, improving flexibility, relieving stress – are well documented. Children with chronic pain syndromes find that yoga was among the most popular complementary therapies for pain. 

If your child wants to try yoga, use a padded mat to cushion the joints. Be sure to work with an instructor who has been trained to teach people with arthritis to modify certain poses and avoid stress on joints.

Tai chi

With its slow graceful movement, tai chi has been shown to improve balance, reduce stress and relieve arthritis pain while providing a low-intensity cardiovascular workout. Research shows that in children with JIA, a tai chi-like martial art can improve physical function.  

Finding the Right Fit in exercise

If arthritis is well controlled, few if any forms of exercise are completely off limits. However, the involvement of certain joints may make some activities more difficult or less advisable than others. For example, soccer is probably not the best sport for children with ankle or knee involvement. Likewise, children with shoulder involvement may want to choose a sport other than tennis.

An older child will likely know what activities are available and gravitate toward one that suits his interests and skills. For younger children, introducing them to four or five appropriate activities or sports and letting them make the choice.

The main goal is to get children active.

Exercise is just as important as any other therapeutic arm of treatment. It improves quality of life.

Helping Children(5-17 years old) be more active