Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month: Causes & Treatments

juvenile arthritis month guide

Juvenile arthritis (JA) affects an estimated 300,000 kids and teens in the United States. While there is no current cure for the affliction, there are ways to manage symptoms and treat it to improve the overall quality of life for children living with JA.

As we enter Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, we’re taking a look at what this disease is, its potential causes, and juvenile arthritis treatment options that may help. It’s vital to consult your child’s pediatrician before starting a new health regimen, but there are paths to take to make the disease more manageable.

What Is Juvenile Arthritis?

We tend to think of arthritis as part of common age-related diseases. The truth is that people of any age can develop arthritis. Juvenile arthritis is actually an umbrella term used to define inflammatory and rheumatic diseases developed in children under the age of 16. It is also sometimes referred to as pediatric rheumatic disease. 

There are many different types of juvenile arthritis that may develop. Most are autoimmune or autoinflammatory diseases. This means that instead of fighting off foreign germs, bacteria, or viruses, the immune system in these children gets a little turned around and begins attacking healthy tissue and cells instead.

Juvenile arthritis may result in joint inflammation, tenderness, swelling, or pain in some cases. Other cases may only affect the skin or organs while some cases of juvenile arthritis may also produce no symptoms whatsoever. 

Extra Info: May is the general Arthritis Awareness Month. Check out our guide to living with arthritis after this.

Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month

In response to the overwhelming commonness of this disease (affecting nearly 1 in 250 children in the United States), July has been officially recognized as Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to increase awareness about the disease itself as well as the challenges children living with juvenile arthritis face in their daily lives.

Symptoms of juvenile arthritis may result in more than just manifestations of physical pain. It also takes an emotional and social toll on children who may have to think about whether or not they’re able to play with others and participate in typical social interactions.

Types of Juvenile Arthritis

As previously noted, juvenile arthritis is not one disease, but an umbrella term to categorize an array of inflammatory and rheumatic diseases. They are combined into one term to allow for easier understanding and diagnosis. Consulting your child’s pediatrician is crucial for determining what type of juvenile arthritis your child may have developed and the best course of treatment.

The major types of juvenile arthritis are:

  • Oligoarthritis: This type is characterized by the involvement of fewer than five joints during the first six months of the disease. It primarily affects the large joints such as knees and ankles. Oligoarthritis can be further categorized as persistent (affecting four or fewer joints continuously) or extended (affecting more than four joints after the initial six months).
  • Polyarthritis: Polyarthritis involves the inflammation of five or more joints within the first six months of the disease. Small joints are commonly affected, such as those in the hands and feet. This type of juvenile arthritis may fall under juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), which is different than the more-common juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
  • Systemic arthritis: Also known as systemic-onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA), this subtype is denoted by juvenile arthritis accompanied by systemic symptoms such as high spiking fevers, rash, and internal organ inflammation. Systemic arthritis can affect various joints and can have a more severe disease course.
  • Enthesitis-related arthritis (ERA): This type of juvenile arthritis primarily affects the entheses, which are the places where tendons and ligaments attach to the bone. ERA commonly involves the lower extremities, especially the knees and feet. It may also affect the entheses of the spine.
  • Juvenile psoriatic arthritis: This type of arthritis occurs in children with psoriasis or a family history of psoriasis. Common symptoms are joint inflammation, skin psoriasis, and nail afflictions that look like dimpling or pitting.
  • Undifferentiated arthritis: This subtype is diagnosed when the characteristics of juvenile arthritis do not fit into any specific category. Over time, the disease may evolve into a defined subtype or continue to be classified as undifferentiated arthritis.

Each of these major types of juvenile arthritis has its own unique features, patterns of joint involvement, and symptoms. Proper diagnosis and understanding of the specific subtype are crucial in determining the most appropriate juvenile arthritis treatment approach.

Juvenile Arthritis Causes

As with many chronic illnesses and diseases, the exact juvenile arthritis causes remain a mystery. However, research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental, and infection factors may contribute to its development in children. 

The current understanding of the most likely juvenile arthritis causes are:

  • Genetics: Certain genetic factors may increase the risk of developing juvenile arthritis. A family history of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may result in the predisposition of a child to develop juvenile arthritis.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain environmental triggers, such as cigarette smoke, pollution, or toxins, may contribute to the development or worsening of juvenile arthritis in predisposed children.
  • Infection: In some cases, infections caused by certain bacteria or viruses may trigger an immune response that could lead to juvenile arthritis. Examples include streptococcal infections, Lyme disease, and viral infections like parvovirus and hepatitis.

There is no definite list of juvenile arthritis causes, but medical experts continue to research this disease to understand it better. Part of the mission of Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month is to look at potential causes and see how that could influence the course of individual juvenile arthritis treatment.

Treatment of Juvenile Arthritis

While the exact causes of JA may be unknown at this moment, there are a wide array of methods in use for juvenile arthritis treatment. Common methods of treatment for juvenile arthritis are aimed at alleviating pain, reducing inflammation, preventing further joint damage, and improving the overall quality of life of the child.

A few popular methods for the treatment of juvenile arthritis include:

  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used to reduce pain and inflammation associated with juvenile arthritis. In more severe cases, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (referred to as DMARDs) may be prescribed to target the underlying autoimmune issue and prevent further joint damage.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy often plays a crucial role in the management and treatment of juvenile arthritis. It focuses on improving joint mobility, strengthening muscles, and enhancing overall functionality in children living with the disease. Physical therapists may use various techniques and exercises to help reduce pain, increase flexibility, and improve joint function.
  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy helps children with juvenile arthritis develop skills and strategies to perform daily activities more independently. Medical professionals may recommend adaptive tools, splints, or other assistive devices to help manage joint pain, reduce strain, and improve joint function during activities such as dressing, grooming, or school-related activities.
  • Lifestyle adjustments: Encouraging a healthy lifestyle is important for managing and treating juvenile arthritis. Staying active with regular exercise can help improve joint mobility, strengthen muscles, and reduce stiffness. Children with JA should consider low-impact activities like swimming. Additionally, a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support overall health. Children with JA should try to maintain a healthy weight in order to reduce excess stress on the joints.
  • Pain management techniques: Various pain management techniques can be used to alleviate discomfort associated with juvenile arthritis. These may include heat or cold therapy, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness exercises. Some families have opted for heated zero gravity chairs for children with juvenile arthritis to apply heat therapy while improving joint health with better circulation. Children may also learn different calming breathing exercises to deepen relaxation.
  • Complementary therapies: Some children with JA may find benefit from complementary therapies as part of their overall juvenile arthritis treatment plan. While not a substitute for medical treatment or guidance, may provide additional support and relief. A popular tool for juvenile arthritis treatment is a zero gravity chair. Zero gravity chair benefits for all ages make them safe for children to use and provide an array of potential health improvements that may help with JA. The zero gravity position distributed weight evenly along the body, reducing excess pressure on the joints. It may help keep joints healthy, reduce pain from JA, and assist in bodily recovery.

While zero gravity chairs can provide temporary relief and promote joint health, it is important to note that they should be used in tandem with the medical treatment plan prescribed by your child’s pediatrician.

This year, take time during Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month to recognize the potential causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with JA. For children, informed adults make a world of difference. Consult your child’s doctor to determine what type of juvenile arthritis they may be developing. Then you can follow the prescribed treatment plan along with approved complementary therapies such as heat application or choosing a zero gravity chair for joint health. 

Learn More: Check out our guide to natural arthritis treatment at home and learn more ways to help your child with JA.