Arthritis in children

Just like adults, children can get arthritis causing the same pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of motion in the joints. The most common type of juvenile arthritis is idiopathic, meaning the cause is not known.

Juvenile arthritis is usually an autoimmune disorder meaning the immune system attacks some of the body’s healthy cells and tissues. It affects children of all ages and ethnicities. Almost 300,000 American children under the age of 18 have arthritis or other rheumatic conditions.

Signs and symptoms

Does your child wake up in the morning with a limp due to knee pain? Other signs include:

  • Joint swelling, pain, and stiffness that doesn’t go away
  • Excessive clumsiness
  • High fever and skin rash
  • Swelling in lymph nodes in the neck and other areas of the body

Most children with arthritis do have times of remission where symptoms will get better or go away for a period of time, but there are other times when they get worse and flare up. Arthritis in children can also cause eye inflammation and growth problems—causing bones and joints to grow unevenly.

If you think your child has juvenile arthritis, seek medical attention from your pediatrician. Your doctor will ask about symptoms and family history, as well as conduct a physical exam and lab tests, and they will also take some x-rays.


If your child is diagnosed with juvenile arthritis a team of doctors may be involved to provide your child with the best treatment and care. In addition to a pediatric rheumatologist, you may seek care from a physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, eye doctor, dentist, bone surgeon, dietician, pharmacist, social worker, rheumatology nurse and the school nurse.

These medical professionals will try to make sure your child can have a good quality of life and stay involved in social activities. Most children with arthritis will need both medications as well as therapies to reduce swelling and maintain joint movement.

Working with these professionals is the best way to help your child (and you) both physically and emotionally. As a parent, it’s important to learn all that you can about your child’s condition and treatment. Encourage your child to exercise and keep up with physical therapy. And, be sure to work with your child’s school so they understand the limitations that your child may have — all the while trying to treat your child as normal as possible.

Though pain sometimes does limit what children with juvenile arthritis can do, exercise is key to reducing their symptoms and maintaining function and range of motion in joints. Working with a physical therapist and occupational therapist to create exercises that you can do outside of their regular appointment time will help control symptoms. Most children can take part in physical activities and certain sports when symptoms are under control. Swimming is a good activity because it works so many joints and muscles without putting weight on the joints. If the disease does have a flare up, your child’s doctor may advise your child to limit certain activities. Once the flare is over, your child can return to his or her normal activities.

Researchers are looking for possible causes by studying genetic and environmental factors. They are also trying to improve current treatments and find new medicines that will work better with fewer side effects.