Many people mistakenly believe that joint pain is a disease of older people, but the statistics paint a very different picture. About 3 in 1000 Canadian children have joint pain making it more common than most other chronic childhood illnesses.
Kids’ joint pain includes several forms whose development can be very variable, hence the importance of consulting a doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis. In certain cases, after around ten years (on average) marked by periods of flare-ups and remissions, the disease subsides and becomes inactive.
However, in approximately 50 to 70% of cases, symptoms of the disease will persist into adulthood.
What Is Kid’s Joint Pain?
It is a chronic disease that appears during childhood. It is not contagious and the cause is not known. It is part of the category of autoimmune diseases, which means that the immune system attacks healthy tissues by causing inflammation.
In addition to being generally painful, chronic inflammation of the joints can lead to growth abnormalities as well as permanent damage (e.g. persistent muscle contractions when the limb is bent and joint deformities).
Sometimes joint pain in kids appears after an event that activates the immune system (e.g. infection, injury). Instead of causing inflammation only to fight infection or injury the child’s immune system begins to cause inflammation continuously.
Symptoms of joint pain in kids
Your child has the following symptoms for at least 6 weeks for no apparent reason (e.g. without having been injured or having made an exceptional effort):
- Stiffness in one or more joints upon waking or after a nap
- Slight limp or discomfort in the movements of certain joints (legs, arms, hands, neck, jaw, etc.)
- Swelling of one or more joints
- Hot joints
- The presence of firm nodules under the skin that do not cause pain and can move
- Your child may also have a fever for at least 2 weeks and have salmon-colored patches on the skin.
What causes joint pain in kids?
The causes of joint pain in kids remain unknown. It is neither caused by any illness or infection that one of the parents contracted, nor by an event that occurred during gestation, nor by diet.
There is also no evidence that the disease can be reduced by any particular diet. Additionally, although some people find that their symptoms are better controlled in a warm dry climate, there is no scientific evidence linking the disease to a specific climate.
That said, joint pain can occur after an event that triggers an immune system response, such as an infection or injury. The immune system normally fights these infections or injuries by causing inflammation.
With joint pain, the immune system appears to become overactive and causes ongoing inflammation. This persistent inflammation affects the joints and sometimes the skin and internal organs.
Most types of joint pain in kids are not hereditary, so it is extremely unlikely that your child will pass it on to their offspring.
What Treatment for Joint Pain?
See the doctor if your child has these symptoms. A diagnosis at the onset of the disease makes it possible to determine the form of joint pain affecting the child and to take the necessary measures to prevent complications, including inflammation of the eyes, growth disorders, or osteoporosis. The doctor may refer you to a pediatric rheumatologist.
Since this type of pain manifests itself differently for each person, the treatment offered varies depending on the child and the severity of the symptoms.
The doctor may prescribe medications to relieve pain such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Other medications may be used to decrease inflammation and slow the progression of the disease.
In the majority of cases, the doctor will refer you to an occupational therapist or physiotherapist. One or other of these professionals will establish an exercise plan to ensure the harmonious growth and adequate muscular development of your child, to maintain the mobility of his or her joints as well as to avoid damage or permanent deformation.
Your child may need to wear orthotics to support and rest their joints(day or night). Orthotics also help prevent the child from developing muscle contraction problems. Surgery may be necessary but this is rare.
Care and Practical Advice For Joint Pain
Your child must continue to move regularly to ensure the normal growth of his body and to preserve the mobility and flexibility of his joints. Exercise is part of the treatment for joint pain in kids.
Although your child may need rest and may need to learn to be gentle on their joints at times, they should be encouraged to move as normally as possible. Activities in the swimming pool, ideally heated, are also recommended.
Make sure your child eats a healthy and balanced diet. if he stops moving due to joint pain, he could gain weight, This would only increase the stress his joints are under. Additionally, certain medications can cause weight gain.
If your child takes cortisone or corticosteroids, make sure he or she has a diet rich enough in calcium and vitamin D to ensure normal bone growth and also to avoid loss of bone density.
Application of heat
A hot bath or the application of heat 3 or 4 times a day to the joints can help relieve pain, particularly joint stiffness when awake
Short 15-minute massages given by parents could reduce pain and increase the well-being of children suffering from joint pain. Since massage therapy relaxes the muscles and allows better oxygenation of the tissues.
Although this type of joint pain has mild joint inflammation, up to 20% of children with it will develop uveitis (inflammation of the eye). It is therefore essential to have your child’s eyes examined three or four times a year during the first years after diagnosis.
The blood test for antinuclear is almost always positive in children who develop ocular inflammation associated with joint pain. This blood test therefore helps identify children who need frequent eye exams.
Once the diagnosis of joint pain in a child is confirmed, your child will need routine checkups (such as blood tests, X-rays, and eye exams) from time to time to monitor the progress of the disease and assess its effects. Your child’s doctor will tell you how often these tests should be done.
- Heathcote, L. C., et al. (2017). Child attention to pain and pain tolerance are dependent upon anxiety and attention control: An eye-tracking study [Abstract].
- U.S. National Library of Medicine/Genetics Home Reference. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/juvenile-idiopathic-arthritis). Accessed 10/15/2018
- Lites TD, Foster AL, Boring MA, Fallon EA, Odom EL, Seth P. Arthritis Among Children and Adolescents Aged <18 Years — United States, 2017–2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:788–792. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7229a3