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Sports Medicine
Do kids get arthritis?
February 24, 2017 | by Dr. Tommy Gerschman

While arthritis is often perceived as a condition of the elderly, the reality is it can strike anyone at any time, regardless of age, physical condition or ethnicity.

It is estimated that 24,000 Canadian children aged 18 and under live with a form of arthritis. That is approximately three in every 1,000 kids—about as common as children with diabetes.

In-line with Arthritis Society of Canada’s Childhood Arthritis Month, we’ve answered some of your questions, including one of the most important ones for us: Can children with arthritis be athletes?

WHAT EXACTLY IS ARTHRITIS?

Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, can occur for a number of reasons. The most common arthritis, often seen later in life is called osteoarthritis and is caused when the cartilage and functioning of the joint has deteriorated over time, or due to an earlier injury.

The other main type of arthritis is an autoimmune process, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and can cause pain, swelling, dysfunction and joint damage. This latter type of arthritis, the autoimmune type, is most commonly known as Rheumatoid Arthritis in adults but occurs in children too.

In children, it is known as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). It is a chronic disease, most often looked after by a specialist doctor known as a Pediatric Rheumatologist. Children of any age can be affected, as young as a toddler and all the way up to teenagers, though it occurs more frequently in girls. Although any joint in the body can be affected, the knees are most common.

HOW IS ARTHRITIS IN CHILDREN TREATED?

The medications available today have revolutionized the treatment of arthritis in children over the past 30 years so that we are able to put the disease in remission and preserve joint function.

The treatment of arthritis in children usually consists of medications and physiotherapy.

Most children start a medication called naproxen, which is similar to ibuprofen, helps with some pain relief and also acts as an anti-inflammatory. However, often stronger medications are needed to help control the immune system to stop it from attacking the joints.

Some of the newer medications that can be used are called “biologics”. These medications have been around for about the past 15-20 years and are able to target more specifically the parts of the immune system which we know are overactive in JIA. Sometimes, we are also able to inject corticosteroids (which are powerful immunosuppressants) directly into the joint with arthritis.

Physiotherapy can also play an important role for any joints which may have become weakened or stiff.

CAN CHILDREN WITH ARTHRITIS BE ATHLETES?

Absolutely! Children with arthritis are athletes in any number of sports. We encourage children with arthritis, once they have been treated, to keep active and to exercise. From junior drafted hockey players to top-level ballerinas to national-level swimmers — children with arthritis are not only playing sports but also competing (and winning) at the highest levels.

PEDIATRIC RHEUMATOLOGY AT FORTIUS

Three decades ago the question was often “how do we keep this child out of a wheelchair?”. The question today is more commonly “how can we help this child go on to win a gold medal?”. At Fortius Sport & Health we want to help athletes who are motivated to optimize their performance for life—including children with a chronic disease such as arthritis (JIA).

As a Pediatric Rheumatologist, I work with children to get them back in the game by getting their joints moving and helping to get them feel better.

With a sports medicine approach, we have been able to help young athletes with JIA to tackle their concerns with an understanding of the unique issues that athletes experience. Then, the Fortius Sport & Health environment allows for an integrated and collaborative approach between practitioners in discussing the management of issues these athletes face. This helps determine what components are due to inflammation and arthritis and which are due to sport and exercise.

If your child has been diagnosed with, or if you are concerned about arthritis, ask your family doctor if Pediatric Rheumatology at Fortius Sport & Health could be a right fit for you. Visit our website to learn more about Sport Medicine at Fortius.