Get Pain Relief From Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on June 02, 2024
4 min read

Although pain is a big part of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), it doesn't have to be a fact of life for your child. Medicine, physical therapy, and home treatments are some of the ways to get relief.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help with swelling and pain from JIA, which used to be called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. You can buy many of them over the counter, like ibuprofen and naproxen.

Kids with JIA usually need higher doses that you can only get with a prescription. It may take a few tries to find the NSAID that works best. If your child's arthritis is mild, these medicines may be all they need.

It's possible your child may need other painkillers, too. Acetaminophen, corticosteroids, and in some cases, opioid medications, can help.

Both are important ways to cut pain. Physical therapy keeps your child's joints flexible and builds muscle strength.

Occupational therapy helps your youngster learn ways to do everyday things, like how to carry a bag so it doesn't put too much stress on their joints.

These are pieces of hard material, usually wrapped in fabric, that your child fastens around their joint. A splint keeps their joint in the right position so it won't hurt.

Your doctor may suggest your child use one on their knees, wrists, and fingers. Some types, called resting splints, are designed for sleep. Others, called working splints, are helpful during the day when your kid is active.

JIA can cause a lot of emotional stress, which can make pain worse. A therapist, such as a psychologist or social worker, can help. They talk to your child about how they feel and give them practical tips, like how to talk to a friend about their arthritis.

One method is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps your child recognize how their thoughts affect how they feel, and then show them ways they can change their thinking.

It's rare that kids with JIA will need an operation. But when other treatments haven't worked and the joint damage is severe, surgery can offer pain relief.

Your doctor might suggest you consider joint replacement surgery for your child. It's most often done on the hips and knees, but surgeons can also replace shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints.

Kids with JIA often wake up with sore, stiff joints. If this happens to your child, heat may help. Try a warm shower, bath, heating pad, or hot pack.

On the other hand, your child may say that cold works better on their achy joints. They could use a cold pack or a bag of frozen peas.

This doesn't just mean lying on the couch with an iPad. It's about learning strategies that will help your child relax on a deeper level and relieve tension.

There are lots of things to try, such as:

Relaxation techniques take some practice, but they can be an important tool to fight pain. They can also help your child feel more in control of their life.

If you focus on pain, it bothers you more. So when your child's joints ache, get them involved with something that takes their mind off their pain.

Try a new board game, a book, a craft project, video games, or another distracting activity.

Also, don't check in about their pain too often. You might think you're being helpful, but it could make them think about it more.

Exercise can release chemicals in the brain that help ease pain. And in the long run, it will keep your child's joints flexible and their muscles strong.

Talk to your child's doctor about the best activities to try. Swimming is often a good choice, since it's easy on the joints.

JIA is a complex disease. In the long term, your child may need medications that will slow down or stop the joint damage. These include DMARDs, like methotrexate (Trexall), and biologics, like adalimumab (Humira) and etanercept (Enbrel). While they may not treat JIA pain directly, these drugs can help prevent it.

But you need to focus on the short term, too. If your child is in pain, don't settle. Work with their doctor. It may take some time, but you can find a treatment -- or a combination -- that will help your child feel better.