While we often associate joint pain with older adults, a surprising fact is that children also frequently experience painful joints. "It's more common than you would think," says pediatric rheumatologist, Dr. Marla Guzman of Summit Health.
Below, Dr. Guzman shares several factors that could be contributing to your child's joint pain and what to do about it.
What is causing my child's joint pain?
"It's usually broken down into categories," notes Dr. Guzman. Knowing the reason is the first step in addressing the issue. Causes could include (but are not limited to):
- Hypermobility: This is one of the most common problems Dr. Guzman encounters with children. "Hypermobility is when the joints are very loose and flexible," she says. "The kids don't have proper stability of their joints, and that causes pain."
- Overuse and injury: You know how you feel sore the day after a tough workout? The same thing can happen for a child when they're overusing their joints. Intense jumping and playing sports, as well as falls and mishaps, may lead to joint pain.
- Infection: Viral or bacterial infections can spread germs through the bloodstream to the joints, causing pain and/or swelling.
- Amplified pain syndrome: Similar to fibromyalgia in adults, amplified pain syndrome is when children experience pain more intensely than others for reasons that are not fully understood.
- Rheumatological issues: Because of her specialty, Dr. Guzman sees a variety of rheumatological reasons for joint pain. "Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is essentially chronic arthritis in children, is an inflammatory condition," she says. Two other common problems she encounters are childhood-onset lupus and juvenile dermatomyositis (inflammation of the muscles and skin).
How can I help my child's joint pain?
No parent wants to see their child in pain. The first step is taking them to their pediatrician or urgent care center for an evaluation, depending on the severity of the symptoms. If need be, the doctor will refer you to a specialist. The specific diagnosis determines the proper treatments, which may include:
- Physical therapy: Building up muscle strength is important, especially for those dealing with hypermobility, overuse, or injury, notes Dr. Guzman. "But physical therapy is often very helpful for any sort of joint pain," she adds.
- Encourage cautious play: If you discover that your child's pain is due to injury, remind them that playing carefully is important. Stretching before and after activity is always recommended.
- Antibiotics: If the doctor determines there is a bacterial infection, they'll prescribe the proper medication to treat it. Depending on the type of infection, this sometimes may need to be done in the hospital.
- Anti-inflammatories: Ibuprofen and naproxen are over-the-counter drugs that aid inflammation in the joints. If those don't help, speak to your specialist about safe prescription drugs to relieve your child's pain.
Interested in learning more about joint pain in children?
On January 12, 2021, Dr. Guzman presented a virtual lecture via Zoom.