Childhood growth and development can come with all sorts of joint pains. Pain and swelling in the joints is common, but this begs the question: when should I be concerned about my child’s joint pain? 

What causes joint pain and swelling in kids?

It can happen for many reasons, like:

•    Injuries from sports or other activity: Falls, getting knocked down or getting hit are all a part of play. Seek medical attention right away if your child is injured. 
•    Infections: Sometimes, germs can make their way to joints and cause infections. That’s why it’s so important to practice hand hygiene and proper wound care.
•    Being sick with certain viruses: The flu, COVID-19, strep throat and even the common cold can make us all “achy.” 
•    Arthritis: A condition that makes joints painful and stiff. In kids, it can be caused by many different factors. 

>Related: The Golden Rules of Sports Injury Prevention 

Could my child’s joint pain be arthritis?

Arthritis in kids usually isn’t the first explanation for joint pain and swelling, but it can happen. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is actually a group of disorders that can cause arthritis. There are several types of JIA or JRA, each diagnosed by how many joints are affected, and other symptoms your child may have—like rashes, inflammatory bowel disease, and other systemic (full-body) issues. Here’s a great resource that breaks down all the types of arthritis in children.

If you think your child might have arthritis, or aren’t sure, your best bet is a referral to a pediatric rheumatologist. 

>>>Attention, parents! Connecticut Children’s offers pediatric rheumatology services in several locations across Connecticut, including Westport! 

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There are many treatments options today that allow kids [with arthritis] to pursue all their hopes and dreams, often without limitation. 

Jessica Fennell, MD,
Pediatric Rheumatologist, Connecticut Children's

When should I worry about my child’s joint pain and swelling?

If your child complains about joint pain or swelling, look out for:

  • Severe pain and swelling. If your child can’t participate in their usual activities, then a doctor’s visit is in order.
  • Worsening pain or swelling—or no improvement—after a few days of care at home.
  • Other symptoms with the joint pain—like fever, rash or chills. 

Arthritis in kids doesn’t go away, but a fun and fulfilling life is possible.

There are many treatments options today that allow kids to pursue all their hopes and dreams, often without limitation. The goal is always to get children back to their favorite activities, whether it is dancing, running down a sports field, or performing on stage.

As there are many treatments and all kids respond differently, it can sometimes take some time to find the best treatment for each child, but most do very well. Here are some things to keep in mind as treatment starts:

  • Your doctor will likely prescribe a stronger version of Motrin (a type of NSAID), such as Naproxen, Mobic, or Relafen. 
    • These medications will help both with discomfort and swelling, but often are not enough to control symptoms of arthritis alone. 
  • Additional treatments can include medications called disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
    • They may include methotrexate, tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (such as Humira, Enbrel, and Remicade), and other medications.
    • Some of these medications can be given as a pill, liquid, injection, or infusion through an intravenous (IV) needle.
  • Some of these medications take a minimum of 3 months for the drug to fully work and help improve symptoms, but some kids start to feel better in a few weeks.
  • Sometimes, if just one or two joints have arthritis, steroid injections directly into the joint will be recommended, and these can provide prolonged relief, months to years even, for some patients.

In many cases, kids will do so well that the symptoms of arthritis disappear, and they can focus on being a kid!


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