J.I.A. or juvenile idiopathic arthritis is just one of the manifestations of arthritis in children. Just like adults children get pain, stiffness in the morning that can last for some hours, restricted movement of their joints, swelling of their hands and feet. In other words serious incapacity. Unlike the adult form where we see a pattern of rheumatoid arthritis starting to affect women mainly around the age of 40, in children it can happen anytime.
Awareness is the key for both parents and health care professionals. I have been seeing children with local areas of tenderness or pain under the heels, or at the back of them. Pain along the soles of the feet. Ankles that are painful all the time either when moving or resting. Showing reluctance to run around because of the pain. Complaining of swollen and painful toes. Not wanting to wear their school shoes because they hurt. There are many other signs and symptoms that usually the doctor will identify.
Some of my patients are so badly affected by arthritis that they are only able to wear soft slippers to school. Fortunately a donor has offered to provide appropriate soft but firm footwear for them. Some children are completely pain free thanks to the medication that has been prescribed, but they have structural foot problems and so need some form of support – usually with an orthotic – but often just a decent shoe and some advice is enough.
The secret of success in managing these children is teamwork, and I am lucky to be part of the paediatric rheumatology team at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. The specialist doctors are able to prescribe the appropriate medication which frequently brings relief to the painful joints and removes symptoms.
Don’t ignore the child with a painful foot. It probably isn’t arthritis, but it might be.