Don’t ignore that achy knee

Whether it’s a finger, a bad knee, a hip or a shoulder, it’s true that everybody hurts sometimes. This is especially true for kids, since they tend to get hurt more frequently while they’re out playing. But if those pains are consistent, it could be more than just a typical ache.

“For both adults and kids, it’s normal to complain of occasional joint pain,” explained Geisinger rheumatologist Dr. Chad Walker. “However, if joint pain is a constant obstacle that doesn’t go away, it could be arthritis.”

Too young for arthritis?
When most people think of arthritis, they think of older people. While it’s true that older people are at a higher risk for arthritis, children can get it, too, and studies show that more children may have arthritis than previously thought.

A 2015 study found that of approximately 91 million people that had arthritis, only one-third of the sufferers were aged 18 to 64. This took into account not just people with diagnoses from doctors, but also people who reported joint pain for three months or more.

For most cases, obesity and demanding exercise routines are some of the main causes, but because arthritis isn’t thought of as common in young people, doctors may overlook it because they don’t expect to see it.

“Arthritis is a general name for any swelling and inflammation causing pain in the joints,” said Dr. Walker. “There are several types of juvenile arthritis that could also affect the skin, eyes, muscles and GI tract.”

Here are some examples:

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most common form of arthritis in children, and in the U.S. alone, it affects approximately 300,000 children. Kids are normally diagnosed with JIA before age 16. It causes swelling in the joints and lasts longer than six weeks. Some types of JIA can also cause severe rashes.

“JIA can have serious effects such as bone erosion, joint misalignment and changes in growth patterns,” said Dr. Walker. “One way to avoid complications from JIA is to avoid strenuous exercise and maintain a healthy weight.”

Juvenile dermatomyositis 
Juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM) is a type of inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness and various characteristic rashes. It affects between 3,000 and 5,000 children in the U.S., typically between 5 and 10 years old.

Researchers are unsure of the cause of JDM, but remission is possible with treatment.

Juvenile lupus
Juvenile lupus is an autoimmune disorder that causes swelling anywhere on the body, but primarily on the skin. However, lupus can cause the joints to swell as well, leading to a similar symptoms seen in rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s estimated that there are between 5,000 and 10,000 cases of juvenile lupus in the U.S., and young girls are more at risk than young boys.

While lupus can’t be cured, biologic drugs are helping patients cope with lupus symptoms.

Juvenile scleroderma
Juvenile scleroderma is a condition that causes the skin to harden. It can either be localized, meaning it affects only the skin, muscles and bones, or it can be systemic, meaning it can cause severe damage throughout the entire body, including internal organs.

Juvenile scleroderma is a rare condition that tends to affect girls more commonly than boys. Because of its rarity, it’s unknown exactly how many children have it.

Kawasaki disease
Kawasaki disease is a rare condition that tends to affect children of Asian descent. It causes an inflammation of the coronary arteries and can cause high fever, swelling and joint pain.

Kawasaki disease is very serious and requires hospitalization and treatment to avoid complications.

Mixed connective tissue disease
Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) is a condition that has features of multiple diseases like lupus, scleroderma and polymyositis, a condition that causes muscle weakness. MCTD is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the body.

While no one is sure what causes MCTD, genetic factors and environmental chemicals likely play a role in causing it.

Fibromyalgia
Most commonly affecting girls, fibromyalgia is a disease that causes chronic pain. This pain can manifest as stiffness, aching, fatigue and interrupted sleep. Fibromyalgia is normally diagnosed after puberty.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but treatments can help children manage their symptoms.  

To schedule an appointment with a Geisinger rheumatologist, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

Boy looking at his wrist.