It felt like gravity was pulling me down. I was trying to walk up a hill, but my legs felt like jelly. Worse, my hips were screaming in pain. They were stabbing, grinding, and pinching.
My juvenile arthritis has been flaring badly, so this walk was far more challenging than usual. “Keep moving forward. Just keep going,” I thought.
That’s the advice I give anyone with JA: Keep moving, even during a flare. This isn’t new advice for people with arthritis. I used to roll my eyes as a teenager whenever someone said it to me. I’d mentally file it away with all the other practical information and lectures I received.
But every little bit helps. I know it can be tempting to let your child lie in bed when they’re not feeling well. Rest is important, of course. You may be struggling to encourage them when they’re tired or afraid of the pain. But being stationary can do a number on joints. Light activity can help prevent extra stiffness and pain, and it can improve fatigue.
Baby steps are important
Staying active doesn’t mean running several miles a day. It should be whatever is most comfortable for your child and doesn’t aggravate their symptoms too much. Most days, it might be soccer practice or playing on the playground. But during flares, it might mean taking a short walk around the block or just to the mailbox.
It also can mean extra trips to the physical therapist to stretch and exercise safely.
I remember always having to take small steps to make it through a flare, even though it hurt. Sometimes, it meant doing a few reps of jaw stretches several times throughout the day. Other times, it meant trying to do a slightly longer walk than the day before. And once, it meant using a hospital bed for support after weeks of being unable to walk correctly.
Something that always helped me keep moving was running errands or going shopping with my mum. We used to walk at malls all the time. Walking was good for my joints, as was getting to spend one-on-one time together. On terrible days, sometimes all I could handle was the walk to the car to ride along to the bank. It wasn’t much, but it helped at the time.
Do it together
I know that encouraging your child to get up and move is easier said than done, but it’s essential to try. My biggest piece of advice is to find things that your child can do with you or others. Doing things together is far more motivational than doing it alone, plus it can help distract from the pain. Going for walks or bike rides, swimming, doing yoga, or playing Just Dance on the Nintendo Switch are a few ideas of group activities that are easier during flares.
It’s not easy to force yourself to move a painful joint, even when you know it’ll help. It’s so much harder to do that as a child or even as a teen. Be mindful of how hard it is on your child, and try to acknowledge that when you see them trying. Celebrate their big achievements, even if it’s just gaining a little extra range of movement.
As an adult, I don’t know if I could get through these flares without my boyfriend saying, “You lasted way longer on the bike than yesterday. Great job!”
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.
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