Depending upon the joint involved, pain can reroute your child’s body mechanics in a variety of ways. A child with neck pain may be unable to look up, while another child with elbow or wrist pain may position joints differently, making it harder or even impossible – over time – to fully straighten them.
The solutions may be just as varied and include splints, therapeutic exercises or more informal daily modifications. Here's a head-to-toe guide to easing joint pain:
A Child with neck pain may struggle to look up or turn her head sideways. She’ll compensate by moving her shoulders or entire body rather than twisting their neck. Quite often, the surrounding muscles will hurt as much as the joints themselves.
Solutions: Place moist heat on her muscles to help them relax. Sleeping with a cervical pillow – or no pillow at all – also helps to alleviate neck pain. If she has a TV in her room, elevate it to encourage motion in the neck. Range-of-motion exercises also can help prevent loss of motion and decrease pain.
The mandible joint can be a frequent source of discomfort, making it painful to bite into a thick sandwich or an apple. Jaw pain is common on the side of the face or just in front of the ear.
Solutions: When your child experiences jaw pain, serve softer foods that require less force to eat, cut food into small bites and avoid chewing gum. Consult his physical therapist about exercises that may relieve pain.
A child with elbow pain is likely to keep the joint bent, holding it close to the body. It’s important to encourage her to straighten her elbow; she may eventually lose the ability to do so if she continues to hold it in a protective position. Over time, holding any joint in a bent position may cause the muscles on that side to shorten.
Solutions: Try activities and exercises that encourage straightening, such as pushing away light objects or “pushing” pretend objects up to the ceiling.
A child with wrist pain typically holds his wrist curled in his lap. Raising it or making a fist becomes problematic.
Solutions: Therapists work on strengthening the muscles on the back and side of the arm. Splints are commonly used. A functional wrist splint may help your child perform daily tasks with less pain. Resting splints at night provide extra support and prevent deformity.Fingers
Children with finger pain may be unable to pick up small objects or have trouble writing because they tend to keep their fingers in a curled position.
Solutions: To ease pain, your child should use large crayons or pencils, or those with soft grip covers. An older child may prefer to type on a computer rather than hand write. Another option is to use a gel-type pen with ink that flows easily, to reduce resistance or dragging as she writes. Use play-dough, putty or a squishy ball to strengthen your child’s fingers.
When children have hip involvement, the extensor muscles become weaker than the opposing flexor muscles, pulling the hip forward so it becomes curled up.
Solutions: While watching television or reading, your child can lie on her stomach to stretch hips into extension after sitting flexed all day at school.
Knee involvement is common in arthritis. Once it becomes difficult to straighten the knee, your child may walk with a limp. Parents will notice that smaller children no longer can squat.
Solutions: When experiencing knee pain, your child should rest with his knee straight and the heel propped up. Young children may benefit from wearing a knee extension splint at night to keep the knee extended while sleeping. A therapist can work with the child to strengthen the quadriceps muscle.
Your child’s ankle can require some support if it becomes weak and painful.
Solutions: An in-shoe orthotic can support the structure of the foot to relieve pain when standing and walking. Exercises that stretch the calf muscles and strengthen the muscles that raise the toes can be helpful. Ask your child to perform ankle circles in the bath, using the feet to make letters of the alphabet or to spell secret messages.
When your child’s foot hurts, the pain is usually worse on the ball of the foot, making it harder to walk or raise her toes.
Solutions: A small pad, placed just behind the ball of the foot, will relieve pressure on the foot.