It might not surprise you to know that arthritis is the most debilitating disease in this country, affecting some 46 million adults in the U.S. alone. You probably don’t know that arthritis also affects children – sending nearly a million of them to the doctor’s office for treatment each year. Here’s how you can tell whether your child has growing pains, or something more.
Jay McKirnan has been dreaming of swimming in the state finals for years. His chances were nearly sunk when he was accidentally kicked by an opponent while playing soccer.
"I felt like a little, it was either a tear or a popping sensation. I fell on the ground and I just couldn’t get up," says McKirnan.
It turns out the injury damaged the cartilage in Jay’s hip, leaving him at risk of arthritis at the age of 17. While that may sound surprising to some, it’s an area of medicine that’s growing. Tom Ellis, M.D. at Ohio State University Medical Center has built a practice treating hip pain and arthritis in people under 50 – many of them teenagers.
"Some of these kids ultimately have arthritic-like conditions, very similar to adults. The only option in these kids is a hip replacement," says Ellis.
Doctors can avoid that if the arthritis is caught early. The problem is there have been very few national studies on juvenile arthritis* and many parents simply write off joint pain as growing pains. So how do you know if your child is at risk? Doctors say, in children, arthritis is almost always caused by either an infection or by an injury, like Jay’s. If they are hurt, Ellis says to watch them. Kids are resilient but they will give clues when the pain is too much.
"They continue to sort of complain about the same thing over and over again, and also you’ll notice that they stop doing certain activities because they’re saying the activity hurts them," says Ellis.
Jay had surgery on his hip to repair the cartilage. Without it, doctors say instead of battling for a state title, he would have been battling arthritis for years to come.
Experts say growing pains never occur during the daytime. So if your child complains consistently about joint pain during the day, you may want to get them checked out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began looking seriously at arthritis in kids in 2004 to see just how many of them are at risk.
(Source: Ohio State University Medical Center: March 2008)