Treatment for arthritis and other rheumatic diseases

Unfortunately, there is no cure for rheumatic disease, with the exception of infectious arthritis, which can be cured with antibiotics if detected or diagnosed early. Treatment varies by disease type and also which organs in the body are involved. The goal of treatment is to limit pain and inflammation, while ensuring optimal joint function. Each treatment plan designed by a physician should be specifically tailored to the patients type of rheumatic disease, as well as the severity of the disease. Treatment plans often involve both short-term and long-term relief approaches, including the following:

Short-term relief:

Medications - Short-term relief for pain and inflammation may include pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).

Heat and cold - Whether to use hot or cold applications on affected joints depends on the type of arthritis present and the recommendation of your child's physician. Pain relief may be obtained temporarily by using moist heat (warm bath or shower) or dry heat (heating pad) on the joint. If using a heating pad, place a towel between the heating pad and the skin, and check frequently to prevent burns.

Pain relief may also be obtained by placing an ice pack wrapped in a towel on the joint. Cold applications help reduce swelling, as well. However, children who have poor circulation should not use ice packs. Consult your child's physician regarding the type of application and application time before use.

Massage - The light stroking and/or kneading of painful muscles may increase blood flow and bring warmth to the muscle. 

Long-term relief:
Many rheumatic diseases are chronic, making long-term management of the disease very important.

Medications - There are several types of medications that may be used long-term to reduce pain and symptoms, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) - These medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic medications - These prescription medications may affect the course of the disease by slowing down its progress and influence and/or correcting immune system abnormalities that are linked to the disease. Examples of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic medications are methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine.
  • Biologics - A new form of therapy directed at inhibiting biologic inflammatory factors. Examples of biologics are TNF inhibitors.
  • Corticosteroids - Corticosteroids are medications that contain hormones to treat rheumatic diseases. These medications, such as prednisone, can be taken orally or as an injection.
Weight reduction - Extra weight puts more stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees.

Exercise - Certain exercises, such as swimming, walking, low-impact aerobic exercise, and range-of-motion exercises, may help reduce joint pain and stiffness. Stretching exercises may be helpful in keeping the joints flexible.

Surgery - In severe cases of rheumatic disease, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace a joint. There are two main types of surgery for juvenile arthritis and other rheumatic diseases:

  • Repair - surgery to repair a damaged joint may include removing debris in the joint, fusing bones, or correcting a bone deformity.
  • Replace - if a joint is too damaged for repair, it may need to be replaced with an artificial joint.