Children with arthritis



Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most common type of arthritis that affects children. It used to be known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, but the name was recently changed to reflect the differences between childhood arthritis and adult forms of rheumatoid arthritis.


Researchers are uncertain what causes JIA. There is no evidence that foods, toxins, allergies or lack of vitamins play a role in developing the disease. Current research indicates that there is a genetic predisposition to JIA. More than a dozen genetic markers have been identified for JIA, and hun­dreds more are being considered. However, genetic markers alone can’t determine who will get arthritis. Researchers believe that a trigger, like a virus, can start the disease process in those children with the genetic tendency.

The Arthritis New Zealand Children’s Camp


Each year in late February or early March, approximately 30 children, their caregivers, and siblings arrive at the Arthritis New Zealand camp for children with arthritis which takes place annually at a picturesque location.


The children attending are living with arthritis. They will meet other children who are living with arthritis, ask questions, and challenge themselves on new activities. They will learn that having doesn’t have to hold them back. And they will enjoy activities like abseiling, flying fox, archery, raft building, kayaking, and the fun of the warm water hydroslide. But it’s not just about the children. It is also important that the parents and caregivers get to meet other adults caring for children with arthritis. For while the camp is primarily for the children, many of the adults will never have met anyone else who has a child with arthritis.


The final day of camp occasionally coincides with Te Rā O Te Tamariki (Children’s Day), which is celebrated every year on the first Sunday in March.


Children’s Camp participants


Ava was first diagnosed with JIA at age 3. This has had a huge impact on her life as well as her sibling and our family as a whole. When having a “flare” Ava is in enormous pain, is on constant medication and is admitted to hospital to have steroid injections in her joints. She also suffers from uveitis (inflammation of the eyes) and sees an ophthalmologist monthly. Ava is ecstatic about going to camp, we have been once before and to spend time with children dealing with the same things she does had a very positive effect on Ava and the way she felt about JIA.


Arthritis New Zealand is the national organisation focussed on raising awareness of the more than 140 different forms of arthritis, advocating for those with the condition, and providing advice and support. There are over 600,000 New Zealanders living with arthritis, and 1,000 of them are children.


Register your interest in joining the next Children’s Camp by calling 0800 663 463 or emailing

Camp caters for kids with arthritis

Twelve-year-old Rotorua girl, India Heron, is looking forward to “feeling normal” at a children’s camp designed especially for kids like her at the end of February. India has arthritis. It makes her joints sore and stiff and stops her doing her favourite things, like...

Briar Matley: Living with JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis)

Briar’s parents, Abby and Scott Matley, felt terribly guilty when she was diagnosed with a form of JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis) two years ago when she was 12. They thought her achy joints were just ‘growing pains’. Since then, while they’ve learnt a lot about...

To young people with arthritis: Don’t give up on your dreams

Getting arthritis as a teenager changed his life forever, but James did not let it stop him from following his dream of a rugby career. He made his debut for Tasman Makos in 2012 and was then named in the Chiefs Super Rugby squad for 2014.

Kids With Arthritis New Zealand (KWANZ)


KWANZ provides help, encouragement, and information for children with Arthritis, and those with associated conditions, also their families/whanau and professional support agencies, involved in their care. We will offer practical support to maximise choices, and raise awareness of childhood Arthritis in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Find out more




How did my child get this disease?


The causes of arthritis in children are unknown. Research suggests that for some types of JIA, genetics may be involved. However, these conditions are not regarded as hereditary. So if you have one child with arthritis, it does not mean that you other children will also have arthritis. It also does not mean your child’s children will develop JIA.

Another theory is that some form of infection may trigger the start of JIA. Dietary and emotional factors do not appear to play a role in the development of JIA. JIA cannot spread from one child to another, it is not infectious.

While the most common arthritis diagnosis in children may be a type of JIA, other types of arthritis also occur in both children and young people. About 20% of people with Lupus are diagnosed under the age of 20 years. Rheumatoid Arthritis can start at any age though it is most common over the age of 25.

Arthritis in children and young people is an autoimmune illness


While the cause is still unknown, there is nothing you could have done to prevent it.

What we know is that JIA is an autoimmune illness where, for unknown reasons, the immune system becomes confused and attacks normal healthy cells in the body rather than invading foreign bodies such as bacteria or viruses.

The cells that the immune system attacks (called connective tissue) are those that make up the lining of the joints (synovium).

As these types of cells exist outside of the joints, JIA can affect other parts of the body as well.



There is no single test to diagnose JIA.  Instead, it involves a number of steps including:

  • taking a detailed medical history of the child and their biologically-related family members (where possible)
  • physical examinations
  • laboratory tests (e.g. blood and urine)
  • other tests such as x-rays of the joints.

Some tests may be ongoing or have to be repeated several times.  This helps the doctor look for changes to your child’s symptoms over a period of time.

If JIA is suspected, you child should be referred to a rheumatologist (ideally a specialist in paediatric arthritis) who can confirm the diagnosis and start treatment.

Reaching a diagnosis can take time and the ‘waiting period’ can be frustrating.  This is understandable, but it is important to keep on with the process until a diagnosis is made.  The rheumatologist can then make sure your child receives the best treatment to manage the symptoms and reduce potential damage caused by JIA.

Remember, if you feel it is needed, you can seek a second opinion be asking your GP for another referral.

For more information, download our JIA brochure.

You can also visit Kids With Arthritis New Zealand, a support group for children with arthritis and their families.

Write a letter to your child’s teacher


The attached template is a guide for you to write a letter to your child’s teacher to explain arthritis to them.