Water Exercise Games for Juvenile Arthritis

Water Exercise Games for Juvenile Arthritis
Water Exercise Games for Juvenile Arthritis

Did you know a regular dip in the pool helps ease arthritis pain?  To effectively manage of any type of arthritis, gentle, low-impact exercise is a must.  Improving or maintaining joint mobility and muscle strength without further damaging the tissues is invaluable to preventing loss of function.2

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is the most common type of arthritis in children under the age of 17 and according to the Mayo Clinic, treatment should focus on controlling pain, improving function and preventing joint damage.3 What better place to meet all of these needs than in the pool!  Just being in water helps to reduce swelling as the hydrostatic pressure helps to improve circulation.  Then using water’s magical properties – buoyancy and resistance you can improve strength and stamina with minimal joint stress.

Kendra Jones, age 35 was diagnosed with RA at 4 years old.  She has been participating in water exercise for 13 years and is committed to making it a part of her regular routine because she says, “I feel so good in the water.  Water exercise decreases the pain

while increasing my flexibility and energy.  Being weightless in the water takes pressure off of my joints and is the only thing I have found that eases the pain.”

Exercise for Arthritis

An exercise program for arthritis should not only consider whole body moves such as walking, jogging or jumping jacks, but also moves that target the smaller joints like the hands and feet.  For children exercise should be playful and consider including pool toys like sponges, balls or noodles.

A game of Salmon Says can integrate all kinds of body movements and keep exercise fun. Things like hopping on one foot, bobbing under the water or swimming like a dolphin are great ways to get the whole body moving. Don’t forgot to include small joint moves such as: moving your arms like an alligator mouth or waving your wrists like a fish tale wiggles side to side.

If you have some additional pool toys try a fun water race. Use a Nekdoodle or Kickboard as the raft to transport their favorite water toy safely from one side of the pool to the other.


object: Using only the wrist wave, move the raft from one side of the pool to the other.  It is not a race against others, but a test to see if you can make it to the other side without the toy on top falling into the water – so don’t make it too wavy.  There is one rule:  You cannot touch your raft – you must use the wrists to create currents that move the raft.

It is important when introducing any exercise that you set realistic expectations.  Keep in mind, what is doable one day might be a little tougher the next.  Kendra offers this advice: “The wrist wave with walking is a great activity. Encourage kids to work at a comfortable speed (even as a child I moved at a senior pace).  If it becomes painful, slow down or stop the exercise.  It is important to teach kids how to recognize when and how to adapt an exercise”. 

Check out this video to learn the wrist wave

Notice how the hands are relaxed using the resistance to create stretching

down the front and back of the arm.  Once kids understand how to use their wrists to create currents, add the game component.

Mix it up with different traveling moves each time they cross the pool like hops, skips or jumps!  Have fun and make a splash to keep the body mobile and strong!


  1. Aquatic Exercise Association.  AEA Arthritis Foundation Program Leader: A Training Guide for Exercise & Aquatic Programming 1st Edition. Aquatic Exercise Association 2015; pg. 92.
  2. Cole A. & Becker, B.  Comprehensive Aquatic Therapy 2nd Edition. Philadelphia PA: Butterworth: Heinsmann 2004; chapter 10: Hydrotherapeutic Applications in Arthritis Rehabilitation.
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/juvenile-rheumatoid-arthritis/basics/definition/con-20014378