Epilepsy and Sports

Children with epilepsy can participate in most sports and physical activities. Participation helps promote positive self-esteem, encourages social interaction and self-expression, and supports physical and mental well-being. As for all children involved in sports, some precautions must be taken, such as wearing the proper protective gear.

It is also useful to inform parents and coaches about your child’s epilepsy in the event that your child has a seizure while under their care. Include your child, if he is able, in determining who and how to tell about his epilepsy. This emphasizes his control over disclosure and values him as the expert about his epilepsy.

Sports considered low risk are:

  • aerobics
  • baseball (with a helmet)
  • bowling
  • cross-country skiing
  • dancing
  • field hockey (with a helmet)
  • football (with protective gear
  • golf
  • hiking
  • jogging
  • ping-pong
  • soccer
  • most track and field events

Sports considered moderate risk are:

  • basketball
  • bike riding (with a helmet)
  • canoeing (with a partner)
  • downhill skiing (with a helmet)
  • gymnastics
  • horseback riding (with a helmet)
  • ice hockey (with a helmet)
  • skateboarding (with a helmet)
  • skating (with a helmet)
  • snowboarding (with a helmet)
  • swimming (in a pool with a lifeguard)
  • tennis

With snow and water sports, avoid the bright glare of the sun by using appropriate sunglasses, if bright light is a trigger for seizures.

High-risk sports, such as scuba diving and skydiving, should be avoided if your child has active seizures. Boxing should be avoided because of possible head injury.

Here are some general guidelines your child can follow to ensure his safety and enjoyment:

  • Before your child tries a new sport, discuss it with the epilepsy care team, especially if the sport is of moderate or high risk.
  • Inform a coach, team-mate, or friend about your child’s condition and ensure they know what to do in case of a seizure.
  • Many sports require a helmet. This is especially important when your child has epilepsy because a head injury can trigger or aggravate seizures.
  • Have your child follow all the safety regulations of the sport.
  • For higher-risk sports, ensure that someone else (coach, lifeguard, team-mate, friend) is watching your child and can help him if necessary. Be sure that person knows about your child’s condition and what to do in case of a seizure.

Irene Elliott, RN, MHSc, ACNP

Janice Mulligan, MSW, RSW