October 26, 2022

Gymnastics and epilepsy: things to consider

Lifestyle & Wellness

Are you interested in doing gymnastics but have a seizure disorder? Read about gymnastics and epilepsy, possible issues and examples of gymnasts with epilepsy.

With its incredible skill, strength and bravery, gymnastics is surely one of the most inspiring sports. But is gymnastics safe for people with epilepsy?

Here's what you need to know about gymnastics and epilepsy.

Gymnast trains on a bar

Gymnastics and epilepsy - is it recommended?

In 2015 the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) compiled a list of different kinds of sports and how safe they are for people with seizures. The sports were organized into three categories:  

  1. No significant risks to people with epilepsy
  2. Moderate risk for people with epilepsy
  3. High risk for people with epilepsy 

Gymnastics was put in the second group, meaning the sport poses a moderate risk of injury.

The ILAE did not say that people with epilepsy should not participate in gymnastics. But they do recommend that you should aim for at least 12 months of seizure freedom before beginning this sport. They also recommended that people with epilepsy should get the approval of their doctor before starting sports like gymnastics.

Issues with gymnastics and epilepsy

Here are some of the potential risks of taking part in gymnastics if you have epilepsy:

  • Falls and injuries: If you had a seizure while training or performing, you could fall and injure yourself.
  • Concentration: You need maximum focus to do many gymnastics moves. Yet people with epilepsy can sometimes have difficulty concentrating, especially in the post-ictal phase (time after a seizure). This could affect your performance and risk injury.
  • Triggers associated with gymnastics: Many people with epilepsy find their seizures are triggered by specific things – and these are also associated with gymnastics. For example, attending competitive performances can be stressful – and stress is a well known seizure trigger. Similarly, you could be exposed to flashing lights (a trigger for some) at events, or simply feel tired after training - which also makes seizures more likely. 

Have you tried…? Yoga with epilepsy

Considerations for gymnastics if you have epilepsy

If you are interested in taking part in gymnastics but have previously had seizures, you might want to:

  • Speak to your doctor: They know you and your seizures well, and can advise you if taking part in gymnastics is right for you.
  • Choose lower risk events: The nature of gymnastics means that most events will include running, jumping and complex physical movements – which could be an issue if you suddenly lose consciousness. But certain events may be lower risk for people with epilepsy - including rhythmic gymnastics and aerobic gymnastics.
  • Have a seizure plan: It’s a good idea to create a seizure plan with your gymnastics coach so they know what to do if you do have a seizure.
  • Wear a seizure bracelet: If you have a seizure, people will be able to find out what to do and perform seizure first aid by checking the bracelet.

Gymnasts with epilepsy

Many people with epilepsy have performed at amateur and semi-professional level. Here are three examples of gymnasts with epilepsy:

  • Vivi: Read the story of Vivi, a Level 8 bar champion interviewed for the Drybands blog.
  • Melissa: New Hampshire athlete Melissa Doucette competes in power tumbling – read about her on the WBZ News Radio website.
  • Daniel: British gymnast Daniel Jackson uses gymnastics as part of his physiotherapy - read his story on the British Gymnastics website.   

Inspiring: 7 Olympic athletes with epilepsy

Exercise with epilepsy

Whether you’ve decided gymnastics is the sport for you – or you’d like to try out other activities with epilepsy – participating in exercise brings so many benefits. So long as your epilepsy doctor is happy for you to go ahead, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try out new sports, while having fun too!