Soccer and epilepsy - everything you need to know

  • November 28, 2022
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Soccer is by far and away the world’s most popular sport, drawing millions of fans to watch events like the World Cup, Copa América, as well as globally popular leagues such as the EFL and La Liga

Given how widely played this sport is, it’s no surprise it’s popular among people with epilepsy too - both on and off the pitch. But is the ball game safe for people with seizures, and are there any soccer players with epilepsy? Read our introduction to epilepsy and soccer to learn more. 

A man playing soccer

Epilepsy and soccer - safety and precautions

Soccer is a contact sport that’s usually played outdoors. So, is it safe for people with epilepsy to play the sport? 

According to the International League Against Epilepsy, playing soccer poses no significant additional risk to people who have the condition. So long as your seizures are being treated - and your doctor gives you the ‘OK’ - then lacing up your soccer cleats and playing a game should be fine. Indeed, plenty of studies suggest that participating in regular exercise may even improve seizure control. 

There are some common sense things you can do to reduce any risk from epilepsy and soccer:

  • Make sure you stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids
  • If heat affects your seizures, take time outs and avoid playing or training during especially hot weather
  • Take time to rest and recover between training and matches
  • Talk to your coach and other players about your epilepsy
  • If playing casually with friends, you might want to let them know about your seizures if they aren’t fully controlled

Are headers safe for soccer players with epilepsy?

In recent years, there’s been growing concern about the effects of heading soccer balls on brain function. Indeed, children under the age of 10 have been barred from heading the ball during training and games in the US since 2015, due to the associated risks of concussion and brain damage. 

So far, there has been little research into the effects of heading a soccer ball on seizures, and whether it can cause someone to develop epilepsy. One small study in Germany suggested that heading the ball a lot could mean that people who have a predisposition to seizures may be more likely to develop them. But there’s just not enough evidence to say if heading a ball can lead to epilepsy. 

Famous soccer players with epilepsy

Since soccer is played by so many people around the world, it’s no surprise that there have been several professional players who also have epilepsy. Here are some of the best known players with epilepsy from around the world. 

Ronaldo Nazario - Brazil

Considered to be one of the greatest center-forwards of his generation, Brazilian Ronaldo appears to have suffered from seizures throughout his playing career. Perhaps most critically was during the final of the FIFA World Cup in 1998. Brazil had cruised past the competition to the final against hosts France. The night before the big match, Ronaldo suffered a series of seizures which, arguably, affected his performance in his team’s defeat. 

Iván Gonzalo Bella - Argentina

Ivan Bella is a midfielder who currently plays for second division Argentine Club Atlético Gimnasia y Esgrima. Bella experienced an epileptic seizure in the middle of a game in 2013. 

Paul Wade - Australia

Long-time captain of the Socceroos, the Australian national team, Paul Wade retired from the professional game in the late 1990s. He regularly attends epilepsy events to raise awareness about seizures which he has had all his life. 

Leon Legge - England

English defender Leon Legge, who currently plays for EFL League 2 team Harrogate Town, has lived with epilepsy since his late teens. The player has often spoken about his experiences to raise awareness. 

Matt Crooks - England

As a midfielder for Middlesbrough FC, also a second division EFL team, Matt Crooks has been vocal in the press, trying to raise awareness that people with epilepsy can achieve success in sport. 

Epilepsy and soccer - where to start

If you’re a soccer fan and want to get more involved in the sport, there are countless clubs and leagues you can sign up to. As with any new activity, speak with your doctor before taking up soccer to get their advice and suggestions. With a seizure plan in place, you can focus on your game, and find the back of the net!

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