Hydrocephalus, sport and exercise

Exercise is essential for everyone to keep fit and healthy.

It can raise our mood, keep our heart healthy and help with weight management.

For children especially, taking part in physical activities with other children, making friends and having fun is very important for the development of both their social and movement skills.

Children with spina bifida or hydrocephalus may need reminders about the rules of the games, and to take turns.

Children and adults with shunts may feel anxious about what exercise and sport are safe to participate in, so here is some guidance:

Shunts themselves are not fragile: they are made from silicon, which is strong and flexible. As they are usually positioned at the side of the head, they are difficult to break accidentally through a fall, as the shoulder would break the fall before the shunt hit the ground.

So there are few activities that are ‘off limits’ for people with shunts.

However, people with LP shunts should avoid any activity which involves twisting at the waist, as this can dislodge the shunt.

Martial arts

Any activity that involves being grabbed around the neck is not advised, as the shunt tubing in the neck can crack.

Judo may not be advisable, but other martial arts may be safe, depending on what is involved. Some martial arts clubs teach a ‘non-contact’ version, especially for children, so they can enjoy the benefits of improved control of their movement, fitness and concentration that many martial arts offer.

If in doubt, go and ask the Sensei (martial arts teacher) if you can observe a session, and talk about what the activity involves.


Some neurosurgeons would prefer their patients not to play rugby, others say it is fine provided a scrum cap is worn, so ask your neurosurgeon what s/he thinks. For younger children, tag rugby (non-contact) is becoming popular, and would be fine.

Gymnastics and dance

An excellent activity to improve balance, coordination and fitness, this should be fine for people with VP shunts. Shunts won’t drain when the head is lower than the distal (bottom) end of the shunt, so being upside down for any length of time will usually be very uncomfortable, and best avoided. However, activities where the head is down for a brief moment, such as cartwheels, handstands or rolls should be fine.

People with LP shunts might need to avoid twisting at the waist. Children with balance issues might need extra supervision for some activities, but should be encouraged to join in.

Water sports

Scuba diving with a ‘buddy’ should be fine, at moderate depths. Don’t dive alone or too deep. Some studies suggest that repeated scuba diving can affect and lead to damage to the brain.

Other water sports, such as swimming and sailing, should be fine.


Best avoided by people with LP shunts, because of the twisting at the waist. Otherwise, it would be fine.

Other activities

Activities such as trampolining, soccer, baseball or hockey should pose no extra problems for people with shunts.

Activities such as horse riding pose hazards for all participants, so take great care to protect the head with well-fitting protective helmets.

Although not a sport, rollercoasters which accelerate rapidly, or which contain fast turns may not be advisable, as the G forces may very occasionally cause some bleeding inside the head, which could block the shunt.

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