with a shunt

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It’s understandable that children and adults with shunts may feel anxious about participating in exercise and sport. However, with a few sensible precautions, having a shunt should not impact your normal life or stop you doing the things you enjoy. 

A reassuring fact is that today’s shunts are not fragile. They’re made from silicon, which is strong and flexible. Also, because they’re usually positioned at the side of the head, they are difficult to damage through a fall as your shoulder would hit the ground first and absorb the shock. See below for more practical advice on living with a shunt.   


These pursuits are great ways to improve balance, coordination and fitness, and should be fine for people with shunts. There is one caution. Shunts can’t drain when your head is below the lowest end of the shunt system.

So being upside down for any length of time can be very uncomfortable, and is best avoided. However, activities where the head is down briefly, such as in cartwheels, handstands or rolls, should be no problem.

Water activities

Scuba diving is acceptable as long as you always dive with a buddy and avoid going too deep – sensible precautions for every diver. Check with your doctor for any specific considerations for your situation. Other water sports, such as swimming and sailing, should bjust fine. 

Other sports

Activities such as trampolining, soccer, baseball or hockey should pose no extra problems for people with shunts. Horse riding has hazards for all participants, so take great care to protect the head with a well-fitting protective helmet.   

Although not a sport, rollercoasters which accelerate or turn rapidly are not advisable. The high G-force may very occasionally cause some bleeding inside the head which could block the shunt. 

Going on holiday

If you’re travelling abroad or to an unfamiliar destination, take advice from your doctor or use a web search to make sure you will be in easy reach of a neurosurgical centre equipped to manage hydrocephalus patients and your type of shunt.


Centre locator

It will then be easier to pick a location within a couple of hour’s travel, if you need to.

At the airport

There have been occasional reports of magnetic security wands resetting certain adjustable valves, although some systems are protected from this hazard. Always take your shunt passport or patient ID with you and tell security staff that you need to follow the same precautions as people with heart pacemakers. Whole body scanners which use X-rays, should have no effect on your shunt.


Flying in a regular commercial jet is fine for most people with shunts. If you were told not to fly years agoask your neurosurgeon again as the current advice may be differentSome individuals will have been advised by their neurosurgeon not to fly for very specific reasons, so do check if this applies to you. If you have restricted mobility, always use anti-embolism stockings to lower the risk of thrombosis, and move your feet and legs throughout the flight if you can – good advice for all adult passengers. 

Magnetic fields

Our environment is full of magnetic fields generated by the magnets present in countless everyday items. As adjustable shunt valves are set and adjusted by doctors using a special magnetic device, patients need reassurance that their shunt won’t be affected inadvertently by other magnets.

Mobile phones, wireless chargers, speakers, headphones, cochlear implants, hearing aids, tablet computers, security wands, children’s toys, induction cookers and even fridge magnets are just a small sample of where different strength magnetic fields can be found. So what does this mean if you have an adjustable (sometimes referred to as a “programmable”) shunt implant?

Adjustable shunt valves have the advantage that they can be adjusted in specialist centres by special magnetic programming equipment without requiring surgery or any invasive procedure. It is important that such valves are designed and tested to be resistant to inadvertent changes caused by other strong magnets that could be close to the implant or very powerful magnets at a greater distance.

While the risk of unintentional effects on valves from most commonly encountered magnets is low, do check with your doctor about the type of valve you have and whether it is designed to be immune to magnetic forces.

Bluetooth waves don’t have strong magnetic activity so have no effect on adjustable shunt valves.

MRI Scanners

Extensively used for diagnostics in hospitals, MRI machines generate powerful magnetic fields but well-protected adjustable shunt valves have been tested in fields rated up to 3 Tesla without their settings being affected. Such systems are marked as MRI Conditional up to 3 Tesla. All types of non-adjustable valves are completely immune to inadvertent setting changes due to magnetic influences.