Both atonic and tonic seizures can result in falls and other injuries. In an atonic seizure, there’s a loss of muscle tone and the person may fall limply, like a "rag doll." In a tonic seizure, the person may become suddenly stiff and fall like a "tree trunk." Since there is usually no warning and it occurs quickly, there is often no time to protect the person from hurting themselves.

What to Do

  • Sometimes, a person may have other seizures before a tonic or atonic seizure that may warn them to sit or lie down. For example, absence or myoclonic seizures may be seen in people with tonic or atonic seizures and often occur in clusters
  • People who have frequent atonic or tonic seizures without warning may need protective headgear or helmet. If they fall forward and injure the face frequently, a face mask or helmet to prevent should be considered.
  • Think of other ways to prevent injury. For example
    • Use a gaitbelt when walking with someone (the other person can hold onto the person with seizures by holding the back of the belt)
    • Use a wheelchair instead of walking long distances, on hard surfaces, or when at high risk for falls
    • Use other protective padding (elbow or knee pads)

Learn General Seizure First Aid

Reviewed By: 
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Saturday, September 2, 2017