May 17, 2017
ADHD and Athletes

Recent research suggests that student-athletes who have been diagnosed and treated for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have an increased risk of injury. However, the researchers say there is not a direct relationship between the diagnosis and specific injuries.

“We know in young people with ADHD that they do have an increase in impulsivity and a little bit more reckless behavior,” Trevor Kitchin, MD, a Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellow at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who was involved with the study, said in a university press release. “We’re not saying that ADHD led to injury, but given its known characteristics, it may be putting these athletes at higher risk, especially in contact sports.”

In the study, the researchers analyzed more than 850 Ohio State student-athletes from a variety of sports over the course of five years. Within the sample, roughly the same percentage of student-athletes — just over 5.5 percent — were diagnosed with ADHD as is seen in the general public.

“It’s a topic that doesn’t get much attention, so we wanted to begin to understand the role this very common condition might play in our student-athletes,” said James Borchers, MD, Director of the Division of Sports Medicine at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “What we found was somewhat surprising.”

Aside from a potentially higher injury risk, researchers found that student-athletes with ADHD were two times as likely to play team sports as athletes without ADHD. Moreover, student-athletes with ADHD were 142 percent more likely to compete in contact sports, such as lacrosse, football, and hockey.

“What was surprising was the type of sports they played,” Dr. Borchers said. “We expected a lot of athletes with ADHD to gravitate toward individual sports, where they have more control, there is a little bit more repetitiveness, and they don’t have to worry about the responsibilities or roles of teammates or opponents. We expected to see more athletes with ADHD in sports like golf or tennis.”

Image by Elliott Connor.

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