(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – It’s estimated there are more than six million children in the United States with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There has been a lot of research about the impact ADHD can have on students in the classroom, but much less is known about how ADHD might impact athletes on the field of play.
“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 Dr. James Borchers, director of the division of sports medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “What we found was somewhat surprising.”
In a recently completed study, Borchers and a team of researchers analyzed more than 850 athletes who competed in a variety of sports over a five year period at The Ohio State University. They found that just over five and a half percent of athletes were diagnosed and treated for ADHD, which is about the same percentage found in the general public.
“What was surprising was the type of sports they played,” said Borchers. “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.”
But the study showed just the opposite. Athletes with ADHD were twice as likely to compete in team sports, and their rate of participation in contact sports, like football, hockey and lacrosse, was 142 percent higher.
Researchers charted injuries in these athletes as well, and while they insist there is no direct correlation between ADHD and certain types of injuries, they do know there may be an increased risk.
“We know in young people with ADHD that they do have an increase in impulsivity and a little bit more reckless behavior,” said Dr. Trevor Kitchin, who took part in the study. “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.”