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SPORTS AND ADHD (ATTENTION-DEFICIT/HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER)

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Tid Bits of Info

  • There has been a 50% increase in the diagnosis of ADHD since the beginning of the 2000s.
  • ADHD diagnoses in boys is 3x greater than girls.
  • The World Anti-Doping Agency determines who receives a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) when stimulants are prescribed for a person with ADHD.
  • The fastest growing population of ADHD diagnoses is adult women.
  • If you suspect you or someone you know might have ADHD, seek professional medical advice and treatment.

Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been on the increase. When an individual reports the symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity or a combination of these symptoms, they are given the diagnosis of ADHD. This can also have a detrimental effect on education, following instructions, and even repeat injuries. Sports and ADHD can be a good combination for some people though coaches should be informed, so they can provide appropriate support.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 50% more people have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States over the past 19 years. There has been greater than a 10% increase in children ages 4-17 and the boys out-number the girls by a 3:1 ratio.  ADHD behavioral traits effect “normal” development and can impede the person’s progression through life.  Co-morbidities of depression, substance abuse, anxiety and concussion must be ruled out prior to giving the ADHD diagnosis.

Many successful athletes have used ADHD to their benefit to excel at their sports.  These individuals may struggle with academics and participating in a sport may provide a place to excel. These athletes are drawn to sports that require skill sets that they have due to their ADHD.  If someone is very impulsive they tend to do well at “quick moving and thinking” sports like hockey.   ADHD can lead to hyper-focus, and these people tend to do well in sports like golf due to their ability to “block out” distractions.

Knowing the increase in the number of diagnoses of ADHD in the general population leads one to reason that there would be a higher incidence of ADHD in those who participate in sports or have to go through an injury rehabilitation program.  This needs to be considered when working with patients or athletes that might have ADHD.  Their ability to stay focused and perform certain drills or activities could be limited due to their lack of explicit learning and memory.  Explicit learning is a conscious and deliberate attempt to master a skill based on instruction.  When a person has difficulty following instructions or remembering what is asked of them, they are more susceptible to injury or re-injury.  Most coaching in sports or rehabilitation relies heavily on explicit learning.

sports and adhd

Medication that is prescribed for ADHD is either a stimulant or non-stimulant.  The most commonly prescribed medications are stimulants and it is not clearly understood how they work but they make the individual with the ADHD diagnosis more focused and attentive.  One of the major problem with these drugs lies in their legality of use during competitions.  Many leagues have a ban on their use and without special permission (therapeutic use exemption, TUE) the athlete is not allowed to participate.

Stimulant medications have some side effects on the user that can lead to harmful outcomes.   The user might develop heart palpitations, irritability and lack a tolerance to heat.  Heart rate increases and profuse sweating is a sign that someone might be using a stimulant drug.  Sleep disturbances and a loss of appetite can be detrimental to their ability to heal and perform.

ADHD is a condition that can have an effect on nearly every aspect of one’s life. If someone possess the traits that are used by healthcare professionals to give the diagnosis of ADHD, it is advisable to inform other healthcare professionals, instructors and coaches that might be involved with this individual.  The outcome of rehabilitation or their ability to excel in sports or academics is most assuredly going to be effected and if they are not addressed properly they will most likely not be successful.