Blog Post | ADHD and Collision Sports


ADHD and Collision Sports


Martial arts have come a long way in the past 25 years. In the past, the most popular martial arts were the ones that advertised the traditional and the purity of their practices. Competitions in these arts were scored for points using protective gear to lessen the impacts. Now, with the ever-growing popularity in combat sports where the purpose is to deliver pain rather than points, the traditional martial arts have had to make room for fighting systems where the value of the sport is centered on knocking your opponent out.

Recently, American football, rugby and other collision sports have come under fire from research in the area of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). This research dispels the myth that permanent damage to the brain is only achieved through concussive forces. Now there is growing concern to the long-term detrimental effects of repeated sub-concussive blows (head trauma that does NOT result in unconsciousness).

A “significant association” has been found between traumatic brain injury (TBI), mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and their ability to facilitate ADHD-like symptoms. These impacts to the head can lead to problems with:

  • Short-term memory
  • Executive Function decline, particularly in planning and organizing
  • Emotional Regulation issues
  • Brain Fog and Focus issues
  • Impulsive behavior

A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research has found a “significant association” between traumatic brain injuries and ADHD. 

The Journal of Attention Disorders has released a study that links mild traumatic brain injuries and ADHD.

The research in both studies points to an increased occurrence of adults reporting an ADHD diagnosis or the presentation of ADHD-like symptoms after a history of brain trauma. Referencing the study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Dr. Gabriela Ilie (the co-author of the study) reports that adults with a history of brain trauma were nearly twice as likely to score positive for ADHD.

What is to be learned here? People with ADHD have a different assessment of risk. It is the risk in sports that creates the allure to the more dangerous activities like race car driving, BASE jumping, downhill skiing, and half-pipe snowboarding. Though many sports such as  cheerleading carry a risk of head injury in the event of an accident, it is the sports that focus on causing collisions with the head as a part of regular competition that are to be avoided (boxing, mixed martial arts, American football, rugby, etc.) Collisions with the head have been shown to give rise to cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia Pugilistica (being “punch drunk”).

Please do your research and be informed of risks involved in your sport. Enjoy your sport and be safe!


Nate Hooper 
ADHD Coach | Center For Living Well with ADHD, LLC

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