How Your Mental Health Might Affect Your Sports Injury Risk

Preseason anxiety linked to higher injury risk among college athletes

Athletes’ mental health before the season starts could affect their injury risk on the field or court.

That’s the suggestion of a new study, which looked at nearly 1,000 male and female athletes at two NCAA Division I universities.

The main finding? Athletes in this study who reported preseason anxiety symptoms were more likely than those who didn’t report those symptoms to be injured during the season.
Alongside her colleagues, Dr. Jingzhen Yang, PhD, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy and Ohio State University, measured anxiety and depression symptoms among 958 athletes before the 2007 to 2011 seasons, as well as sports injury rates during the seasons.

This study included athletes who participated in baseball, softball, basketball, football, wrestling, field hockey, soccer, or volleyball at the University of Iowa or Michigan State University.

During the course of the study, 389 of these athletes received 597 injuries. During the preseason periods, 276 athletes reported anxiety symptoms and 208 reported depression symptoms — with some reporting both anxiety and depression.

Anxiety symptoms appeared to increase injury risk for both men and women, Dr. Yang and team found. For every 10,000 athlete exposures — meaning practices and games — athletes who reported anxiety were injured 38.9 times. For those who didn’t report anxiety symptoms during the preseason, that figure was at 16.3 injuries per 10,000 exposures.

Depression symptoms only appeared to raise injury risk in men who also reported having anxiety, this study found.

The prevalence of anxiety among college athletes may mean athletes’ mental health is having a large real-world effect on sports injury risk. NCAA research found that 85 percent of certified athletic trainers believed anxiety disorders among college athletes were a “significant issue,” according to Dr. Scott Goldman, PhD, the director of clinical and sport psychology for the University of Arizona athletics department.

In the conclusion of their study, Dr. Yang and team proposed a move that might help prevent sports injuries among college athletes.

“All collegiate athletes, regardless of division, should receive mandatory, standard preseason screening to identify psychological issues,” these researchers wrote. “Importantly, those athletes screening positive for anxiety and/or depressive symptoms should be treated and educated on effective coping strategies to reduce their injury risk and further improve overall health.”

This study was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

The University of Iowa’s Injury Prevention Research Center and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control funded this research. The study authors disclosed no other potential conflicts of interest.


American Journal of Sports Medicine, “Preseason Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms and Prospective Injury Risk in Collegiate Athletes”

NCAA, “Mind, Body and Sport: Anxiety disorders”

Written by: Alex Lindley | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.