Physiological and Psychological Stressors Affecting Performance, Health, and Recovery in Special Forces Operators: Challenges and Solutions. A Scoping Review


O'Hara R, Sussman LR, Tiede JM, Sheehan R, Keizer B 22(2). 139 - 148 (Journal Article)

Introduction: Special Operations Forces (SOF) Operators (SOs) are exposed to high levels of physiological and cognitive stressors early in their career, starting with the rigors of training, combined with years of recurring deployments. Over time, these stressors may degrade SOs' performance, health, and recovery. Objectives: (1) To evaluate sources identifying and describing physiological and psychological stressors affecting performance, health, and recovery in SOs, and (2) to explore interventions and phenomena of interest, such as the biological mechanisms of overtraining syndrome (OTS). Methods: This review followed the recommendations and methodology of the Joanna Briggs Institute and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) guidelines. A database search from December 1993 to December 2021 was performed in PubMed, the Cochrane Library, and the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC). Potential articles were identified using search terms from their titles, abstracts, and full texts. Articles effectively addressing the review questions and objectives were eligible. Results: After 19 articles were excluded for not meeting established inclusion criteria, a total of 92 full-text articles were assessed for eligibility. After the final analysis, 72 articles were included. Conclusions: Allostatic imbalance may occur when supra-maximal demands are prolonged and repeated. Without adequate recovery, health and performance may decline, leading to nonfunctional overreaching (NFO) and OTS, resulting in harmful psychological and hormonal disruptions. The recurring demands placed on SOs may result in a chronically high burden of physical and mental stress known as allostatic overload. Future investigation, especially in the purview of longitudinal implementation, health, and recovery monitoring, is necessary for the health and readiness of the SOF population.

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