A new study is showing that when it comes to boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA), the effects of traumatic brain injuries are different for younger, current fighters and older, retired fighters. The study, which was published in the Dec. 23 2019 online issue of the journal Neurology, looked into whether there is a safe level of exposure for these athletes when it comes to head trauma.
What the Study Found
Researchers found that as a group, both current and former fighters suffered losses in brain volume. In younger fighters, the volume loss was in areas of the brain that suggests it is a result of the injury when nerve fibers are damaged as the brain shifts inside the skull. In older fighters, the volume loss was in areas of the brain that suggests it is because of progressive disease process seen in neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or Alzheimer’s disease.
This study involved 50 current boxers with an average age of 29, 23 retired boxers with an average age of 45, and 100 MMA fighters with an average age of 29. They were compared to 31 non-fighters with an average age of 31 who did not have a history of head injury, military service or participation at the high school level or higher in a sport in which head trauma can occur such as football or soccer.
Participants had brain scans and took memory tests at the beginning of the study and again each year for at least two years. The study found that compared to non-fighters, current boxers and MMA fighters suffered a greater average yearly rate of brain volume loss. The retired fighters showed brain volume loss in areas of the brain that are affected in diseases such as Alzheimer’s and CTE.
CTE and Contact Sports
CTE is a brain disease that is found in athletes including pro football and hockey players who have a history of repeated head traumas and concussions. Symptoms of CTE include memory loss and thinking problems as well as emotional and behavioral changes such as aggression.
Sports teams – whether it’s a high school football team or a pro ball team – have a responsibility to put player safety first. Players should get adequate rest and treatment after a head injury before they are allowed back on the field. Knowing what we know about concussions today, it is incumbent on all of us to put people before profits or game wins.