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Boxing Without Headgear—Recipe for Injury

Yesterday we explored the sports injury lawsuit that was filed by 300 former NFL players against the league. We noted that football is perhaps the sport where traumatic brain injuries are most likely to develop because of the game’s focus on contact. However, there actually may be another sport that is even more ripe for serious head injuries to develop: boxing. The overall number of athletes participating in boxing in far smaller than those playing football, which is likely why it gets less attention from those interested in preventing brain injuries. But boxing is entirely about contact to the head of the opponent, and so the risk of long-term head injuries is sky-high.

As our Chicago brain injury lawyers have previously pointed out, many physicians have explained that boxing of any kind is unhealthy for children and adolescents. Now, according to a new Daily Mail article, doctors are taking their warning to professional boxers. The story explains how research continues to come in showing that boxers who do not use padded helmets risk traumatic brain injury each and every time that they enter the ring. An analysis of the helmets that are used suggest that even then, the protection they offer is usually too minimal to prevent all brain injuries.

Noting that the sport will likely not simply go away because of some injury risks, safety experts are working on ways to improve the current headgear. Apparently, the main problem is that current headgear protects mostly against “linear” impacts. Linear impacts are those that occur from a punch that is coming straight. This is distinguished from “rotational” impacts which cause the head to spin around. As one expert noted, “There is ample medical literature that points to rotational impacts as being key contributors to head and neck injuries.”

The strengths and weakness of current headgear was recently uncovered following a research program involving test dummies. Hook punches to the head were replicated using a pendulum. The contact was repeated in a variety of formats with and without gloves and helmets. Overall, as one would expect, the headgear was most beneficial in reducing impact when the headgear was defending against gloved punches. When gloves are used there is some protection against both rotational and linear impacts. Those leading the research effort suggest that the finding should be heeded by all those administering the sport. Gloves and headgear should be used whenever possible, they note. While the risk of traumatic head injury exists even when the protective devices are used, the overall lowering of the risks that the safety equipment provides make it worthwhile in all circumstances.

Our brain injury attorneys are also interested in an ongoing project analyzing MRI scans of professional fighters is underway at the Cleveland Clinic. It is hoped that the results will yield important information about the overall brain health of those who participate in these activities over a number of years. Each of these research efforts are important steps in the process to make these activities safer and to at least ensure participants are made fully aware of the risks before they participate.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Pediatricians Say Boxing Not Safe for Kids & Teenagers

Former Illinois Athlete Files Brain Injury Lawsuit Against Eastern Illinois University