One of the most popular sports to watch is professional boxing. Boxing is essentially one of the most symbolic representations of ancient combat and many viewers are engaged by the thrill of combat and physical dominance over another. However, as the world advances its awareness of new and various health issues, boxing’s potential to negatively impact an athlete has also become a prominent topic of concern.
In greater detail, professional boxers have the ability to deliver punches that may exceed over a thousand pounds of force. While the exact damage is dependent on factors such as direction, velocity and the number of blows, these attacks applied to the head can cause the soft brain to shift and slide inside the individual’s own skull, tearing vessels and nerve fibers in the process.
A 2015 study further explored this possible risk by examining and testing 224 professional fighters for cognitive and cranial changes. The results showed that athletes exposed to a repeating pattern of head trauma were linked to lower brain volume as well as slower processing speeds. In general, those who reported greater exposure to repetitive head trauma were associated with a higher risk of having some kind of cognitive impairment.
Furthermore, some scholars have identified two specific, biological indicators of brain damage. The first is dementia pugilistica, which is a neurodegenerative disease that results from repeated concussions or sub-concussive blows. Also known as punch-drunk syndrome, this condition is associated with multiple intensive sports like boxing, American football and professional wrestling. Second is cavum septi pellucidi, which is a condition with an accepted association to other impairments in the brain, including disorders like schizophrenia.
In a 1997 sports medicine article from West Virginia University School of Medicine and the Meyer Rehabilitation Institute in Nebraska, the authors collected and compiled a number of past research findings regarding boxing and the brain. For example, in 1984, researchers found that 18 percent of boxers with neuropsychological evidence of dementia pugilistica also had cavum septi pellucidi. In fact, 87 percent of participants also displayed structural damage such as atrophy and lesions.
Another study in 1989 from Hahnemann University in Philadelphia recorded similar results. Out of almost 2,000 CT scans, five out of nine male patients with cavum septi pellucidi were also found to be boxers and reported a history of head trauma. Of these five, three boxers also showed signs of dementia.
The benefits of boxing
On the other hand, the sport of boxing has demonstrated some psychological benefits as well. After the American Medical Association began making recommendations to the boxing community based on growing evidence of brain damage in fighters, a sizeable proportion of the public questioned the logic of preventing injury when the purpose of boxing is to inflict injury. Also, the act of exercise and physical activity has been proven to provide a series of positive effects on a person’s physical and mental health. Active participators reported a higher health-related quality of life, better functionality and more stable mood states.
There is also a fair amount of personal success stories from the world of gloved combat. According to an ex-professional British boxer and personal trainer, boxing provided a healthy outlet for her cathartic bouts of anger, it raised her self-esteem with the determination to win matches and it strengthened her concentration in and out of the ring.
In addition to being a source of exercise and bodily management, the act of boxing can be a positive force for certain populations. In a recent comparison conducted in 2012, participants of a six-week structured program known as “Boxercise” demonstrated both physical and psychological benefits from the activity. Specific advantages include a healthy experience of challenge, escape, camaraderie and metamorphosis. These results implicate that a well-organized and monitored setting can utilize the positive potential of the sport.
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Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer