Boxing: Brain damage included

20 percent of boxers suffer from neurophysiological sequelae

Lightweight boxer Ricardo Dominguez fighting Rafael Ortiz © Wayne Short / Public domain
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Repeated KO in the boxing fight leaves fatal traces in the brain. Up to 20 percent of the professional boxer, a new study published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt has now revealed, suffer from neuropsychiatric sequelae. The range extends from headaches and tinnitus to speech disorders and dementia. Physicians therefore demand stricter protective requirements.

That boxing is not a sport for the faint-hearted, is a truism. Despite the risk of injury, televised boxing matches have become increasingly popular in recent years. The short- and long-term medical consequences with which boxers fight after such a fight have now been examined by specialists from the Klinikum rechts der Isar at the Technical University of Munich. The interdisciplinary panel of psychiatrists, neurologists, neurosurgeons and sports physicians has evaluated studies that have examined the acute, mid-term and chronic consequences of boxing over the last decade.

The results of the study are anything but positive: the range of acute and late complications ranges from health damage caused by the knockout, which correspond to a concussion to boxer dementia as a late consequence of chronic brain trauma.

Acute consequences after the KO

The rule-compliant goal of the boxing match is "knock out" (KO), an acute blunt traumatic brain injury that leads to a temporary loss of consciousness. The high impact speed of the fist of ten meters per second and more leads to upsets, strains and functional brain injuries. In addition, boxers suffer numerous non-compliant injuries on the face and hands. In addition, there are about ten deaths per year.

Related to dementia

The day after a knockout, boxers complain of ailments ranging from headache, tinnitus, forgetfulness and dizziness to hearing and gait disorders. Often, they also suffer from cognitive deficits and can only slow down processing and talking information. These symptoms are explained by the increased formation of beta-amyloid, the basic building block of Alzheimer's plaque. Förstl sees a connection between CO and dementia: "Animal experiments have shown that the same molecular mechanisms after a craniocerebral trauma act as in Alzheimer's neurodegeneration." Ad

Ten to 20 percent of professional boxers suffer from persistent complications. They struggle with severe motor and cognitive deficits such as tremors, paralysis and dementia, as well as depression and aggression. Especially boxers with a good "stamina" have a higher risk for neuropsychiatric injuries due to the repeated traumas.

Amateur boxer better protected

The risks for amateur boxers are much lower. Uniform protective measures, such as the wearing of head protection, stronger padded gloves, a shorter cycle duration and regular medical examinations, are essential for them. Professionals, however, enter the ring without these safety precautions.

The physicians around F rstl and Halle also require extensive protective measures and regular medical examinations to reduce the risk of injury. The World Medical Association (WMA) pledged in 2005 for a general ban on boxing. F rstl and his colleagues are calling for such a discussion among German physicians.

(Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University Munich, 26.11.2010 - NPO)