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Medicina dello Sport 2012 June;65(2):289-95


language: English, Italian

Head injuries in fighting sports: myth or reality? A look at the literature

Pavan A., Bilora F.

Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Sciences, University of Padua, Padua, Italy


Head injuries represent a major cause of death in subjects under 45 year old. In the USA, 2 million people suffer from head injuries every year and 20% of them have related brain damage; 300000 such cases are due to sports. Head injuries are caused by the impact of the head with a solid, hard object. There are various grades of brain symptoms, including temporary loss of consciousness, altered consciousness, and irreversible brain damage. A review of the literature suggests that the proportion of head injuries occurring in combat sports varies, the face being the main target in boxing, for instance, while in kick-boxing and Muay-Thai injuries tend to affect the lower limbs more than the head. Compared with other sports (e.g. hockey, football), combat sports do not have a higher rate of head injuries, so they are really no more dangerous. It is nonetheless important to take action to make these sports safer and to avoid the risk of chronic disorders such as dementia. Head injury prevention programs must be implemented on several levels, concerning the rules, coaching, training, equipment, and medical supervision. What makes combat sports dangerous is failure to control the related risk factors, e.g. fighting without wearing the necessary safety equipment, or with an excessively aggressive attitude. If combatants abide by the rules, safety equipment is used, honest coaching is provided and medical attention is available, then combat sports can be practised with peace of mind.

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