Risks Associated With Repetitive Head Injuries

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Feb 8, 2009
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This has been mentioned in several threads I have seen recently, but in relationship to a different question, so I thought it deserved its own thread. I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV, so this isn't medical advice, just some links to studies and my own opinions on the matter.

We've known for a long time that over time, repeated concussions and brain trauma can cause serious health effects. The 'punch drunk' boxer has been around so long that just about everyone involved in boxing has some idea of what it is.

But now we have a growing body of evidence that even minor head injuries, such as can be found in sports like football, hockey, even soccer, can have profound and negative effects down the road; things we did not know when I was a lad.

Does Heading a Soccer Ball Cause Brain Damage?

Professional sports are beginning to take notice. The NFL is taking head injuries seriously, as is the NHL.

The NFL's Continuing Concussion Nightmare

Doctors Calls for Ban on Hits in Hockey

How does this relate to martial arts? Well, besides boxing, which obviously involves hitting people in the head (and getting hit in the head), most martial arts also involve strikes to the head, even if protective gear is worn. Many martial arts competitions even award more points to a 'head strike' than for hits to the body or extremities. This has caused some competitive martial artists to become noted 'head hunters' because that's pretty much all they try to do in the ring.

Boxing And Mixed Martial Arts Could Wreck Your Brain

MMA is also not without risks to similar injuries:


This is especially concerning as younger and younger people get involved with various types of martial arts and engage in self-defense or competition-oriented striking.

Imagine the brain as being a passenger in a car. It's tied into the braincase just like the passenger wears a seatbelt. However, slam that car around, and the passenger gets slammed from door to windshield to roof, etc. In other words, just being tied in doesn't protect the passenger in a car from being injured when the car gets slammed around. In the same way, when a person gets hit in the head, their head moves suddenly and the brain gets squished up against one side of the braincase; then when the head stops moving suddenly, the brain slams into the other side of the braincase. This can cause unseen damage, damage which may only exhibit itself in such things as slower learning as a child grows up, or severe brain problems much later in life, when it is far too late to do anything about it.

I don't suggest that anyone not do martial arts. However, it would be a good idea to look at the risk and decide what level one wishes to expose oneself to. Especially it would be a good idea for parents with children who study martial arts to consider the risks as well.

Just food for thought and discussion.