Study Explores Head Injury Rate in Professional MMA

Adding to this site’s database of combat sports health and safety studies, research was published in the journal The Physician and Sports Medicine, exploring head injury rates from professional MMA competitions.

In the study, titled “Craniofacial and Traumatic Brain Injuries in Mixed Martial Arts” the authors examined ringside physician reports from the Nevada State Athletic Commission for all UFC events in the jurisdiction from 2016 through 2019.

During this period 408 fights took place and in these a total of 288 head injuries were documented. Traumatic brain injuries were the most common head injury noted with these occurring 35 times per 100 athletic exposures. The rate of head injuries were higher for men than women and were higher as weight divisions increased.

The article’s abstract reads as follows:

Objective:Mixed-Martial-Arts(MMA) has witnessed a rapid growth over the recent years. The aim of this study is to explore the patterns and trends of head injuries in MMA.

Design:Descriptive epidemiological study.

Setting: Ringside physician reports of the Ultimate Fighting Championship(UFC) fights between 2016 and 2019(inclusive) were screened. Data was extracted from the Nevada State Athletic Commission(NSAC) database. Play-by-play video analysis was also conducted.

Participants: UFC fighters involved in fights sanctioned by the NSAC, between 2016 and the end of 2019(N=816).

Independent Variables: Sex, location of head injury, type of head injury, injury mechanism, number of significant head strikes, type of finish, and weight division.

Main Outcome Measures: Head injury rates were calculated. A one-way analysis of variance(ANOVA) was used to explore any statistically significant differences between injury rates of different locations, types and ways of finish. An independent t-test was used to determine whether any significant differences existed between the two sexes, and a Joinpoint regression analysis was used to determine the statistical significance of the trends of head injury rates across different weight divisions. P-values<0.05 were considered significant(95% CI).

Results: A total of 288 head injuries in 408 fights were recorded during our study period. Head injury rate constituted 35 injuries per 100 athletic-exposures(AE) in sanctioned fights. Traumatic brain injuries(TBI) were the most common type of injury, with a rate of 16per100AE, significantly greater than that of fractures(p=0.003). Males had a head injury rate of 37per100AE, higher than that of females which was 23per100AE. Technical-Knockout(TKO)/Knockout(KO) was the type of finish with the highest rate of head injuries, significantly greater than that of decision or submission(p<0.001). In general, head injury rates were higher as weight divisions increased.

Conclusion: Head injuries are prevalent in MMA. Preventive measures need to be implemented to ensure fighter safety and limit injury risk.


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