An interesting article was published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine calling on researchers to collaborate in making full contact combat sports with intentional head strikes ground zero for research involving head trauma in sport.
Contrasting these sports with other contact sports where head trauma is incidental instead of a key goal of competition the researchers observe as follows:
Strikes directly to the head are intentional and critical to success in combat sports like Muay Thai, kickboxing, boxing and MMA. Unlike other sports, fighting often does not obey the mandatory immediate removal of the player when signs of concussion are observed (ie, recognise and remove). This allows a brain injured fighter to receive extra head impacts, from the opponent or the canvas flooring, despite the observation of typical concussion signs (eg, lying motionless, no protective action and vacant look). Motor incoordination, disorientation and symptoms such as dizziness and poor balance may be subtle and insufficient to determine the end of a fight, exposing the combatant to further damage, including life-threatening injuries such as subdural haemorrhage. While there is room for implementing preventive actions, the deliberate intention of inducing brain injury is the biggest risk factor for concus sion in combat sports. This is unlikely to change in competition but possibly could in training...
The Association of Ringside Physicians published a consensus statement on concussion management in combat
sports, which is mostly based on recommendations for non-combat sports and anecdotal evidence. Research evaluating head injuries in combat sports were found to have significant risk of bias, inconsistency, imprecision, very low quality and importance.
The upcoming International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport appears timely and will hopefully endorse
the importance of better-quality research into concussion in combat sports. It is critical to acknowledge that the Concussion in Sport Group recommendations are poorly implemented in combat sports, due to the very essence of these sports. Combat sport athletes are chronically exposed to intentional and repetitive head impacts, and
the real prevalence and global impact of brain injuries in combat sports needs to be addressed.
The full article, titled It’s a no brainer: combat sports should be ground zero for research on concussion, can be accessed at the British Journal of Sports Medicine.