Headgear does not prevent concussions or other brain injuries. Nor does it stop the progressive disease CTE which is linked to repeated concussive and sub concussive impacts. Despite this many athletes don’t understand the limitations of headgear. Because of this some observe that athletes take more hits to the head with headgear on. A recent study was published verifying this observation.
In the study, titled Comparison of Head Strike Incidence under K1 Rules of Kickboxing with and without Helmet Protection—A Pilot Study, the researchers reviewed full contact kickboxing bouts under K1 Rules. Bouts with and without headgear were contrasted. The results were analyzed with the researchers noting that “Statistically significant differences were found between the number of delivered kicks and punches during fighting with and without a helmet… The results show that the participants delivered more strikes when wearing a helmet, but that this also led to significantly more direct hits to the head, which showed a statistically significant difference“.
The researchers polled the participants and found that a false sense of security with headgear fueled this behaviour change with the authors noting “we obtained the subjective opinions of the tested athletes through direct interviews. The participants reported feeling less threatened by their opponent when fighting with a helmet, which led them to focus more on offensive actions, neglecting certain defensive aspects. The opposite proportion was noted in the opinions regarding confrontations without helmets, where the participants were clearly more focused and concentrated on effective defense.”.
The researchers concluded that “Athletes fighting in helmets are exposed to a greater number of techniques directly hitting the head, which may have an impact on the occurrence of injuries or serious harm. “
The full abstract reads as follows:
Background: Kickboxing is a combat sport that encompasses various forms of competition. K1 kickboxing is conducted without any restrictions on the force of strikes, and the bout can end prematurely through a knockout. Headgear has been introduced in amateur kickboxing to safeguard the head. However, scientific studies have shown that despite their use, serious head injuries can still occur. The aim of this study was to evaluate the temporal structure of the bout by calculating the number of head strikes in K1 kickboxing bouts with and without headgear. Methods: Thirty K1 kickboxing bouts were analyzed, with 30 participants included in the study. The fights were conducted according to the World Association Kickboxing Organization (WAKO) rules. The bouts consisted of three rounds of 2 min each, with a 1 min break between rounds. Sparring pairs were arranged according to weight categories. The first bouts were conducted without headgear, and two weeks later, the fights were repeated with WAKO-approved headgear. The number of head strikes was assessed retrospectively by analyzing video recordings of the bouts, categorizing strikes as hand or foot strikes, and differentiating between strikes that hit the head directly or indirectly. Results: The results showed statistically significant differences between bouts with and without headgear in terms of the number of strikes to the head (p = 0.002), strikes directly to the head (p < 0.001), all hand strikes to the head (p = 0.001), hand strikes directly to the head (p = 0.003), and foot strikes directly to the head (p = 0.03). Higher values were observed in bouts with headgear. Conclusions: Headgear increases the probability of direct strikes to the head. Therefore, it is important to familiarize kickboxers with the use of headgear in their sport to minimize head injuries.