The Dangers of Boxing Injuries

Head, Eye, and Body Damage From Boxing

A man prepares his boxing stance

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Any activity that involves blows to the body, especially the head, is risky. Boxing's controlling bodies and the government have made some attempts to put into place a number of regulations, such as the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, that seek to minimize the dangers. But boxing can and does have some serious effects on the health of people who are involved in the sport.

Risks in Boxing

Boxing is dangerous. The number of boxers who have died as a result of the sport is not known, but it does appear that boxing death rates are much lower than in some sports, such as horse racing.

Reliable data is affected by differences in regulation between amateur and professional boxing, illegal boxing events, the way regulative bodies worldwide function, lack of long-term studies and medical inaccuracy in relating the apparent minor injury to later medical events.

Common Boxing Injuries

While research is limited, the most frequently noted boxing injuries involve trauma to the head, eyes, and body.

Head Injury

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons says that 90% of boxers sustain a traumatic brain injury during their career. Boxing may account for fewer deaths than some other sports, but the number of boxers suffering brain damage is believed to be much higher than recorded.

When a boxer gets a direct blow to the head, it is like being hit by a 13-pound bowling ball traveling at 20 mph, which is about 52 times the force of gravity. Being hit on the head can cause bone fractures and brain tissue damage. A blow can damage the surface of the brain, tear nerve networks, cause lesions or bleeding, or produce large clots within the brain.​

It's important to note that head trauma is also associated with slower information processing speeds.

Body Damage

Other injuries to the body from boxing include cuts, bruises, broken teeth, dental problems, broken ribs, internal bleeding, and damage to internal organs.

Eye Injuries

Although protected by hard bone on the side, eyes are very vulnerable to direct hits from below. Damage to the eyes in boxing can result from direct contact or from shock waves. Depending on the force of the blow, damage may result in injury to the retina, retinal detachment, retinal hemorrhage, and other injuries.

Brain Diseases

Ex-boxers are more vulnerable to the natural aging of the brain and diseases of the brain. They may be more likely to suffer diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Boxers' brains are smaller and the surface gray matter is thinner. The ventricles within the brain are enlarged because of the decrease in the brain's white matter.

Safety Standards

In the United States, legislation has provided boxers with some protection from exploitation and with health and safety monitoring and health insurance (e.g. The Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996, The Mohammed Ali Boxing Reform Act). Many medical professionals believe that more legislation is required to further protect boxers, especially professionals, in this sport. Many would like to see boxing banned altogether.

When to See a Doctor

Some boxing gyms may require a health check before allowing you to spar. However, if you're experiencing any symptoms of a concussion — headache, memory loss, dizziness, vomiting, general confusion — or have an acute injury including a cut, bruising, sprain, or broken bones, contact your doctor.

Boxing Alternatives

Avoid the injuries often associated with boxing by taking on other sports. For example, using a bag to box or choosing shadowboxing removes the combat element. You'll still get the benefits of the workout and will build up full-body strength, but the absence of sparring with another fighter will limit the potential risk for injury.

A Word From Verywell

While boxing training does deliver potential health benefits, the risks of the full-contact sport make it a potentially dangerous activity. Before beginning any new sport or physical workout routine, consult with a doctor to best understand any potential dangers and risks with any preexisting conditions.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jerry Kennard, PhD
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society.