The Dangers of Boxing Injuries

Head, Eye, and Body Damage From Boxing

A man prepares his boxing stance

Alberto Guglielmi / Stone / Getty Images

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.​

The degree of damage suffered by boxers depends on professional or amateur status. Professional boxers suffer from the cumulative effect of damage to the brain, often resulting in "punch-drunk syndrome." The evidence of damage suffered by amateur boxers is less clear-cut, with a number of studies finding no evidence of cumulative brain damage.

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.

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  1. Clark M, Guskiewicz K. Sport-related traumatic brain injury. In: Laskowitz D, Grant G, eds. Translational Research in Traumatic Brain Injury. CRC Press/Taylor and Francis Group; 2016.

  2. Costanza A, Weber K, Gandy S, et al. Review: Contact sport-related chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the elderly: clinical expression and structural substrates. Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 2011;37(6):570-84. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2990.2011.01186.x

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