Concussions in Boxing and Other Contact Sports

Researchers have long been making recommendations for making sports like boxing, football, and hockey safer.

See all videos with Dr. David Hovda.

Jose Sulaiman, I think he just had his 80th birthday. [David Hovda, Ph.D., UCLA Brain Injury Research Center] And there are different commissions in boxing. And the only one that we have worked with has been the World Boxing Council. And he was out of Mexico. And there was a close tie between him and UCLA through what was called the SPAR Program. And it was in trying to figure out through the orthopedic program, and how to redesign gloves to protect the hands and bones and those types of things. So what we did is we went in and I gave several lectures, along with Don Becker and a couple of other people, on clinically how you recognize a concussion. What are the attributes? And how can you reduce the level of severe or repeat concussions in boxing? And things like weigh-ins. So people would starve themselves to weigh in for a fight in order to make a particular category. Well they would do that 24 hours before the fight. And we said, "You know you do that and you're creating-- you're setting yourself up for a problem. Do the weigh-in earlier." They increased the weight of the boxing gloves from 14 ounces to 16 to maybe 18 ounces. Take the thumb of the boxing glove and stitch it down so it doesn't-- have the boxing glove go all the way up to the forearm so it's a little heavier. Have the referee be able to call a fight much sooner before you have a technical knockout. And then, after somebody has a technical knockout, or they think they've fought in a ring and they've got their bell rung, how many times do those blows to the head actually produce a concussion? We used to think that every blow did. But it doesn't. It's very, very few. And then how long should they not fight again? And the biggest problem was to keep these fighters out from sparring. It wasn't the fact that their next bout was for a title fight, but it was for when they were going to spar next. And we had to tell them, "No, you have to stop. You cannot spar for X number of weeks." And so that trickled down over to the National Football League. And then it trickled over to the National Hockey League. And then there was a big, big story that came out. People were worried about heading the soccer ball and producing a concussion. And we had to have a panel in Washington, D.C. And we developed a white paper saying, you know, I'm sorry, that does not cause a concussion. Heading the ball does not do that. Head-to-head or head-to-ground or head-to-goal post does, but not head-to-ball. If you get hit 50 times, and each time you get hit your brain goes into a state of a cerebral concussion or mild traumatic brain injury, you have the devastating outcomes. But you have to have the symptoms and the physiology of concussion to actually do that. It's like the data that was acquired in boxing many years ago. Every blow to the head, although they can be glancing and they may look violent, they don't produce a concussion. There's about 10% of the blows in a boxing match that can have the capability of producing a concussion. And most of those were occuring in the 15th and 14th and 13th round. That's why in the World Boxing Council we had them stop at 12, so they don't fight any more than 12 rounds.
Posted on BrainLine October 18, 2011.

About the author: David Hovda, PhD

David Hovda, PhD is the director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. He is past president of the National Neurotrauma Society and past president of the International Neurotrauma Society.  He has served as chair of study sections for the National Institute for Neurological Disease and Stroke.

David Hovda

Produced by Noel Gunther, Ashley Gilleland, and Brian King, BrainLine.