Friday, November 09, 2007

Does headgear protect your noggin? - UPDATED

No.Ouch! Head shot...
Ok. I guess more of an explanation is necessary. My post, "The world we don't see," linked to Rosstraining's video clip of Mickey Ward's recovery from his (hopefully) last fight. Watch it. One of Ross' commenters asked:
"I often wonder, though, as to why the professional world does not require boxers to wear protective head gear (the same goes for other martial arts). IMHO, wearing head gear should be a no brainer (no pun intended), specially in the pro fields where the practicioners are bigger, badder, and hit harder. Wearing head gear makes these already tough men (and women) no less tough than they are already. But would prevent many long-term disability injuries."
In my opinion, that's not correct. I don't believe that headgear does much to prevent damage to the brain. For the following reasons:
  1. A blow to the headgear still does to prevent the rapid acceleration of the brain inside the skull, and nothing to prevent the inevitable impact of the brain, possibly resulting in a concussion.
  2. Boxing-style headgear, to me, is more of a liability to the user because it ALWAY reduces peripheral vision. That results in more blows taken to the same head. Unintended consequence, to be sure, but a serious one. KOs happen all the time in amateur boxing, don't they?
Is there any benefit to headgear? Sure. I love it because I train on hard surfaces (floors or pavement) or uneven (grass), and I hate worrying about whether I'm going to smack my skull on something sharp or hard when I go down, even accidentally. Headgear is great to prevent that. Headgear also protects against cuts and abrasions to the skin. That's important when training for a fight because a cut could mean a postponement of cancellation of a bout. For most of us, a little cut just makes us look tougher on Monday when we go back to our geeky jobs.
To be sure there's slight reduction in the impact of a blow. I'd much rather take a Thai kick or overhand right to the headgear than my skull, but if I wear headgear I may never see it coming.
Agree? Disagree? Comment at the Convocation of Combat Arts thread here.
The PDF below EFFECTIVENESS OF BOXING HEADGEAR FOR LIMITING INJURY references a study which measured the force and impact of a hook punch with headgear on and off of a device to simulate the neck and head, and concluded:
The utilization of boxing headgear significantly reduces the peak punch force delivered to an opponent. In
addition, both angular and linear acceleration values are decreased when the headgear is in place. Thus, the resulting HIC is also diminished for the hook punch. Based on the current effort, the currently designed headgear and gloves are effective in reducing the risk of injury.
While I can't fault the study's methodology or results (It's "Big Headgear!" Corporate interests funding it, I tell you!), the first link below, Boxing Damages Brain Despite Headgear Protection, concludes the opposite, and this is based on real-world results:
But the study carried out by researchers at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital found that dementia pugilistica disease does not only affect career boxers, it can also be developed by amateur boxers who have been in the boxing ring for a shorter period and received, by far, fewer head blows. Henrik Zetterberg, M.D., Ph.D., of the Sahlgrenska University Hospital stated: "to our knowledge, no study has examined the short-term effects of amateur boxing on the brain in direct connection to a bout."
In the study, the team analyzed the cerebrospinal fluid of 14 amateur boxers with an average age of 22 after 7 to 10 days after they had a fight in the boxing ring and also after a 3-years period after the match. They compared the results from amateur boxers with results from perfectly healthy people who were not involved in any kind of sport which could cause them head traumas.
Findings of the cerebrospinal fluid tests after boxing matches showed that amateur boxers presented increased levels of markers for neuronal, axonal and astroglial injuries. "The current study contributes new information about brain injury risks in amateur boxing. Data suggest that participation in an amateur boxing bout is directly associated with neuronal and astroglial damage, as reflected by the increase in NFL, T-tau, and GFAP concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid," explained the authors.
But the same tests taken after 3 months of rest from fights in the ring proved that boxers presented decreased, therefore normal, levels of the fibrillary acidic protein (marker for astroglial injury). However, levels of neurofilament light protein (marker for neuronal and axonal injuries) were still higher in amateur boxers as compared to healthy people not involved in any kind of violent sport.Typical Nathan glamour shot
What the heck does this mean??? Should you, or should you not wear headgear when sparring or fighting? Would pro  fighters benefit from it, with respect to long-term health or short-term injuries? I stand by my conclusion. I believe amateur fighters who wear the headgear are more prone to get hit, but just show less blood due to the headgear (unless it's a broken nose), resulting in the same damage to the gray matter, but preserving their youthful good looks. I, on the other hand, don't always wear headgear, so the results speak for themselves!
For more information:
Boxing Damages Brain Despite Headgear Protection
Stop hitting me so hard!
Head Butts - use 'em or not?
Hand Protection, What is the Cost?

Like this post? Subscribe to our feed, or by email and you won’t miss a thing.
Interact with us at our TDA Training Facebook page!
All original material is copyright of their respective authors.
All rights reserved. Permission must be obtained before use. Copyright 2007


Patrick Parker said...

I like your picture on this post. This is what some medical-type folks call the "positive Q-sign" when your mouth and tongue make the shape of a "Q" you know something is bad wrong. Your readers might get some additional info at least peripherally relevant to the subject from my concussion post:

And, no, headgear does nothing to protect your brain. It helps keep you form getting cut or bruised when the opponent is not really trying to knock you a__ out. Perhaps we could wear 2-foot inflatible helments and not allow full contact. Other than that... So long as we are willing to pay people to knock each other out this will be an issue.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Thanks! I think... I thought it was glamorous, but now that I have the diagnosis, I'd better strart wearring a moughttpiece ebofre I sufeer imparred brina function,.

Alex Gee said...


Just wanted to comment that imho, there is a difference between the traditional, leather headguards, and the new bayflex ones (I think Top 10 make them) that they use for the Olympics.
I agree that the leather ones do nothing for protecting your brain, but these ones are shock absorbing (kind of hard foam rubber) and are quite low profile.

I don't know that the results are scientificly tested yet, but they make intuitive sense to me.

Nathan Teodoro said...

Alex, please forgive the delay. I'd like to know if you can send me links to any research data on the new headgear. My belief, based on what I've read and expereienced, is that it wouldn't matter much what material the headgear is composed of, it's the fact that it's flush with your skull. The transmission of sufficient g-forces to any part of the skull while the brain stays in place is what leads to the damage. In other words, the impact that hurts you long-term is inside, not outside the skull. Adding another layer that prevents or reduces that impact, like a roll-cage, would probably do it. I'd love to see any new data on the headgear of which you speak. Thanks- NDT

Anonymous said...

This website was wholly helpful! Thank you! I am trying to put together a petiton regarding the banishment of headgear in Amateur Boxing!If you dont mind, I would like to use this information as evidnece that boers do not need headgear in competition...

Nathan at TDA Training said...

This information reflects, as you may be able to tell, my personal experience and thoughts. I would hope that any effort to ban headgear would be based on more evidence than this, but readers are free to form their own opinions.

Anonymous said...

Your conclusion is flawed. The first study shows that acceleration is decreased with the use of headgear. It does not claim that acceleration is eliminated (this would require magic). Acceleration is what causes brain damage (head accelerates causing the brain to collide with the inside of the skull). Headgear decreases acceleration, and theoretically decreases damage as well. No one would claim that it eliminates damage.

Your second study only proves that boxers with headgear suffer more damage than average humans who don't fight at all. For a relevant comaprison your second study would have had to compare boxers with headgear vs boxers without headgear.

Anonymous said...

Step outside of the ring lads and think for a minute ..would you honestly be happy for your own kids to take up MMA for example and not wear any head gear? I know its probably better for you not to be wearing the cumbersome headgear but.....until there is more evidence, surely its better to do what ever you can to protect your brain from the acceleration effects, you wear a "box" youre not takin any chances in that department. or maybe its true...that is where your brains are!!! (Only jokin please dont take offence)
I really admire anyone taking up any thing that can teach people how to defend themselves, especially where weapons are used by the cowards. I wish Id learnt more.

harold said...

Anonymous is correct. Headgear would definitely lessen the acceleration and the subsequent brain bounce casued by a punch. The only question is how much protection it provides and whether its enough to make the sport fall within your own definition of acceptable damage.

Anonymous said...

there is a tolerable amount of acceleration that the head can experience before accumulating significant damage. Brain damage is caused mainly due shear force to a sharp increase in acceleration, rather than pressure being put on the brain.

There are evidence that headgear reduce acceleration of the head and this theoretically should reduce the chance of brain damage. A study conducted with monkeys showed that even with the scalp removed, the risk of concussion increased dramatically.

HankwithoneK said...

I'm definitely not a head gear kind of guy. I was trained, as many of us are to use your peripheral. If your not using it there is a good chance that your telegraphing. Your gonna get clocked! With that being said, If your starting out it's great for sparring. You get the feel of getting tagged which is a must but you can only wear the training wheels for so long. As for the the Mouth piece, It is a definite must! I say this because I'm to young for dentures and I enjoy eating corn off the cob!

Nathan at TDA Training said...

I am thinking about this, and due to brain sloshing and such, it takes a while...

Thanks all, for the comments.

HankwithoneK said...

One way to help protect the noggin is to exercise the neck. Go old school with it. Get some rope and loop it through a plate weight, bite the rope and lift repeatedly. I have plastic tubing I can slide on and off for sanitary reasons being that we humans slobber! Mouth piece optional! A stronger neck makes for a less wobbly head. Ha! I am Hank with one K and I approved this message.