Does headgear prevent brain damage?

Often boxers, MMA and Muay Thai fighters will wear headgear when fighting and sparring in the gym. 


Does headgear prevent knockouts?

The headgear used in these fighting sports that is essentially a padded, close fitting helmet that surrounds the head at forehead height, as well as extending down to cover the ears.  It primarily protects against soft tissue damage to the delicate areas of the face. However, it does not stop or prevent the user from suffering concussion if hit hard enough. Being concussed on a frequent basis may lead to brain damage.


Olympic boxing headgear

At the Olympic level, the International Boxing Association (AIBA),  has recently reviewed the question as to whether headgear should be mandatory in boxing and  actually changed the boxing headgear rules from 2016 onwards: boxers competing in the Olympics no longer have to wear boxing headgear.


Sparring without headgear may seem, on the face of it, more risky, but research carried out by the AIBA found that referees were stopping more fights for head related injuries where the participants were wearing headgear.


It’s clear then that headgear does not stop the risk of concussion.


What is a concussion?

According to the CDC Injury Center:


“A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth.”


A strike to the head can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull.  It’s a bit like being in a car crash without wearing your seat belt. Imagine being in a stationary car that is struck from behind.  You will be jolted forward and will end up being smashed into the front windscreen.  


The same thing happens when the head is hit with a powerful punch such as a hook or uppercut.  The brain is forced away from the direction of the punch and is crunched into the side of the skull.  


This impact can cause chemical changes in the brain and can lead to brain cell death. 


This is demonstrated in this video below:


Headgear does not prevent brain damage but to be fair, that’s not its primary purpose.  It’s designed to stop soft tissue damage so that the delicate areas of the face: the cheeks, nose, and ears, are protected.


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