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article imageDoctors: Boxers should have their heads read

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 6, 2009 in Sports
In last month's punch up between boxing champions Evander Holifield of the USA and the gigantic Nikolai Valuev of Russia, 3,5 minutes into the fight, Holifield took nine punches to the head and neck. Opponent Valuev wasn't even touched.
The outcome of the match isn't important - what is important is the major danger of this repeated punching to the skull the sport poses to these fighters.
It's not the one-time 'knock-out' punches which do the most damage, brain-damage experts say - it's the repeated pounding against the skull which sets the brain into a rocking motion. This continuous pounding against the skull causes the socalled 'counter-coup' injuries, where the brain sets up an increasing rocking motion inside the brainpan, and starts crashing up against the sharp ridges inside the skull. This causes internal bleeding, and blood clotting: the so-called 'counter-coup' injuries.
And brain cells, unlike other human flesh, do not ever ever recover from such damage: brain cells don't ever heal nor replace themselves once they have been destroyed.
Boxing and and kick-boxing are the only sports in the world which are specifically designed to inflict deliberate brain-damage to 'defeat' the opponent with.
The argument among the boxing fraternity heard the most is that 'football players get more injuries' - however boxing is the only sport where deliberate, massive damage has to be inflicted on the opponent, preferably to the brain, in order to 'win'. The rewards are massive adoration in the news media, together with large dollops of cash for each fight. Often men from the most impoverished communities are drawn into boxing, dazzled by such immediate rewards. However the price they pay for it, is huge.
Many die young, beaten to a pulp, or end up with permanent brain- and eye damage. Often, they suffer early dementia from brain damage, and boxers often suffer much sooner than other people their age of early-aging diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Yet because of the huge sums of money which are made by everybody involved in boxing, the health hazards of boxing get very little media attention, quite deliberately.
There are many more long-term, serious injuries, amongst others brain damage and dislodged corneas, than are ever reported in the news media.
The late Lito Sisnorio, who was once the former World Boxing Council youth flyweight titleholder, is just the latest known boxing death which was published. But the deaths never receive as much media attention as do the hyped-up matches.
Sisnorio died just hours after he was 'knocked out' in Bangkok on March 30 by former Thai world champion Chatchai Sasakul. He underwent an emergency operation to remove a blood clot caused by a counter-coup injury, he brain's rocking motion while he was being repeatedly punched.
He had fallen unconscious several hours after his fourth-round knockout loss to Sasakul - who lost his WBC flyweight tile fight in 1998 by being knocked out by present champion Manny Pacquiao.
Indonesian junior-lightweight boxer Anis Dwi Mulya also died from internal hemorrhage in the head - the country's 22nd boxing-related fatality. He had suffered a counter-coup brain injury in a fight five days earlier.
The bout had been stopped in the sixth round when the referee saw that Anis was 'in serious trouble'.
Blows to the body cause the muscles to lose their elasticity, and this poses further danger to the skull, when it suddenly starts lolling over because it is unsupported by rapid weakening of the neck muscles.
And it's exactly these most vulnerable places - the neck and back muscles and the skull -- which boxers concentrate on the most when punching and pummeling their opponents.And the eyes are also targetted, directly and indirectly: while a very hard bone protects the eyes on the side, they are very vulnerable to direct upward blows.
That's also what boxers seen to do a lot: delivering direct, upward blows - uppercuts.
Not only do these cause direct damage to the eyes and often to the teeth and nose, but the shock waves in the eyes' fluids can also dislodge or tear the retina.
In an Italian study in 2005 of more than 1,300 amateur boxers' medical records and physical examinations, it was found that more than 49% suffered 'mild' eye damage, which was described in this study as near-blindness and detachment of the retina.'
The non-boxing control group in the identical age category showed only about 4% eye damage to the same extent. So boxers clearly are very vulnerable to going blind from these punches, too.
That's what this sport is all about: causing your opponent so much serious damage that you either blind him, punch him out or punch him so often that he gets internal brain damage. Then you win.
That is why in the United States laws, like the Mohammed Ali Boxing Reform Act, seek to minimize hazards to boxers. This was undertaken and supported by the boxing fraternity in order to countermand the health fraternity's increasing demands for boxing to be banned altogether.
Brain damage commonplace
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has found brain damage is very commonplace among boxers, up to 90 percent of whom sustain various brain injuries.
The scientific evidence presented by the AASNS from its own members who have treated boxers over the years, also proves that the number of boxers suffering brain damage is much higher than reported in the sports news media.
AANS doctors estimate that the direct blow to the head given by someone like Manny Pacquiao is equivalent to being hit by a 12-lb padded wooden mallet flying at 20 miles per hour.
Punches thrown by the world's largest and heaviest boxer, Nikolai Valuev of Russia, are even more powerful.
Doctors have also found that former boxers suffer much more from the effects of natural aging of the brain and various diseases of brain such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
And often, they also exhibit much more violent behaviour than do non-boxing sportsmen - which may be an indication of early brain damage, which often causes aggression in the earliest stages, doctors say.
Boxers' brains become smaller
Surgeons report that boxers’ brains become smaller because of boxing, their surface grey matter is thinner.
The ventricles within their brain therefore enlarge to fill the space of decreased white matter.
There is no reliable count of how many boxers have died in the ring over the years.
However the online Journal of Combative Sport says in the past 50 years at least 450 people had died all over the world from injuries related to boxing.
'There is no safe dose of blows to the head for boxers'
New Scientist also reported in May 2007 that unpaid exponents of boxing suffer brain damage just like their professional colleagues, despite wearing headgear - citing Max Albert Hietala at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, and his colleagues in a study of the cerebrospinal fluid of 14 local amateur boxers.
"Levels of neurofilament light (NFL), a marker for neuronal damage, were four times as high in boxers after a fight as in healthy non-athletes, and up to eight times as high in boxers who had taken more than 15 high-impact hits to the head. "Levels took three months to return to normal," they told a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston.
"There is probably no safe dose of blows to the head," they quoted Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, as saying. This organisation is campaigning for a total ban on boxing. see
An example of the dangerous violence which boxers can display was the incident of Russian heavyweight boxer Valuev in January 19 last in his hometown St.Petersburg.
He was accused of beating a security guard half his size when he became angered about the way the smaller, older man had spoken to Mrs Galina Valuev, his wife. The guard, a 61-year-old pensioner, was hospitalized for at least a week for a concussion and bruises to the chest.
A club employee told what he had witnessed: "I saw a huge man holding a small man with his left hand by the back of his jacket collar. The head of the small man was all hidden inside the jacket, while the big man was hitting him on the head, quickly and viciously," said Alexander Legoshin, 58.
"At first the small man screamed, 'Nikolay, Nikolay!' I recognized the voice, it was Yuri Sergeyev, the guard.
And suddenly, I realized that the big man was Nikolay Valuev, the boxing champion.
"Valuev's eyes were so wild that I understood that if I interfered, he would do me in, too."
He said the boxer hit the guard about 10 times in the head, then gave him a sharp uppercut to the chest, sending the man's body flying and landing with a thud. He finished it off with two more 'light' blows, Legoshin said, and then just walked away.
More about Brain damage boxers, Eye damage boxers, Demands ban boxing
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