New test needed for boxing safety

Professional sports organizations are constantly searching for ways to improve the safety of competitions. Sports involving unarmed combat like boxing and mixed martial arts can face immense challenges since the ultimate goal is to neurologically impair an opponent in the form of a knock-out.

The pre-fight evaluation is crucial in avoiding permanent neurologic injury and death. Each state and all sovereign tribal nations that allow these sports have their own boxing commissions.

Connecticut has three commissions: The Connecticut State Boxing Commission, the Mohegan Tribal Department of Athletic Regulation and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Boxing Commission. Connecticut is among the most heavily regulated states in terms of safety.

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a diagnostic test where wires are taped to the skull and electrical impulses generated by the brain are recorded. Normal brain cells (neurons) produce patterns of rhythmic discharges. Variations in these rhythms are indicative of different types of brain abnormality.

EEGs were routinely used as a screening test in many states to determine whether a boxer could participate in an event. After several years, a review of 98 EEGs, performed on 86 boxers, who had participated in a total of 5,809 fights showed no significant abnormality. No fighter was prohibited from boxing based on the EEG.

These results demonstrated that EEG is not an appropriate test to assess chronic brain injury. This information will be presented next week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

The AAN represents over 21,000 neurologists. The information accumulated in Connecticut may help in evaluating patients with traumatic brain injury including returning service personnel.

Most importantly, the boxing commissions in Connecticut changed and are now requiring annual neurologic history and examination before boxing events.

“Boxing commissioners must be willing to change regulations in order to keep unarmed combatants safe,” said Peter Timothy. commissioner for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Athletic Commission.

The ability for sports organizations to institute changes despite time-honored traditions is crucial to maintaining a safe contest for participants.

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