Boxing and mixed martial arts: preliminary traumatic neuromechanical injury risk analyses from laboratory impact dosage data

J Neurosurg. 2012 May;116(5):1070-80. doi: 10.3171/2011.12.JNS111478. Epub 2012 Feb 7.


Object: In spite of ample literature pointing to rotational and combined impact dosage being key contributors to head and neck injury, boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) padding is still designed to primarily reduce cranium linear acceleration. The objects of this study were to quantify preliminary linear and rotational head impact dosage for selected boxing and MMA padding in response to hook punches; compute theoretical skull, brain, and neck injury risk metrics; and statistically compare the protective effect of various glove and head padding conditions.

Methods: An instrumented Hybrid III 50th percentile anthropomorphic test device (ATD) was struck in 54 pendulum impacts replicating hook punches at low (27-29 J) and high (54-58 J) energy. Five padding combinations were examined: unpadded (control), MMA glove-unpadded head, boxing glove-unpadded head, unpadded pendulum-boxing headgear, and boxing glove-boxing headgear. A total of 17 injury risk parameters were measured or calculated.

Results: All padding conditions reduced linear impact dosage. Other parameters significantly decreased, significantly increased, or were unaffected depending on padding condition. Of real-world conditions (MMA glove-bare head, boxing glove-bare head, and boxing glove-headgear), the boxing glove-headgear condition showed the most meaningful reduction in most of the parameters. In equivalent impacts, the MMA glove-bare head condition induced higher rotational dosage than the boxing glove-bare head condition. Finite element analysis indicated a risk of brain strain injury in spite of significant reduction of linear impact dosage.

Conclusions: In the replicated hook punch impacts, all padding conditions reduced linear but not rotational impact dosage. Head and neck dosage theoretically accumulates fastest in MMA and boxing bouts without use of protective headgear. The boxing glove-headgear condition provided the best overall reduction in impact dosage. More work is needed to develop improved protective padding to minimize linear and rotational impact dosage and develop next-generation standards for head and neck injury risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Boxing / injuries*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / pathology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / prevention & control*
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Head Protective Devices*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Manikins
  • Martial Arts / injuries*
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Neck Injuries / pathology
  • Neck Injuries / prevention & control
  • Protective Devices*