A neurologist's reflections on boxing. V. Conclude remarks

Rev Neurol. 1995 Sep-Oct;23(123):1027-32.


Clinical and morphological publications have shown convincingly, that participation in boxing leads to a severe permanent brain damage. The extent of the brain damage is correlated to the number of bouts fought, which correspondents in a certain way how many blows against his head a boxer received and to his weight class. The intensity of a boxing blow of a heavyweight is much more severe than those achieved by boxers of lighter weight classes. The permanent brain damage in a boxer, the amateur and the professional boxer, manifests itself in several clinical syndromes in which the pyramidal, the extrapyramidal and the cerebellar systems are involved. A traumatic Parkinsonism, in its complete or abortive form, develops as the result of the numerous boxing blows a boxer sustains in his boxing career. Especially lateral parts of the substantia nigra are affected and reveal at macroscopical and microscopical examination a severe loss of pigmented neurons. Melanin pigment is visible free in the tissue and/or is phagozytosed in macrophages and glial cells. The traumatic Parkinson syndrome, often only in an abortive form, is combined in a boxer with additional clinical and morphological findings due to traumatic lesions in other areas of the brain. It is not as pure as in a patient with a Parkinson syndrome sui generis. The permanent brain damage in a boxer is diffuse, involving all areas of the brain. Especially involved are the large neurons of different layers of the cerebral cortex, the neurons of the Ammons horn formation, the Purkinje cells of the cerebellum. In place of destroyed and lost neurons, proliferation of glial elements, especially astroglial cells, has occurred. The defects are first replaced by protoplasmatic astroglial elements, and later by fibrillary astroglia. The destroyed neurons are replaced by glial scar tissue, which cannot perform the functions of the lost neurons. It is a process which is called partial necrosis of brain tissue. There is no reparation or restitution of the destroyed neural tissue of the brain. What is destroyed remains so, a restitution ad integrum does not occur. As the result of the diffuse loss of neurons in the brain a cerebral atrophy exists. The septum pellucidum, which consists of two thin lamellae, and is small or very small in a normal brain, forms a Cavum septi pellucidi, which is considerably enlarged. The walls of this structure, especially in its dorsal parts are considerably thinned; they show fenestrations and are, in dorsal parts no longer detectable, so that a direct connection between the two lateral ventricles exists. The clinically and morphologically existing permanent brain damage is the result of the boxing activity. Diagnostically, processes of another origin, such as alcoholism, luetic processes, other forms of dementia, etc. can undoubtedly be excluded. A permanent brain damage develops in professional and amateur boxers. The objection, which are voiced by members of the different Amateur Boxing Association, that such permanent brain damage in amateur boxers today no longer exists, after stricter protective measurements were introduced, is not tenable. Individuals who represent today the opinion, that a permanent brain damage or punch drunkenness in boxers does not occur, are not familiar with the pertinent medical literature. The argument, the injury quotient in boxing is lower than in all other athletic activities is not sound, since the statistics show only the inconsequential injuries of boxers, as lesions of the skin of the face, injuries of the hand, fractures, etc. but not the much more important and severe permanent brain damage, which is not taken into consideration in these so-called statistics. Besides of the permanent brain damage of former boxers as the result of the repeated and numerous blows against their head, severe permanent damage of the eyes and the hearing organ exists.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Boxing*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Neurology*
  • Workforce