Boxing and the dangers of traumatic brain injury

The Philippines’ pride and joy has fallen.
The image looked shocking and indelible. Manny Pacquiao, the first eight-division world boxing champion, falling like a dead tree flat on the mat after rival Juan Manuel Marquez’s right fist landed on Manny’s face.
If you were watching the game, Manny seemed to have been unconscious even before he hit the floor because he made no attempt to break his fall. Thus, his head absorbed the impact of the fall.

Yahoo! Sports photo.

Related: Horrors: Manny Pacquiao falls

What is traumatic brain injury or TBI?
While cuts and bruises are the most common injuries among boxers, traumatic brain injury or TBI is also a real and sometimes chronic danger.
Together with cases unrelated to boxing, TBI accounts for 40% of deaths due to acute or sudden causes all over the world.
The most common cause of TBI is due to motor vehicular accidents occurring in 50% of cases. Falls, which account for 30% of TBIs, are the second leading cause. Being assaulted or struck on the head is the third most common cause with an incidence of  20%.
Two out of the top three causes of traumatic brain injury happened almost at the same time to Manny.
What now? Will he be able to fight again?

Related: Crying Pacquiao 'let Philippine fans down'

The case of Muhammad Ali
Many may remember Muhammad Ali, another great boxer. He now suffers from Parkinson’s disease which is a nerve problem. His doctors say this might have been due to the constant trauma endured by his brain in his 22 years of boxing.
Is Manny expected to have these problems? What are the effects of TBI?
The long term effects of injury to the brain may range from mild to severe symptoms.
Immediately after the insult, the person may show changes in mental status such as being disoriented. But more severe cases present with loss of consciousness and amnesia.

Related: Stimulating mental activities keep the brain young

Effects of TBI
The following are the other changes that may occur due to TBI:

  •     Memory lapses or total amnesia
  •     Altered reasoning
  •     Decreased sense of touch, taste or smell
  •     Difficulty in speech or communication
  •     Changes in facial expression
  •     Depression
  •     Anxiety
  •     Personality changes: aggression, acting out or inappropriate behavior

Long term complications of TBI include:

  •     Epilepsy
  •     Alzheimer’s disease
  •     Parkinson’s disease

We need not look far to see the harmful effects of TBI on a person’s behavior.

Related: Regular exercise can help keep your brain healthy as you age

The case of Ricky Hatton
Ricky Hatton, another popular boxer, lost his zing after Manny knocked him out cold on the ring in 2009.
Before 2009, Hatton enjoyed a winning streak until he faced Pacman in the ring. After that loss to Manny, Hatton was said to have lost his drive in boxing. He went into depression and started using prohibited drugs. He has admitted to feeling suicidal. Since then been in and out of drug rehab centers.

Related: Ex-boxer Hatton hits back from depression nightmare

We don’t know what the future holds for our former Golden Boy of boxing. I can only imagine Nanay Dionisia probably saying: Leaving the ring on his own two feet and all in one piece is blessing enough.

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Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.

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