By Dr. James Bender, psychologist, and a Level I Combatives instructor, amateur-mixed martial arts fighter, and former Army officer. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog, Frontline Psych with Doc Bender on issues related to deployment and being in the military.
As a former Army officer and current amateur boxer, I was very happy to hear that the U.S. Army won the Armed Forces Boxing Championship, beating tough Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps teams. The next step is competing in the 2010 U.S. National Boxing Championships July 12-17 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) are hot sports right now. I remember Fort Benning, Ga. practically shutting down so everyone could watch UFC 100 at the local Benning Brew Pub. MMA is equally popular at other bases and with the other military branches. Plus, there’s a significant overlap between MMA, the Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) and the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). For many servicemembers, this is more than a sport; it’s a military specialty and sometimes a matter of life and death.
Unfortunately, if you’re going to have any kind of realistic training in combatives or MMA, head injuries (including concussions) are going to happen. DCoE works hard to put out guidelines for doctors to use when treating concussions. Much has been learned during the past 10 years and some of the new information is disproving some of the old information. It would take a small library to cover all the information about concussions (also called mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI), but here are a few main points you should know about mTBI as it relates to boxing and MMA:
- You don’t have to be knocked unconscious to have a mTBI. Some other signs of mTBI are a period of memory loss, feeling woozy or dazed, confusion or disorientation.
- Amateur boxers, who train less intensely and sustain fewer head blows are less at risk for incurring permanent brain damage than pros. However, effects of repeated concussions may result in changes within the brain. Resting and preventing further injury following a concussion is important to brain recovery.
- While mouthguards are very good at protecting teeth, they have not been proven to protect the brain or prevent concussions thus far.
- If you do experience a mTBI while training, your doctor will advise you to rest, with emphasis on sleep and abstaining from alcohol (which is a brain toxin). Before returning to boxing or MMA, be certain that you no longer have any symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, trouble sleeping or nausea. If you begin exercising and experience these symptoms, immediately stop and contact your doctor.
- Most people with mTBI have normal brain scans. That’s why your doctor may not order a brain scan for you if you suffer a mTBI.
- Finally, you should know that most people who sustain a mTBI recover completely.
Boxing and MMA are great sports that get you in fantastic physical condition, relate to the military’s mission and sometimes have direct battlefield uses. Just be smart with your training; your brain and body will hold up just fine.
Thanks for your service, and please post any questions that you have.
*Be sure to check out Dr. Bender’s previous DoD Live post About Your Brain, for more information about traumatic brain injuries
*For more posts on psychological health and traumatic brain injury, check out the DCoE Blog