Does anyone know if there's any scientific evidence of this? I couldn't find any, but found lots of claims. I wanted to know specifically if protective gear (gloves and headgear) was enough to not get negative consequences.
Yes, there is scientific evidence that boxing is harmful to the head -
Neurochemical aftermath of boxing (Note - Some same authors)
Given the spotlight shined on this because of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and the associated lawsuits related to professional American football players, this is getting more and more attention. WTF recently changed their rules to de-emphasize powerful head contact, and more and more youth leagues are changing/adapting rules to help prevent this.
Google has a search engine specifically devoted to scientific studies. I did a search there for "head trauma boxing", you can also search for CTE boxing to get different studies. Many are unfortunately behind paywalls or academia restricted sites, but you can usually still get the purpose and conclusions.
I'm curious as to how you didn't manage to find studies. I did a standard Google search and came up with reputable organizations dedicated to the study and treatment of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and Dementia Pugilistica.
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Dementia Pugilistica Revisited
- Dementia Pugilistica
- Frequently Asked Questions about CTE
- What Is CTE?
- Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Athletes: Progressive Tauopathy following Repetitive Head Injury
- Diagnostics, Imaging, and Genetics Network for the Objective Study and Evaluatio of CTE
I agree with JohnP's answer, it is fast becoming popular in the news.
As a soccer and baseball coach, I am mandated by law to take concussion awareness and prevention courses before getting onto the field with my players. As a Taekwondo instructor and coach, I also take courses in concussions from Safesport. My league requires my players and their parents to review concussion materials before they begin play. Several of my friends are hockey and lacrosse coaches as well - they are all mandated to take these courses.
In each of these courses, they cite claims and studies on the effects of CTE and DP. And by the time symptoms set it, it is sadly irreversible. The afflicted do not know they are descending to the depths of Hell, and thus continue with the activities which cause their conditions, which in turn makes the problem worse.
If you are interested, you might want to take one of the online courses and links offered for free by the CDC, see these links:
- CDC Concussions
- CDC Concussions Course
- CDC Concussions For Teachers
- CDC Concussions For High School Sports
...ad nauseum - there's a ton of Head's Up courses offered by the CDC
Here's one from the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS):
Most schools, leagues, and clubs in the US require coaches, and sometimes players and parents, of any sport to take these very courses.
You mentioned in commentary whether protective gear can reduce or prevent TBI (traumatic brain injury). The answer is there is no conclusive study. Partly because concussion theory is an evolutionary topic, and we learn new things every so often, so what we once ignored we now know to be a concussion. Also, we know a lot more about how concussions affect the brain than we did in the past. finally, each sport has different protection methods. American football has hard helmets, Taekwondo has soft ones. Some sports remove the action which can cause concussions, like soccer (in many leagues, heading the ball is no longer allowed, or they limit the number of headers). And in all sports, we report reduced concussions over time. This suggests that their methods are working. For an indepth read, these articles may also be of help:
Getting hit in the head is definitely bad
Most people are worried about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can bring terrible things including loss of coordination, memory loss, depression, and dementia.
CTE was described as dementia pugilistica in boxers in 1928, well after gloves were introduced. Boxing in the UK from 1929-1955 had a reported rate of CTE of 17% among professional boxers, but boxers now fight less.
Other sports including American football and hockey are also informative on CTE. What's scary is that damage may not be apparent until years after the initial injuries occur.
Measuring CTE is hard
To the best of my knowledge, the only definitive diagnosis for CTE is a post-mortem examination of brain tissue. If you have to wait for people to die, it's obviously difficult to run scientific experiments. It's also difficult to do any measurements at all because you need permission in an emotionally fraught time.
JohnP's answer lists several papers trying to establish links between things you can measure with live patients and CTE.
This survey counts the neuropathologically confirmed cases of CTE in the medical literature from the first published case in 1954 to August 1, 2013 at n = 153. Although the rate of new case discoveries has increased dramatically since 2013, there is no statistical power to answer many questions, like:
Is getting hit in the head when wearing headgear worse than without headgear?
This news article reports the International Boxing Association has decided that men will compete without headgear because there is a higher rate of concussions with headgear than without, though women will still continue to compete with headgear.
It's not clear whether this change is helpful when measuring CTE because there is not enough data. It may be that many blows to the head that do not cause concussions add up to more damage than concussions. It's also not clear why there is a no-headgear policy for men, but not women.