The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Rocky IV and Head Injury

The BBC news reported this week that, Kickboxing 'causes brain damage.' The news story stated that a recent study showed: "Kickboxing can cause damage to the part of the brain which controls hormone production." However, it is not kickboxing, but receiving blows to the head.

Recently I posted about the fun exercise training in the movie Rocky IV - Rocky IV and Healthier Exercise. After training to become healthier and stronger, the movie depicts Rocky sustaining severe head strikes as a symbol of determination or disciplined fighting ability. It is higher fighting skill not to receive these hits. It is hopefully not a surprise that it is also healthier not to get hit in the head.

The Turkish study that the above news item was based upon compared pituitary hormone function in twenty-two kickboxers who had boxed in national and international championships (16 men, 6 women) compared to controls of the same age who did not box. Levels were lower in the kickboxers (Tanriverdi F, Unluhizarci K, Coksevim B, Selcuklu A, Casanueva FF, Kelestimur F. Kickboxing sport as a new cause of traumatic brain injury-mediated hypopituitarism. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2007 Mar;66(3):360-6). A previous study by the same group found the same results in eleven actively competing or retired male boxers (Kelestimur F, Tanriverdi F, Atmaca H, Unluhizarci K, Selcuklu A, Casanueva FF. Boxing as a sport activity associated with isolated GH deficiency. J Endocrinol Invest. 2004 Dec;27(11):RC28-32).

Studies like these, that compare groups, cannot tell if boxing lowered the hormone levels without measuring a "before and after" or including number and severity of head strikes sustained. Without more information, these studies would not be able to conclude if the boxing caused the low levels, head strikes caused the injury, or it was the case that the people started out with low levels then became successful competitive boxers. However, it is documented in the literature that head blows that lead to traumatic brain injury produce anterior pituitary dysfunction (Agha A, Rogers B, Sherlock M, O'Kelly P, Tormey W, Phillips J, Thompson CJ. Anterior pituitary dysfunction in survivors of traumatic brain injury. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Oct;89(10):4929-36). The previously mentioned Turkish researchers had earlier reported on a case study where they observed a boxer who received a head strike then suffered specific anterior hormonal effects (Tanriverdi F, Unluhizarci K, Selcuklu A, Casanueva FF, Kelestimur F. Transient hypogonadotropic hypogonadism in an amateur kickboxer after head trauma. J Endocrinol Invest. 2007 Feb;30(2):150-2).

Previous studies looked at neurophysiologic and neuropsychologic function and did not find long term damage in these areas (Haglund Y, Eriksson E. Does amateur boxing lead to chronic brain damage? A review of some recent investigations. Am J Sports Med. 1993 Jan-Feb;21(1):97-109) so it is new and helpful to localize that hormonal damage may be occurring from head blows.

Growth hormone is one of the hormones affected. The post Human Growth Hormone shows how it works and how to boost your own levels naturally and safely.

Aerobic kickboxing is not the kind of kickboxing where the studies are finding brain damage. The issue is strikes to the head and subsequent brain damage. Blows to the head can happen in any contact-style martial art, not just kickboxing. Head injury is also an in issue in motor vehicle accidents, falls, and domestic violence to family members of any age.

I will write soon about avoiding head injury in boxing and fighting arts, and other exercise. I am glad that the top competitors I faced in the ring didn't manage to land any head blows during my own full-contact martial arts and kickboxing bouts (or none I remember :-). To their credit, they managed other worthy hits. It is still not known what damage choke holds may produce, and is a topic of ongoing investigation.

The idea of the martial arts is to get out of a fight not into one. Fighting arts, as sport or entertainment, can be done, and won, without permanent damage to the other person, if all understand and fight for a greater good.

"To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill."
- Sun Tsu, The Art of War

Related Fitness Fixer:


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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.