What Do Parkinson’s Disease and Boxing Have in Common?

Last Updated: 24.07.19

 

 

Using quality boxing headgear when engaging in fighting is of paramount importance since the head is the one exposed to most injuries and thus to repeated trauma. As we’ve described in our recent article, the equipment you use plays a crucial role in defending your body from unwanted injuries.

However, the nature of boxing, even if you wear quality protective gear, involves punches and thus the risk of injuries. On the one hand, according to the Mayo Clinic, people who suffer head injuries have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than individuals who had no head trauma.

On the other hand, although research is limited, some patients with Parkinson’s disease have noticed life quality improvements and even the reduction of certain symptoms related to this disease when practicing various boxing moves.

What is then the link between boxing and Parkinson’s disease? Let’s find out the positive and negative connections between the two in today’s post.

 

Parkinson’s disease – causes and symptoms

It is generally accepted that the symptoms of this disease are caused by the lack of dopamine in the brain. Certain brain cells that are responsible for producing this chemical messenger are impaired or die.

Although research is still needed before knowing more about the clear and root cause of this impairment, there are some factors that may increase the risk of developing this disease. The potential risk factors include genetic mutations, toxins, and head injury. Here is where boxing and this disease share a common field.

Parkinson’s disease symptoms include slow speech, automatic body changes, tremor, rigid muscles, and lack of balance, just to name a few. As the disease progresses, the symptoms get more severe and include even dementia.

Boxers and Parkinson’s disease

Boxing has both negative and positive health effects. While training for boxing involves the development of various muscles, flexibility and strength enhancement, and increased agility, this sport also involves injuries and, more often than not, such injuries include blows to the head. Concussions and bruises are thus common to fighters practicing this sport.

Some of these traumas get worse over time and lead to CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). This condition debuts with a variety of signs including lack of focus, weak memory, headaches, and dizziness. As the condition progresses, the individual suffering from it can even experience symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as speech and motion issues.

Unfortunately, notable boxers suffered from Parkinson’s disease as a result of the great amount of punishment received throughout their career, especially toward the end of it when the slowed reactions caused by age allowed for increased punishment. The heavy beatings and blows received are considered to increase the likelihood of developing this disease.

There are several cases of boxers who displayed symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Out of the most famous ones, we mention Muhammad Ali, Freddie Roach, and Floyd Patterson. Since they were professional boxers, they spent more time in the ring than amateur fighters and thus were more often involved in serious head injuries.

 

Precautions

Boxing is fighting and there are little chances not to get punched or hit when in the ring. If you choose to fight anyhow, then using quality protective gear is recommended if you want to diminish the impact of blows. However, not all boxers wear headgear, depending on the type of boxing they practice.

Also, it is important to know when to stop fighting and retire. Seeing a doctor regularly is thus part of any boxer’s must-dos. Usually, there are warning signs that should make you question your activity as a boxer and they include lasting head injuries. Pay attention to all the physical and mental changes you experience and let your doctor know about them.

 

What about fighting off Parkinson’s disease symptoms through boxing?

Currently, there is no cure for this disease but its progression may be slowed down through various therapies. Here is where the effects of boxing get a bit contradictory yet there is an explanation for that.

While heavy blows to the head can lead to severe injuries that can further trigger various conditions or represent a potential risk factor for others, Parkinson’s disease included, the physical exercises involved in boxing may have a protective effect on the brain.

Despite the fact that research in this field is limited, more and more gyms adopted the Rock Steady Boxing program that combines various boxing exercises and drills to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This program basically uses the beneficial movements and physical training involved in boxing while eliminating sparring with another person and thus the risk of injuries.

This is a non-contact workout that includes weight-training core exercises, calisthenics, and traditional boxing drills to improve the physical and mental condition. The program that is now used across the entire world for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease focuses on balance, hand-eye coordination, footwork, and reaction.

However, to understand the way this program can help a patient suffering from this disease, it is important to know what causes the symptoms, according to physical therapist Danielle Sequira.

Patients who took such classes have noticed an improvement in their life quality and have learned to manage some of the symptoms more successfully. Plus, exercising with other individuals suffering from the same disease may be therapeutic per se.

Final thoughts

Even if more research is needed to fully understand Parkinson’s disease and more studies to know what can help patients deal with this condition and slow down its progression, there are various cases of fighters with a rich experience in boxing who developed early and even more severe signs of Parkinson’s disease.

While avoiding head injuries as much as possible is a great way of minimizing the risk of developing this health problem, some boxing moves and drills may prove to help people who already suffer from it as the Rock Steady Boxing program shows.

 

 

 

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