In 2011, the Cleveland Clinic announced a voluntary long-term study on the brain health of professional boxers and mixed martial artists. The idea was to evaluate the brains of fighters in the hope of discovering improved ways to prevent permanent brain injuries. Dr. Charles Bernick of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, dubbed the study, The Professional Fighters Brain Health Study.
Bernick recently released some of his findings in the December 23, 2019 issue of “Neurology,” the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study has been renamed The Professional Athletes Brain Health Study since it was recently expanded to include professional bull riders.
The information Bernick released in December came from the study of 50 current boxers with an average age of 29 and an average of five fights; 23 retired boxers with an average age of 45 and an average of 38 fights; and 100 mixed martial arts fighters with an average age of 29 and an average of eight fights. That combat athletes were compared to 31 non-fighters with an average age of 31 who had no history of head trauma. No retired MMA fighters were included in the study because of the small number of volunteers. Men and women were included in Bernick’s research.
The Professional Athletes Brain Health Study requires active fighters to have at least one professional fight within two years of enrollment. Active fighters have to be training with the goal of fighting. The retired boxers are included in the study if they have at least 10 professional fights, have not competed in two years, and do not intend to return to competition. The control group consists of individuals who have no history of neurologic disorders, head trauma, or military service. Those in the control group also have no history of participation in a combat sport or a sport that could result in head trauma at a high school level or higher.