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Emergency Medicine Australasia

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Vol 26 (6 Issues in 2014)
Edited by: Geoff Hughes
Print ISSN: 1742-6731 Online ISSN: 1742-6723
Impact Factor: 0.993

  • Press Release
November 09, 2011

Mixed martial arts under scrutiny following brain injury

Doctors treating a man with severe vertigo two days after a grappling injury while training in mixed martial arts have called for stricter regulations if the sports are allowed to continue.

The case is reported by Dr Michael Slowey, Dr Graeme Maw, and Dr Jeremy Furyk, from the Emergency Department of Townsville Hospital.

Writing in an Early View article of Emergency Medicine Australasia, the journal of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, they said the 41-year-old man suffered a stroke following “a neck strain while grappling”.

Although “there were no direct blows to the neck”, his vertebral artery (one of the main vessels supplying blood to the brain) was damaged causing the stroke.

“This case highlights the risks posed by participation in sports, such as MMA, both in competition and in training,” Dr Slowey said.

People need to be aware of the real risk of permanent neurological damage.

“Although grappling is permitted in MMA, prevention of this form of injury is clearly a major problem.

“In this case, the patient has been advised to refrain from further participation in any form of martial arts.”

In 2005, the World Medical Association recommended that boxing be banned, stating it was “a dangerous sport which can result in death and produce an alarming incidence of chronic brain injury”.

Two years later, the British Medical Association extended this call to include mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions.

Mixed martial arts was now the sixth most popular sport in the USA in 2007 with the fastest growing fan base, whereas in Australia martial arts are now the seventh most popular sport among boys under 14 years old, with more participants than rugby league.

The most commonly used disciplines in MMA are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for grappling, boxing for strikes and wrestling for takedowns.

“With a broader range of styles and rules comes a wider range of injuries,” Dr Slowey said.

“Most injuries in MMA are facial lacerations, upper limb injuries and concussions.

“The documented injury rate is 23.6 per 100 fight participations, with severe concussion rates of 15.4 per 1000 athlete exposures, or 3% of all fights.”

There are no available data on incidence of acute brain injury caused by neck trauma and in particular vascular injury in MMA.