A sport where the main objective is to deliberately hit someone on the head is not appropriate for children and teenagers, says the American Academy of Pediatrics in a new Policy Statement, along with the Canadian Paediatric Society. Their policy statement is published in Pediatrics, September 2011 issue.

Co-author Claire LeBlanc, MD, FAAP, Chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society Healthy Active Living and Sports Medicine Committee, said:

“We want children and teens to actively pursue sport and recreation, but boxing is not a good option. We recommend young people participate in sports where the prime focus is not deliberate blows to the head.”

A child’s brain is much more vulnerable to concussion than an adult’s. Children’s head injuries take much longer to recover than adults’. If even among adult amateur boxers, the risk of serious brain and face injuries is high, for children it is higher still.

Amateur boxers do wear safety gear, the authors explained. However, there is no compelling evidence that demonstrates that head guards reduce concussion risk.

Dr. LeBlanc said:

“While most sports have some risk of injury, boxing is especially dangerous because these athletes are rewarded for dedicated and deliberate hits to their opponent’s head.”

Figures on how many participants there are, or what the injury rate is among members are not kept by either USA Boxing or Boxing Canada.

According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database, 8,716 boxing injuries are seen to in American emergency departments. The authors add that numbers have grown significantly since 1990.

They found that 35% of injuries to adult and non-adult males that were not related to punching bags were to the neck and head, with an emphasis on concussions and lacerations. 8.1% of injuries were concussion across all age groups (12 to 34 years).

Bearing in mind that repeated blows to the head over time may be a risk factor for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, these are worrying statistics, the authors wrote.

Pediatricians are being called upon by both the AAP and CPS to strongly discourage children and teenagers from taking part in boxing. They should be directed towards other sports, such as volleyball, basketball, tennis or swimming.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have suffered multiple concussions and other types of head injuries. Dementia pugilistica, a variant of CTE, is mainly linked to boxing. Boxing can result in degeneration of brain tissue and the accumulation of tau protein.

People with CTE may have signs of dementia, such as aggression, confusion, depression and memory loss. These signs and symptoms may emerge within months of the injury, or several years later, even decades later.

Written by Christian Nordqvist