Monday, December 20, 2010

3 Tips for Preventing Brain Injury.

Martial arts training involves contact - sometimes hard contact.

It's a simple fact. We train to be good at fighting and to be good at fighting we must spend some time in simulated fights (aka: sparring and competition). The problem is too many hard knocks to the head can cause some serious issues to arise.

Dementia Pugilistica, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a real problem among full contact athletes and, especially combat athletes (boxers, martial artists, and wrestlers). Symptoms include: slow reaction speeds, impaired memory and speech patterns, changes in personality, depression, aggression, and dementia that gets progressively worse.

While there is still a lot of research to be done on the subject there are a few things we martial artists can do to prevent CTE.

An Ounce of Prevention...

The goal of every martial artist should be to improve their fighting ability so they can keep themselves and their loved ones safe. You won't be of use to anyone if you're a slurring, shaking mess.

You're trying to improve the quality of your life - right?

So, here are 3 things you must do if you are serious about preventing CTE:

  • Take Creatine! - I've said it before and I'll say it again: Creatine is essential for the martial artist and combat athlete. Studies have shown that creatine can prevent traumatic brain injury. This may be due to the fact that creatine induces the "...maintenance of mitochondrial bioenergetics", acts as an anti-oxidant in the brain, and prevents the build up of calcium deposits in the brain.
  • Strengthen Your Neck! - I'm guilty of not training my neck enough and I know of a bunch of guys who are guilty of it too. The fact of the matter is: if the support structure for your head (your neck and trapezius) is weak and unable to do its job (dissipate force) in the event of an impact you're going to pay for it - usually with a concussion. Do yourself a favor and strengthen your neck and traps. You can find some good ideas herehere, and here.
  • Go Easy When Sparring! - In his book on Enshin Karate, Kancho Joko Ninomiya mentions that sparring sessions in the dojo and/or gym aren't the time for beating the shit out of your partner - sparring sessions are for skill development and getting one used to the stress of fighting. I agree completely. Breaking your sparring partner (or him breaking you) doesn't help anyone. If you want to go full power then work on the heavy bag. Sparring sessions should be at light to moderate power, with proper protective equipment (head guard, boxing gloves/sparring mma gloves, shin pads, and a quality mouth guard) being worn at all times. Follow those two rules and you will significantly reduce your risk concussion and repetitive low-level brain trauma.

For most of us "not training" isn't an option. The marital arts are our way of life - it defines who we are. So, we've go to find ways to train effectively and train safely.

Martial prowess and short-lived combat sport success means nothing if you can't function later in life.

While the three preventative measures listed above aren't the end all be all of trauma prevention they are a start. Remember the reasons why you train and I'm sure that will give you all the extra motivation you need to begin applying these measures into your current training.

Train Hard (and Safe!),
Josh Skinner


  1. Great post, Josh. When I started training seriously, a powerlifter friend of mine gave me some of his leftover creatine. He said he noticed it would help him get out a couple extra reps while lifting, but he didn't like the way it puffed up his face due to the water retention. It never seemed to do anything for me though, so to save money I've never bought any again. I'm just a poor student so I have to stick to the staples: whey protein, fish oil, and post-workout carbs. This is really interesting about the potential protection against neurodegeneration though. If I can organise some sparring with friends again, I'll definitely consider giving creatine another shot.

  2. Nice tips,how to protect your head when performing.Using helmet,is essential,and we should use other equipment for others part of body.Boxing in Connecticut