Boxing and Neurological Disorders
Boxing has often received a lot of negative press due to the propensity for head injuries through repeat exposure to punches. The poor publicity is warranted. Competitive boxing comes with risks. While most boxers are amateurs and hobbyists who do not sustain brain injury, the numbers are much higher with professional boxers. Moreover, the type of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s that affects boxers may be unique to boxing and not the same as normal Parkisons (Davie, Pirtosek, Barker, Kingsley., Miller, & Lees, (1995). Head injuries are common in many sports and boxing takes continual steps to make the sport safer for athletes (Jacko, 2002).
However, there exists a surprising exercise connection between non-contact boxing and the proactive treatment of neurological disorders. Boxing, through technique-based classes appears to have a positive impact on the treatment of neurological disorders, especially Parkinsons.
The link between Parkinson’s and non-contact boxing is well-documented (Combs, Diehl, Chrzastowski, Didrick, McCoin, Mox, Staples, & Wayman, 2013; Dawson, Sayadi, Kapust, Anderson, Lee, Latulippe, & Simon, 2020; Dibble, Hale, Marcus, Gerber, LaStayo, 2009). Programmes such as Rock steady boxing run out of New York (Horbinski, Zumpf, McCortney. et al., 2021) have long helped individuals delay the onset of Parkinson’s, a disease caused by a chronic deficiency in dopamine in the brain. The lack of dopamine triggers increased muscle stiffness, tremors, and decreased coordination and balance. Other symptoms include difficulties with speaking, fatigue, dizziness all of which precipitate mental decline and life satisfaction in people with Parkinson’s as they self-isolate from the community.
Given boxings negative link to neurological functioning it is a counter intuitive idea that boxing could have such positive effect on those suffering from Parkinson’s. However, a link is appearing through multiple studies. The positive impacts include reduced falls in those who participate in non-contact boxing, increased psychological well being through improved social life and less fatigue.
A direct positive impact of boxing for those with Parkinson’s is reduced falls. (Horbinski, Zumpf, & McCortney, K. et al, 2021). In addition, psychological benefits were also noted such as an improved social life and a drop in fatigue.
The causal mechanism for why boxing benefits those suffering from Parkinson’s appears to be improved balance and coordination while maintaining a wide stance (Horbinski, Zumpf, McCortney, et al., 2021). The wide stance ensures balance and the weight transfer improves the performance of balancing while not being static. The coordination comes from the hitting of pads or bags, with set routines.
The positive impact of boxing as part of treatment plan for Parkinson’s should be cautionary. The quality of the studies demonstrating positive impacts is generally poor and most do not met the standards for exercise reporting (Morris, Ellis, Jazayeri, Heng, Thomson,, Balasundaram, & Slade, 2019). Moreover, the positive impact of boxing may not be maintained after cessation of the exercise programme (Sangarapillai, Norman, & Almeida,(2021).
Limitations noted, there is evidence that boxing may indeed play a pivotal role in the treatment of neurological disorders by increasing the life satisfaction of those suffering form the likes of Parkinsons. As such, non-contact boxing may be a beneficial adjunct to any treatment plan for those with Parkinson’s who aim to improve their quality of life.
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