RECENT  years have seen a surge in the awareness of the risks of brain injury in contact sports, with the NFL currently engaged in a settlement dispute with former players on the basis that the governing body failed to address potential dangers.

In the UK, health professionals have also called on bodies in rugby league and rugby union to review their safety records and focus on player protection.

Now, in the wake of Nick Blackwell’s British middleweight title fight against Chris Eubank Jr, boxing has returned to the spotlight. The bout ended in the tenth round on medical advice, due to the level of swelling developing around Blackwell’s left eye. He later collapsed and was placed in an induced coma, having suffered a small bleed to his skull. Fortunately, no surgery was required and the 25-year-old woke a week later. However, he has since announced he no longer intends to carry on fighting.

After waking from his coma, Blackwell stated there were no hard feelings towards Eubank Jr, saying: “We were both there doing a job.” However, great controversy has arisen, with onlookers suggesting that the referee should have stepped in sooner, and people have questioned whether boxing should be allowed to continue.

How can things change?

While there is no question that any sport involving regular blows to the head leaves its participants at risk of injury, it has also been argued that as long as fighters know the risks, it is their decision. Nevertheless, there have been calls for the sport to consider better means of safeguarding boxers and ensuring prompt medical attention when required.

Unfortunately, even when hospitalised, many do not receive the full support and treatment they require within a suitable timescale. This is mainly due to the strain on medical services and insufficient rehabilitation resources.

Back to bareknuckle boxing?

While gloves are intended to cushion a blow and spread its force, there is an argument that they could, in fact, make the sport more dangerous, as they enable fighters to sustain hard punches over prolonged periods, leading to a greater chance of causing brain injury.

However, bareknuckle fights usually last longer – John L. Sullivan won the last regulated title bout in 1898, defeating his opponent in the 75th round – and there’s no doubt that such fights can cause repeated trauma to the brain’s axons. Thus, despite the World Bareknuckle Boxing Association (WBBA) forming in 2011, it is unlikely that this variation will ever regain mainstream regulation.

Know the signs

It is unlikely that the full dangers of boxing will ever be eliminated. The same is true of many sports, so the argument that boxing should be banned is weakened by the fact that this would suggest many other contact sports should stop.

Typical signs of a possible brain injury include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Dizziness, disorientation, or memory loss.
  • Weakness in any part of the body.
  • Headaches or problems with vision.
  • Drowsiness or loss of consciousness.
  • Convulsions, loss of balance, or unusual breathing.

However, the symptoms of brain injury are not always immediately apparent, and the full extent of damage may not become clear until weeks or even months later. As such, if you have any doubts, do not hesitate to speak to your doctor or another medical professional. Seemingly minor knocks can prove fatal, as was the case for actress Natasha Richardson, whose tragic death came only a few hours after a fall that did not initially appear to have injured her.

The most effective steps the boxing world can take are in identifying and handling potential brain injuries as soon as they occur. This means expert on-site medical teams and ongoing rehabilitation services to ensure injured fighters receive the care they need to recover from injuries.

Get it checked out

Whether you have suffered a minor injury to the head, or a traumatic incident such as whiplash or severe shaking, the most important thing you can do in the wake of such injuries is to seek immediate medical attention.

Early identification of brain trauma means effective treatment and rehabilitation can begin promptly. This can help minimise the long-term effects of brain injury, and increase the chance of the injured person returning to their former way of life.

Malcolm Underhill is a specialist brain injury solicitor for IBB Claims