New test needed for boxing safety

Professional sports organizations are constantly searching for ways to improve the safety of competitions. Sports involving unarmed combat like boxing and mixed martial arts can face immense challenges since the ultimate goal is to neurologically impair an opponent in the form of a knock-out.

The pre-fight evaluation is crucial in avoiding permanent neurologic injury and death. Each state and all sovereign tribal nations that allow these sports have their own boxing commissions.

Connecticut has three commissions: The Connecticut State Boxing Commission, the Mohegan Tribal Department of Athletic Regulation and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Boxing Commission. Connecticut is among the most heavily regulated states in terms of safety.

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a diagnostic test where wires are taped to the skull and electrical impulses generated by the brain are recorded. Normal brain cells (neurons) produce patterns of rhythmic discharges. Variations in these rhythms are indicative of different types of brain abnormality.

EEGs were routinely used as a screening test in many states to determine whether a boxer could participate in an event. After several years, a review of 98 EEGs, performed on 86 boxers, who had participated in a total of 5,809 fights showed no significant abnormality. No fighter was prohibited from boxing based on the EEG.

These results demonstrated that EEG is not an appropriate test to assess chronic brain injury. This information will be presented next week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

The AAN represents over 21,000 neurologists. The information accumulated in Connecticut may help in evaluating patients with traumatic brain injury including returning service personnel.

Most importantly, the boxing commissions in Connecticut changed and are now requiring annual neurologic history and examination before boxing events.

“Boxing commissioners must be willing to change regulations in order to keep unarmed combatants safe,” said Peter Timothy. commissioner for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Athletic Commission.

The ability for sports organizations to institute changes despite time-honored traditions is crucial to maintaining a safe contest for participants.

Triathlons possible even for those with physical limitations

Triathlons typically consist of swimming 2.4 miles, bicycling 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles in succession. This format became popularized by the Iron Man event held annually in Hawaii.

Recently, shorter variations of this format have made triathlons accessible to mere mortals who wish to train and compete but also have a job and family that get in the way.

The challenge of completing a triathlon is intoxicating for many athletes. Katherine Downes is a young woman originally from Glastonbury and now living in New York City. An accomplished swimmer, in 2006 she began to notice symptoms of diminishing stamina. Even short walks became a struggle.

Katie was born with an atrial septal defect (ASD), a hole between the right and left atria of the heart, which did not become symptomatic until her 20s. As a result of the ASD, the normal cardiac bloodflow is reversed and overloads the right ventricle and lungs.

After several attempts the ASD was repaired, giving Katie a new appreciation of sports. With her physician’s approval, she joined a group called “Team in Training” that prepares athletes for participation in triathlons with the goal of raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Katie is set to compete in her first triathlon on April 26 in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Pushing yourself to accomplish an athletic feat despite physical obstacles makes reaching that goal even more special,” Downes said.

Recent studies have emphasized the risk of participation in triathlons. Many athletes are not accustomed to swimming in often frigid, open water. It is imperative that before participating in these events, clearance be obtained by a physician and an adequate amount of time invested in training.

When an athlete participates in any event with the goal of raising money for the less fortunate, the accomplishment becomes doubly rewarding.

If you wish to support Katie’s effort, donations can be made by going to

Mouthguards aren’t just for dental safety anymore

Spring training provides a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues and discuss new innovations in sports equipment.

Mouthguards have long been accepted as the best way to avoid dental injuries. In recent years, they have also become a fashion statement with various colors and designs adorning the mouths of football, hockey and lacrosse players.

This year, mouthguards are being marketed as a way to improve athletic performance. They are now worn by golfers, as well as baseball and tennis players, as a means to relax muscle tension and maintain posture.

Several baseball players have appeared at spring training with mouthguards produced by PPM and Edge. Most notably, Manny Ramirez has begun to use a Pure Power Mouthguard.

The theory behind this teaching is that relaxed jaw muscles will allow a more relaxed posture and more power being generated. This theory is based on anecdotal evidence rather than any scientific study. In the past, golfers have found that chewing gum often relaxes the grip and swing.

Another product of recent interest is the “Brain Pad.” The brain pad is a mouthguard that is advertised as a way of diminishing the serious effects of traumatic brain injury. This theory is based on an isolated study performed in the 1960s that postulated a relaxed jaw served as a “shock absorber” for the brain. Although never proven, this belief has become part of sports medicine lore.

Despite the lack of scientific support, no one will argue with either of these practices. They result in athletes wearing mouthguards that at a minimum provide dental protection.

Cost is another issue since the Edge and PPM products range from $900-$2,000, while the Brain Pad and other fitted mouthguards cost $25.

No matter what logic is applied, mouthguards are a great idea even if you’re only trying to avoid damage from an errant tennis ball.