Mixed Martial Arts competitions have changed dramatically since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, specifically with the inception of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Despite the growing popularity, paucity of data on injuries that occur in MMA and the resulting concerns and controversy with regard to MMA’s safety remain. However, several recent studies indicate that the overall injury rates in MMA competitions are currently similar to other combat and martial art sports, including boxing and karate.
A study using injury data compiled by the Nevada State Athletic Commission from professional MMA matches held in Nevada in 2001-2004 found an overall injury rate of 28.6 injuries per 100 fight participations (a “participation” is defined as one competitor in one bout). Another recent study used data and records compiled by ringside physicians who were on-site at 12 separate professional MMA events hosted in Hawaii over seven years (1999-2006), with competitors from the United States, Japan, Brazil, and elsewhere. They found an overall injury rate of 23.7 injuries per 100 fight participations. Abrasions, lacerations, concussion, orthopedic injuries, and facial injuries were found to be the most common. The injury rates in MMA competitions were found to be comparable to injury rates reported for competitive boxing and karate.
In preliminary results reported in April 2012 as part of an ongoing study of a 109 professional boxers and MMA fighters being conducted by Dr. Charles Bernick and his colleagues at Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, fighters with more than six years of ring experience were observed to have reductions in size in their hippocampus and thalamus whereas fighters with more than twelve years of ring experience were observed to have both reductions in size and symptoms such as memory loss (the hippocampus and thalamus deal with memory and alertness). Dr. Bernick speculates that studying cumulative lesser blows may eventually prove even more important than studying infrequent concussions.
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