Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little Rocky: Is Boxing Appropriate for Children?

Boxing is becoming an increasingly popular sport in young athletes. Proponents feel boxing teaches children discipline and promotes success. However, these benefits are likely outweighed by the inherent risks of the sport. In a recent policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society contend that the intention to win points for blows to an opponent's head or body or even inflict a knockout makes boxing inappropriate for children and adolescents. Medical literature agrees. There is a significant risk of neurological injury, including deaths, from severe brain injuries.

According to injury databases, young boxers have the highest hospitalization rate among those participating in combat sports. Most commonly, they suffer from facial fractures and closed head injuries (concussions). A study of emergency department visits found 8,700 boxing injuries per year between 1990 and 2008. That's one emergency room visit per hour for 19 years! And injuries are on the rise.

While fractures are the most common injury overall, there is also a high risk of concussion, which are potentially far more dangerous in children than in adults because the brain is still developing. Repetitive blows to the head also put children at risk for structural brain injuries like bleeds, cognitive abnormalities and neurological deficits that can be permanent.

Boxing is a dangerous sport. With recent findings about the dangers of repetitive head trauma, parents should think very carefully about whether their child's participation is appropriate. There are numerous other combat sports, such as martial arts, that can provide a safer alternative while still promoting discipline and physical fitness.