Does Muay Thai cause brain damage?
Updated: Feb 5
Martial arts are of course dangerous, and before you start your journey in training you might be thinking to yourself, does Muay Thai cause brain damage?
Muay Thai, and other contact sports, can lead to brain damage, lowered IQ and they can make you more prone to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
Any sport in which you participate in which leads to constant blows to the head is a sport that can lead to you suffering from brain damage, so Muay Thai and other combat sports are not isolated to this problem.
If you are smart in your Muay Thai training, you can reduce the risks of you suffering any long term brain damage.
Is Muay Thai bad for your brain?
Muay Thai will only be bad for your brain if you train recklessly or have a prolonged fighting career.
If your taking up Muay Thai as a hobby then you shouldn't worry about suffering from any brain damage, there are however precautions that you can take to help minimise the risks, such as not over-sparring and not going too hard with head shots in sparring, as it's recurring shots to the head that will lead to brain damage when training Muay Thai.
One benefit to Muay Thai is that there are more target areas to strike, which takes away the focus of the head and will result in fighters often suffering less head strikes in a bout than they would if they were fighting in boxing, where there are less target areas to strike.
Unfortunately, a massive amount of research hasn't been done into the long term effects of Muay Thai on the brain so the lasting damage that Muay Thai will do for the brain is unclear.
Do Muay Thai fighters have brain damage?
Some Muay Thai fighters will go on to suffer brain damage in later life, this is more prevalent in Thailand where fighters fight often and they don't have the stringent medical suspension rules that other sports such as boxing and MMA have, where when someone is knocked out, they'll be medically suspended and be unable to fight for a set period of time, which is usually around 30 days. In Thailand fighters can get knocked out, and be back in the ring as quick as two weeks later, which means they'll be fighting again without fully recovering from the damage that they received in their last fight.
In Thailand, fighters will start fighting professionally from the age of 7. A five-year study compared 335 child boxers under 15 to 252 children of the same age and socio-economic backgrounds who had not boxed. The results of the study found that child boxers scored an average of 10 fewer points on IQ tests. Brain scans showed damage to their hippocampi and temporal lobes, iron accumulation in their brains that could affect vision and micro-hemorrhaging.
Unfortunately, there is little research into the long-term brain damage effects of Muay Thai, however more research has been done into professional boxers and according to research, 20% of all professional boxers have CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which is a serious complication of repeated concussions.
What is CTE?
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE, is the terms used to describe brain damage caused by repeated head traumas. It's a condition that is commonly associated with the sports American football and boxing. In a study it was found that 99% of professional NFL football players suffered from some degree of CTE.
The symptoms of CTE are similar to other degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer's, and the typical symptoms include short-term memory loss, frequent mood swings, difficulty thinking and increased confusion and disorientation.
The only way in which you can prevent suffering from CTE is to avoid repetitive head injuries. Be smart in your training, wear the correct protective equipment and take the necessary rests if any head injuries do happen.
Do Muay Thai fighters get CTE?
Muay Thai fighters will get CTE as the condition is caused by repetitive head injuries, and strikes to the head will cause this.
Unfortunately there are little studies into whether Muay Thai fighters suffer from CTE, so it is unknown how common it is in the sport.
Starting a combat sport can be worrying, and you may be sat at home thinking of all the different things that may occur as an excuse not to start training, but take our word for it and begin your Muay Thai journey now.
The likely-hood that the common person who trains in Muay Thai will suffer from any form of brain damage is minimal. Be smart in your training, be safe and always wear the correct protective equipment to minimise your risk of injury.