Boxing and chronic brain damage

J. W. Stiller, D. R. Weinberger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


A chronic, and at times, progressive neurologic syndrome associated with boxing has been recognized for some time by boxing fans and people involved with the sport. Since Martland's first description of the syndrome in 1929, there has been only one randomly selected study of ex-boxers, that of Roberts, which showed a 17% prevalence of this syndrome among boxers who fought between 1929 and 1955. This syndrome can be progressive but often is not. Furthermore, the extent of occupational exposure is probably a significant risk factor. Because of this, it would be expected that the prevalence of the syndrome in the modern boxer, as well as the amateur, would be significantly less than during the first half of the century, and, indeed, several studies appear to support this. Recent studies provide evidence that brain damage does exist in modern boxers and suggests that 'subclinical' brain damage is likely to be more prevalent than obvious clinical dysfunction. There is clearly a discrepancy between subclinical evidence of neurologic involvement (for example, an abnormal CT scan) and signs of clinical neurologic dysfunction (for example, clinical exam and neuropsychological testing). The latter tend to show less frequent and consistent evidence of brain damage in boxers than does the CT scan. Although it is tempting to assume that an abnormal CT scan presages the development of neurologic dysfunction, it is not clear that this is the case. The prevalence of the syndrome, risk for progression to functional deficit, warning signs, and the natural history cannot be defined at this time. The only way to better define these parameters would be a controlled prospective study, which has yet to be undertaken.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-356
Number of pages18
JournalPsychiatric Clinics of North America
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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