There are several reasons why I am writing this blog post today.
- I am a combat sports fan. I love it so much that I train in martial arts.
- I love how the human body works and to figure out why it does not work when it doesn’t. Early in my career, I taught Anatomy and Physiology at numerous colleges and enjoyed it.
- I dabble into sports medicine quite a bit and enjoy learning about athletic performance, recovery, and treating sports-related injuries.
Three days ago, a boxer by the name of Maxim Dadashev died from too many punches to the head in a match against Subriel Matias one week ago today. The news is devastating to not only boxing fans but to any empathic human.
The last time a deadly boxing match, in my recollection, was when in 1982, as a kid, I saw Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini beat a young Korean fighter named, Duk Koo Kim. Like Dadashev, Kim took a beating. He was knocked out in the 14th round after taking so much punishment that he laid out after his head hit the canvas. Four days after the fight, Kim died from brain injury.
Boxers and combat sports athletes alike are often great people and not barbaric as many would think.
Watch a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight when it’s over and what you see is grace, sportsmanship and ultimate respect amongst fighters.
Still, what happened to this young, thriving family man is tragic.
I am not an expert sports doctor or sports commentator.
Again, I’m just a fan and super curious about biological function and dysfunction.
Here’s what I think happened to Maxim Danashev
I saw all eleven rounds of the fight. It was a typical fight where one individual, Danashev’s opponent, Subriel Matias, was dominant, landing many punches, not only to the head but many to the body.
The hits to the head were not unlike many boxing matches I’ve seen, but they were many.
Dadashev was never knocked down, so his head never hit the canvas like Kim in 1982 where you’d think he’d be at higher risk of brain injury.
After the eleventh and final round, Dadashev’s trainer, Buddy McGirt told his fighter he was going to stop the fight, and Danashev nodded his head “no.” McGirt, in an attempt to save his fighter from further damage, stopped the fight.
Upon leaving the ring, Danashav collapsed and needed to be taken out on a stretcher. He later began vomiting (never a good sign after head trauma) and was rushed to the hospital.
After noticing brain swelling and bleeding, doctors performed emergency surgery on Dadashev before he was placed into an induced coma.
Three days after the fight, Dadashev was pronounced dead, sadly.
How the Brain is Protected in the skull and what happens after a blow to the head.
Between the head and the brain, there’s a gooey, gelatinous substance called cerebral spinal fluid (CFS) which primary function is to provide a cushion between the brain does and the skull.
Any time someone takes a blow to the head, one of two things happen; either the brain slightly rotates within the CFS in a jarring like fashion, or the brain indeed hits the inside of the skull in a situation called coup contrecoup (don’t ask about the name, but that’s what it is. Geek out on coup here if you’d like).
In a coup contrecoup situation, there’s severe linear movement of the brain (back and front) where the brain bangs against the back and the front of the skull leading to swelling and bleeding of the brain.
Hemorrhages create bleeding on the surface of the brain. Since there’s no space inside the skull for anything but CFS and the brain, the sudden increase in blood volume, even a small amount, can create deadly pressure.
This pressure, combined with the swelling of the damaged brain, puts pressure on the brain stem and can cause unconsciousness, coma, and death.
Interestingly, the coup contrecoup scenario works differently than concussions, which is a hot topic in sports these days.
A concussion is a relatively milder situation and not life-threatening.
Concussions are caused by a little back and forth twist of the brain after a collision within the CFS in the head. Even a strong jolt to the body can cause a concussion, particularly to children or smaller people.
In this type of situation, the torque like brain movements causes chemical changes in the brain that lead to dizziness, brain fog, blurred vision, or nausea.
While the research on concussions is still maturing, we now know that excessive episodes lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE’s, while not life-threatening can cause depression and dementia in the long-term.
If you have NetFlix check out the 30 for 30 episode on the football great, Junior Seau and you’ll get a good picture of symptoms from CTE and what happens when suffering from too many concussions. If you don’t like sad endings and are not aware of the story, Seau commits suicide. Sorry. Spoiler alert, but still great episode to watch.
Now, back to the tragic story of the recent boxing match that led to an athlete’s early fatality…
Why Don’t All Contact Sport Athletes get Brain damage
The question I asked is; why do other boxers and combat sports athletes who get pounded to the head as much or more than this poor Russian young man do not suffer from deadly brain damage after a match?
Is there a genetic element that protects certain athletes from coup contrecoup?
To the best of my knowledge, there’s no genetic aspect to avoiding this type of brain injury after blows to the head.
In other words, there’s no thicker skull, “tougher brain,” or thicker CFS situation that protects some fighters compared to others.
But some fighters might be protected if they have stronger neck muscles.
Neck strength can reduce the risk of brain injuries in contact sports.
Interestingly, when I train in Krav Maga, I’m taught to keep my head down, chin tucked in and to bite hard on my mouthpiece. That motion flexes the neck muscles and protects me from brain damage and being knocked out.
Stronger neck muscles seem to reduce the energy transferred to the brain after impact to the head.
It behooves the contact sport athlete, including my soccer-playing daughters to train and strengthen their neck muscle to reduce the risk of brain issues after a head collision.
My prayers and thoughts go out the family of Maxim Danashev and hope incidences like this don’t happen again.