Can Muay Thai Cause Brain Damage?


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Muay Thai is arguably one of the most dangerous martial arts ever. The fact that it’s a combo of striking and kicking makes it highly intense. But is it like boxing? Can Muay Thai cause brain damage?

Here’s what I discovered:

Contact sports such as Muay Thai can lead to internal brain injuries, lowered IQ, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

(source)

Elbows, knees, fists, and shins are regularly employed to strike the head, triggering a temporary displacement of the brain. This has grave consequences.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into whether Muay Thai can cause brain damage.

First off, we’ll explore why Muay Thai is dangerous, and then we’ll check out whether Muay Thai fighters get CTE. We’ll look at whether it is safer than boxing and similar riveting themes.

Let’s get started…

Why is Muay Thai so dangerous?

Muay Thai is dangerous because it is an art where the hands, elbows, shins, and knees are used in contact with the opponent’s head, arms, and legs. It is practiced with high intensity, speed, and power, resulting in many injuries for practitioners.

While they are trying to punch an opponent, they could suddenly be struck on the jaw with a knee. And then brought to their knees with a lethal side kick.

What makes MT dangerous is that it’s a “two-in-one” kind of martial art.

It’s a mix of punching and kicking techniques. It also allows sweeps and clinches. Disorienting elbow strikes, dizzying kicks to the guts, flying knees, swinging punches…are all fair game.

Just as in boxing, opponents can be knocked out. 

For example, a sucker punch to the head can easily be followed by a powerful and swift kick to the neck! This often drops the recipient. Such kicks are not uncommon in MT. They are usually trained on the side of the opponent’s neck and can be devastating.

In MT, mild and severe injuries come with the territory.

What martial art can actually beat Muay Thai? In a recent article of mine, I showed why Krav Maga is better for self-defense because that’s what it’s designed for. But there is 1 way Muay Thai fighters can defeat Krav Maga fighters.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Do Muay Thai fighters get CTE?

Muay Thai fighters, as with boxers, do see high rates of CTE compared to other sports, although the degree of CTE is rarely sudden or fatal.

Researchers are still working on the best approach to diagnosing it. Nationthailand.com refers to a study that shows that the average age of those diagnosed with CTE is 51.

So it is something that develops over time. And Muay Thai has really only been popularized in the past 20 years or so.

Perhaps the lean, mean Muay Thai warrior who’s in his prime today could be a shadow of himself later in life when the symptoms of CTEs start manifesting fully.

The challenge, therefore, is that it’s even hard to know when CTE has occurred in a lot of cases!

On a forum, a lot of MT fighters acknowledge that the risk of CTE is always present, just as it is, in most contact sports. But, they believe that many defensive techniques can be wielded to minimize the risk.

What’s the right age to start Muay Thai training? 

A recent article of mine is devoted to exploring the question. In it, I explained that some start at the age of 4, but that 8 is a better age to get started to benefit from long-term training and prevent burnout.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Muay Thai safer than boxing?

Muay Thai is safer than boxing because there are many more potential targets than just the head. Hits to the head are highly dangerous since they can lead to brain damage. In Muay Thai, the hits are more distributed over different parts of the body. 

In addition to this, there are more rounds in boxing.

There are 12 rounds of 3 minutes each. Muay Thai, on the other hand, has 3 or 5 rounds consisting of 3 minutes each. MT fights at times start slow, with the fighters trying to read each other.

Boxing is usually intense right out of the gate, and because there are more rounds, there’s a higher risk of such hits to the head.

What does science say about this issue? 

The truth is that there isn’t much work done on how safe or dangerous Muay Thai is. But, there are a few studies that suggest that Muay Thai has adverse effects on the brain, too.

Some MT fighters believe it’s something that can largely be prevented if one’s footwork and ability to defend oneself are top-notch.

Fortunately, most of the hits are not trained in the head. MT is more about brains, while boxing is about brawns. So, a smart MT fighter can protect themselves from a considerable chunk of injuries.

How common are concussions in Muay Thai?

Concussions are common in Muay Thai. They are common in all contact sports with blows to the head because sudden and intense pressure is often put on the brain through contact at high speed and punches and kicks. 

Elbow and knee strikes to the head and kicks to the neck and head are common in Muay Thai and naturally trigger concussions.

Now, studies on the prevalence of concussions in Muay Thai are hard to find, but my research, based on different Muay Thai forums, where Muay Thai fighters interact, shows that most of them believe that concussions are common.

A study showed a 5.4% rate of self-reported concussions amongst participants in the study.

As I hinted at earlier, one of the problems with brain-related injuries is that, at times, it’s hard to diagnose. It may present a headache and blurry vision, for example. Symptoms that one may not associate with something serious.

I also came across a publication by an Australian MT association that even has a policy on concussion. It stands to reason that concussion is an issue that’s common and of significance, so much so that the association decided to have a policy on it.

Can you hit the back of the head in Muay Thai?

One can hit the back of an opponent’s head in Muay Thai. In Thailand and some other countries, it’s not an illegal move as it is in boxing. 

It is believed to be one of the most dangerous moves out there. Why? If it is executed wrongly, it can lead to the opponent’s death!

So, while you can hit an opponent on the back of the head, the real question is, should you? 

After all, the “art of 8 limbs” offers many opportunities to give it a serious beatdown. While it’s allowed in Thailand and some other countries, there are some countries where it’s not allowed.

Unless you’re fighting a complete rookie, you’d hardly have the chance to hit a solid Muay Thai fighter at the back of the head.

Even when they miss a kick and you’ve caught their leg. They would swiftly turn and get out of your hold because they know how vulnerable the error makes them.

Hits to the front and the back of the head are dangerous, with the latter being deadly. So unless you’re caught in a life and death situation in a real altercation, it’s a move you don’t want to employ.

You’ve fallen in love with Muay Thai. Who wouldn’t? 

Before you start executing those fascinating flying kicks, check out a recent article where I shared its most vital pros and cons. It can be learned fast, and it helps you get fit and defend yourself. Check it out to get the full lowdown.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Conclusion

In the article, we wanted to find out if Muay Thai can cause brain damage. Even though there are few studies about the issue, we found out that it does cause brain damage.

Virtually all contact sports cause injuries in the brain. We looked at why MT is dangerous and whether MT fighters get CTE. We then looked at whether MT is safer than boxing.

We concluded our exploration by looking at how common concussions are and if you can hit the back of the head in a Muay Thai fight.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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