Combat sports such as MMA, boxing, and other striking sports involve a high incidence of traumatic impact to the head, which can result in acute alteration in function, as well as the possibility of long-term negative sequelae. Altered vestibular function is thought to be a common factor in the symptoms of acute concussion. The vestibular system is important for perception of head movement, and stabilization and orientation of the body in response to this, as well as being involved in autonomic regulation of heart rate. 

In this study, researchers used electrical vestibular stimulation (EVS) to measure vestibular contributions to balance control in a sample of 19 professional & amateur Muay Thai athletes, and compared them to non-fighter controls. EVS was applied while measuring calf muscle activity.

The muscle response to the evoked stimulus was significantly decreased in the fighters compared to controls, and was worse in those fighters identified as having “high exposure” to head impact (>10 fights). Around half of the degree in variance of timing was explained by the athlete-reported number of head impacts. These findings suggest that combat sports athletes may demonstrate advanced ageing of the vestibular system.

This is an important study in the landscape of combat sports related head injury. Although this type of vestibular assessment is currently limited to the laboratory setting, in the future if this could be replicated in the clinical setting it could provide a useful tool both in terms of long-term monitoring of athlete vestibular function as well as aiding in return to training and return to play protocols. 

This study also reinforces the importance of vestibular rehabilitation in the management of concussion. 

#vestibularrehabilitation #concussion #thescienceofstriking #boxing #muaythai #traumaticbraininjury #tbi #combatsports #mma

Banman, C. J., Schneider, K. J., Cluff, T., & Peters, R. M. (2021). Altered Vestibular Balance Function in Combat Sport Athletes. Journal of Neurotrauma.

About the author

Sam Gilbert

Sam Gilbert is a registered physiotherapist with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from Latrobe university (Melbourne, Australia) and a master’s degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) from Edith Cowan University (Perth, Australia).

A 3rd Dan black belt in Shinkyokushinkai Karate under the World Karate Organisation (WKO), Sam participated for over 20 years in full contact competition, winning multiple state and national titles, and culminating in a 4th place in the heavyweight division of the Shinkyokushinkai World Cup in 2009.

As the co-founder and clinical director of Club 360, the premier multi-disciplinary health and fitness center in Tokyo, Japan, Sam has combined his practical experience with an in-depth study of sports performance in relation to combat sports, and strives to help other combat athletes reach their full competitive potential, whilst at the same time decreasing injury risk and increasing competition and training potential.

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