In 2013 the international boxing association (AIBA) prohibited the use of headguards for male olympic boxing competitions, claiming that the use of headguards promoted a false sense of security and risk taking behaviour, and may actually lead to greater head injuries. However, there is still the possibility that headguards decrease direct impact and help protect against cuts and haematomas. 

The aim of this study was to summarise the current literature regarding the impact of headguards on injury risk in boxing. 39 papers were included in the review. 

Across the studies there was a large discrepancy in reported concussion rates, making inferences regarding the effect of headguards on concussion extremely difficult. 

Studies appear to indicate that headguards decrease the occurrence of facial/cranial fractures and cuts. 

Following the 2013 rule change, there was a decrease in number of punches landed, an increase in defensive movement, and a decrease in standing 8 counts (9% – 3%), but an increase in KOs/TKOs (1.7%-4.2%)

This review summarises that there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether or not the removal of headguards is protective against head and brain injury. More longitudinal research is required to assess brain health outcomes and analyse different types of headguards. Qualitative research into the beliefs and attitudes of fighters and coaches would also be a valuable addition to the body of evidence.

Anne Tjønndal , Reinhard Haudenhuyse , Bas de Geus & Luk Buyse (2021): Concussions, cuts and cracked bones: A systematic literature review on protective headgear and head injury prevention in Olympic boxing, European Journal of Sport Science, DOI


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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