Boxers, MMA athletes also at risk for concussion-related injuries

Published: Aug. 3, 2016 at 1:20 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2016 at 4:10 PM EDT
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SCOTTSDALE, AZ (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- The NFL has taken a lot of heat for not being more proactive about the long-term issue of concussions in its athletes. Now the mixed martial arts industry, or MMA, is stepping up its game.

Researchers are running a long-term study on the effects of impact on fighters' heads and brains. Doctors hope to learn how to detect early signs of brain injury and more.

Rudy Morales has been a professional MMA fighter for years.  He tries to take care of his body, so when he heard about a professional fighters brain health study, he joined.

Morales says, "The sport that we do is a full contact sport, and it's better to be safe and see what things you could prevent."

Morales and 600 other MMA fighters and boxers come in once a year to be evaluated on cognition, balance, coordination, and more. They also get brain imaging with pet scans and MRI's.

Charles Bernick, MD, MPH, the associate medical director of the Cleveland Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona says, "We just had a great opportunity to really try to understand how CTE developed, what are the risk factors, how can we diagnose it early, and of course, eventually how do we prevent it."

Dr. Bernick monitors the scans, looking for changes over time.

"When we see these changes in the volume of the fibers, we also see changes in how these people perform on tests of processing, the speed of their mental acuity, of their reaction time," explains Dr. Bernick.

Morales says it just makes sense to participate in the study, which is free to fighters.

"It's really going to help people down the road, not only for our generation but for generations to come," says Morales.

Dr. Bernick says results will help combat sports fighters, athletes in other sports and the military.

Ultimate Fighting Championship, the largest MMA fight promotor, gave the Cleveland Clinic a million dollars for this study and encourages its fighters to participate.

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