Saturday, May 21, 2011

Traumatic brain injury and American professional wrestling

     Traumatic brain injury can occur with a head injury due to acceleration/deceleration forces and/or direct contact.  The term concussion is often used as a synonym.

     According to the Center for Disease Control, every year in the United States there are approximately 1.4 million reported incidents of traumatic brain injury. (1)  Such injuries are common in contact sports. such as football, hockey and boxing.  It has been estimated that 10 percent of college football players sustain such an injury each year. (2)

     Very little in known about the incidence of traumatic head injuries in professional wrestlers.  A review of the available medical literature revealed only one published study which was conducted by Nomoto et al. from the Omori Medical Center in Japan.  Medical examinations for head trauma were performed on 18 female wrestlers belonging to a Japanese wrestling organization.  The Women were ages 15 to 34.  Chronic symptoms were present in four wrestlers.  (3)

     The symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury include confusion, amnesia, headache, dizziness, nausea, and lack of awareness of surroundings.  Loss of consciousness does not always occur.

     For most cases of mild traumatic brain injury the likelihood of a complete recovery is good. There are however a number of well recognized complications.  Postconcussion syndrome results in symptoms such as headache, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, cognitive changes, and dizziness.  Symptoms usually resolve within a few months.  Post-traumatic headaches typically develop within days to months after the injury.  Symptoms can resemble tension and migraine headaches.

Chris Benoit
     There are data that repeated brain trauma can lead to chronic intellectual, cognitive, and psychiatric changes.  This type of injury has been termed chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  It has been speculated that recurrent brain trauma can trigger changes that resemble the brain deterioration seen with Alzheimer's disease.  (4)

     Bennet Omalu, M.D., forensic neuropathologist at the Brain Injury Research Center believes deceased American professional wrestler Chris Benoit suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy based on the autopsy findings. (5)  He also studied brain tissue from deceased American professional wrestler Andrew Martin (Test) and found evidence of similar changes. (6)

Andrew Martin (Test)

     Former American professional wrestler Chris Nowinski is the founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, a not for profit organization dedicated to the study of concussions. (7)  WWE, as part of the Talent Wellness Program monitors professional wrestlers with the imPACT concussion management program. (8)


  2. J Head Trauma Rehabil 1998; 13: 53.
  3. Neurologia Medico-Chirugica 2007; 47(4): 147.
  4. JAMA  1997; 278: 136.
  5. J Forensic Nursing 2010; 130.
  6. www. 12/9/09.

Photographs are for illustrative purposes only.  Wrestling with Death does not claim ownership 

The medical resource was used in the preparation of this blog.


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