Long-Term Effects of Boxing

Shaken baby syndrome is the result of repeated brain trauma from the snapping of the head and neck, a condition that can cause serious brain injury and death. Boxing subjects the head and neck to almost identical trauma, albeit to a head and neck that are better able to absorb the impact. This and other stresses from boxing can have effects that last far beyond the end of a boxing career.

Two women are boxing. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Causes of Injury

When you receive a powerful boxing punch, your head snaps backward or to the side. Your brain moves with it, but almost never at the same speed. Since your brain is the consistency of room-temperature butter, this means that it will slam or scrape against the inside surface of your skull. In the short term, this causes the disorientation and loss of consciousness you see in the ring. Over the long term, it can lead to severe brain dysfunction. Damage to the hands is also worth noting -- a common long-term effect, but not as terrifying.

Dementia Pugilistica

Also called "chronic traumatic encephalopathy," this disorder is so common to boxers that it's named after the sport. It's a collection of brain problems that stem from repeated minor to moderate brain trauma over the course of years -- typically more than 10, but sometimes as few as six. Symptoms of dementia pugilistica include memory loss, dementia similar to Alzheimer's disease and motor problems that resemble Parkinson's.


Human hands are not built to stand up to the beatings they take during a career of amateur or career boxing. Because of this, many longtime and retired boxers develop symptoms of osteoarthritis in their hands. This pain comes from swelling in the finger joints and deterioration of the cartilage that pads them. Severity can range from annoying aches to swelling that locks finger joints in place, restricting range of motion.

Cosmetic Effects

If you box long enough, you will sustain cuts on your cheeks and around your eyes, and you're likely to break your nose at least once. These images heal into a distinctive look, including a crooked or flattened nose and scar tissue on the face. The dog breed "pug" is named after this look. Though not as serious or life-changing as dementia pugilistica or arthritis, this is another potential long-term effect of boxing that potential pugilists should consider.

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