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New Study Correlates Increased Sparring with Brain Changes in Mixed Martial Arts

  • May 21, 2022

New Orleans, La., May 21, 2022 — New research presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting today examined brain changes associated with sparring in people participating in mixed martial arts (MMA) and observed a significant correlation between the number of sparring sessions and brain changes.

Researcher Aaron I. Esagoff and colleagues looked at 92 active professional MMA fighters with available practice and MRI data to examine the effects of the number of sparring practice rounds per week on white matter and a limited number of regional brain volumes. The study was conducted as part of a longitudinal cohort study of MMA fighters, the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study. Adjustments were made to account for age, sex, education level, race, number of professional MMA fights, total intracranial volume, and type of MRI scanner.

Increased sparring was significantly associated with increased white matter hyperintensity volume, though the underlying mechanism for this is speculative, according to the authors. It was also associated with a relatively large caudate brain region, potentially suggesting some protective function. The authors conclude that their findings “help shed light on the potential long-term impacts of sparring, helping to inform fighters, governing bodies, and the public about the potential risks and benefits of different styles of MMA fighting and practice.”

In addition to Esagoff, co-authors on the study include Michael J.C. Bray, M.S., Andres A. Pasuizaca, Matthew E. Peters, M.D., Bharat R. Narapareddy, M.D., and Charles B. Bernick, M.D.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,000 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information, please visit

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