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Are There Health Risks Associated with Female Boxing?

By Steve Silverman

Since women's boxing was first sanctioned in 1993, reaction has been a mix of support and criticism. Some of the outcry has been about the potential for serious injury in a sport that requires women to hit each other with hard punches to the head and body. This is similar to the risk that male boxers face. However, there also are concerns about the impact of the sport on issues specific to women. Research both disputes and supports that criticism.


The International Boxing Association (IBA) studied the problem of concussions in boxing and concluded that the risk for women suffering concussions in boxing is less than that of men. The IBA cited the women's world championships that took place in Ningbo, China, in 2008, in which no women boxers were knocked out in 207 bouts.

Less-Severe Blows

The IBA found that women boxers were less at risk for severe injuries than men because of physiological differences between the two. According to a 2005 Temple University study, the female athlete has a more flexible neck, less shoulder and neck musculature and less upper-body strength than the male athlete. This keeps women boxers from delivering the same degree of damaging blows to opponents as male boxers, and it also allows women boxers to absorb punches without getting hurt as much as men.

Breast Injuries

Women can suffer bruises and other injuries to the breast as a result of an accumulation of blows. Calcification of those bruises in the fatty tissue of the breast may occur and that may make it more difficult to observe cellular changes to breast tissue that may be indicative of the onset of breast cancer. However, there is no empirical evidence that boxing and taking blows to the breast area has any cause-and-effect relationship with breast cancer.

Boxing Deaths

There have been many deaths worldwide due to boxing, and as Brenda Bell "Tiger Lady" states, "According to the British Medical Association, there have been 140 deaths associated with boxing worldwide since 1990." This includes women boxers Stacy Young, who died in 2003 after blows to the head caused swelling and bleeding in the brain, and Becky Zerlentes, who died in 2005 from a hard punch over the eye. According to Bell, she staggered forward after taking the blow, fell to the canvas and never regained consciousness, dying a few hours later from internal bleeding from blunt force trauma.

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