Boxing gloves are a great, versatile training tool. They help athletes develop muscle memory and improve punching form through repetitive practice (with light to moderate weights).
Because their palm is open, boxers can also grip items similar to how they would in a fight – such as their opponent’s clothing or shoulders. However, boxing gloves don’t have much padding around the knuckles, which means that most of the damage is done by wrist rotation and impacts bones like the metacarpals and phalanges.
Boxing gloves are worn to protect the fighter’s hands and reduce the amount of damage and pain inflicted on them. They can also be used as a weapon, adding more force to punches. But does wearing boxing gloves make fight-related injuries worse?
In a word – yes. While wearing boxing gloves can help protect your hands against serious injury when fighting, they also allow you to punch harder because they’re padded over the knuckles. When punching an opponent without gloves, your hand is more likely to impact with only bone and not much padding from clothing or skin.
Wearing boxing gloves reduces this accidentally weak impact by spreading out the force of each blow across more surface area of the hand than bare-fisted hitting.
One study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery1 showed that wearing boxing gloves during a fight causes more damage to the opponent’s face than if bare knuckles were used. In this experiment, 56 boxers fought 18 rounds with padded 16-ounce gloves and bare knuckles on separate occasions.
The results showed that significant facial injuries occurred much more frequently when fighters wore the gloves.
The extent of the injury was greater as well. There were 10 knockouts among those who fought with their fists exposed compared to 31 knockouts in the group wearing gloves. There were also 33 injuries suffered by opponents whose hands were wrapped compared to only 18 in those without hand wraps.
Presumably, some of these injuries would have been prevented had it not been for the additional padding of the boxing gloves.
This study shows that wearing boxing gloves is a factor that increases face and head injuries, especially when it comes to heavier fighters who have substantial punching power behind them. However, in some cases, as with lighter boxers whose punches don’t carry much force (and may not need protection from injury), wearing boxing gloves can actually reduce concussion risk because they spread out the damage over more surface area than bare knuckles would.
Punching someone’s face while wearing thick 16-ounce boxing gloves is like punching through a pillow or wearing mittens – you’re just not going to hurt them very badly. In order to protect their hands against serious injury during a fight while still being able to hit hard enough to cause damage, boxers wear padded 16-ounce gloves.
These types of gloves allow for the maximum amount of protection and power while still being legal in sanctioned fights. If you’re going to fight bare knuckles, make sure that your opponent has signed a waiver (at least).
One study2 showed that compared to wearing boxing gloves during a match, wearing bag gloves over the hands as part of standard training was actually more likely to cause hand injuries than not.
This is due mostly to the fact that bag gloves are often very thin and thus do not offer much cushioning when striking punching bags or sparring partners without full-force punches. While many boxers choose the type of wrapping for better grip on the bag, the risk of injury is still elevated due to a lack of protection from the glove.
In addition to providing more padding and cushioning than other types of gloves, boxing gloves are also often made of leather or synthetic material with dense foam padding on the front and backhand areas.
This well-padded exterior can help prevent cuts during match-related punches and make them feel less painful if they do happen. While a boxer’s fists are almost always wrapped by tape, elastic strapping across the knuckles can be found in some types of high-end boxing gloves for additional wrist support when throwing power punches.
Either way, you cut it – whether they’re wearing 16-ounce gloves or just their bare hands – boxers throw dangerous punches that can cause serious damage. From cuts and broken noses to concussions, black eyes, and worse, boxers know how to inflict pain on others – as well as take it themselves.