Shedding light on known dangers from chokes in combat sports

Thursday, June 20, 2019

While some doctors are debating whether routine chokes in combat sports have negative impact on brain function similar to concussion (a topic where more research is needed) it is worth pointing out that there are known risks to the dangers of chokes.

After reading some posts from this site Dr. Smock, a Police Surgeon with the Louisville Metro Police Department who specializes in reviewing injuries from carotid vascular restraints (think rear naked chokes), was kind enough to reach out to me and share some of his insights and data. Dr. Smock welcomed me to share his information here which I am pleased to do.

According to Dr. Smock the majority of law enforcement agencies in the US have banned or reserved vascular restraints for deadly force encounters. This was due to the well-known harm that these holds can pose with 15 people dying after LAPD chokeholds from 1976-1982 alone.

Carotid Restraints have been documented to lead to the following harms:

  • Dissection of carotid or vertebral arteries resulting in stroke or death
  • Embolic stroke from plaque rupture
  • Asphyxia death
  • Anoxic brain damage
  • Fractures of laryngeal cartilage and trachea
  • Carotid artery thrombosis
  • Vocal cord paralysis
  • Permanent swallowing problems

In addition to several training-based injuries Dr. Smock documented over the years he shared the following studies highlighting some risks of choking in martial arts that are worth reviewing for those interested in the topic:

Dr. Smock provided the following flow chart with recommendations on considerations an emergency department should have when reviewing a patient with choke related injuries. If you train in combative sports with chokeholds it is wise to err on the side of caution when it comes to early tapping given some of these well-documented risks.

Author Erik Magraken is a British Columbia litigation lawyer, combat sports law consultant, founder of the Combat Law Sports Blog, and profoundly appreciated UGer.