Feet, Not Fists, Cause More Severe Injuries, Report Says

Yancey Hall
for National Geographic News
December 26, 2006
Martial artists have long known that the human body can be a powerful weapon.

Now a study of Welsh emergency room patients has concluded that kicks are significantly more likely to cause serious injuries than assaults using other parts of the body—or even attacks using objects such as knives or bats.

Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales examined the medical records of nearly 25,000 people treated in a local hospital between 1999 and 2005 (related photos: the new Wales).

The researchers tallied the victims' injuries according to a five-point triage scale based on the urgency of treatment needed.

Reporting in a recent issue of the journal Injury Prevention, lead study author Jonathan Shepherd and colleagues found that while kicks were less common, such assaults caused greater damage than either punches or attacks with weapons.

(Related news: "Martial Artists' Moves Revealed in Fight Science Lab" [August 14, 2006].)

"Injuries that came from the use of the feet were more likely to lead to a hospital admission," Shepherd said.

Kicks were more likely to inflict serious head and brain injuries and were more likely to produce broken bones.

"It's probably the greater momentum that's generated [by a kick] compared to fists which is most likely to produce more severe injuries," Shepherd said.

"Everyday" Violence

Of the more than 31,000 recorded injuries examined for the study, Shepherd's team found that about 7 percent were due to being kicked.

About 21 percent of the injuries were caused by blunt or sharp weapons, while slightly more than 50 percent were due to punches.

Wounds due to guns were not considered for the study.

"We were interested in taking out of the equation firearm injury, because that tended to dominate the research agenda," Shepherd said.

"We wanted to come at [the study] from the perspective of ordinary, everyday violence in a U.K. and European context."

The researcher notes that overall, severe injuries from violence seem to be on the decline in the United Kingdom, although exact measurement remains a problem.

"We have evidence that shows police records are not a reliable measure of violence, and that reliable measures of violence are crime surveys and injury statistics."

Similarly, the level of violence in the United States has been on a downward trend since the 1980s, said Fred Rivara, founding director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle, Washington.

But rates of lower-level violence in the U.S. have not been thoroughly studied, he said.

"There have been a number of studies looking at the risk of guns versus [blunt or sharp objects] in the United States," Rivara said.

"But we haven't seen anybody looking at feet or fists versus weapons."

On Camera

Another Cardiff University initiative—the National Violence Surveillance Project—shows that installation of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras could be one way to decrease the risk of violent attacks.

CCTV seems to have led to a decrease in the number of victims going to the emergency room, partly because police can arrive on the scene prior to a violent engagement, the initiative suggests.

To deter even more injuries, Cardiff University's Shepherd advocates greater awareness of the dangers of kicking.

Preventing alcohol and drug abuse is also a factor in reducing injury, he says.

"The risk of conviction for an assault is also a deterrent [for violence]," he said. "Group violence also needs to be recognized as particularly likely to produce severe injury."

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