Forensic Medicine
Features of Defense Wounds

Features of Defense Wounds

A defense wound is an injury received by the victim of an attack due to immediate and instinctive reaction to the attack while defending against the assailant to save himself. These types of wounds are mostly found in the hands and forearms because as a quick response the victim might have raised them to guard the top and the face. It can be present on the feet and legs when the defending action is taken while lying down. 

Defense wounds are classified into both active and passive defense wounds. Active defense wounds are caused when the victim tries to grasp the weapon and passive defense wounds are caused when the victim tries to save himself by raising the hands, arms, or legs. When the attack is made using a blunt object the person might attempt to protect their eyes, head, and neck by raising their arms, flexing their elbows, and covering the head and neck or they try to grasp the weapon.

When trying to defend, bruises or abrasions may be produced on the extensor or ulnar surfaces of the forearms, wrists, backs of the hands, knuckles, and lateral/posterior aspects of the upper arms. The appearance and nature of the wound varies with the sort of weapon used and therefore the location of the injury, and should present as a laceration, abrasion, contusion, or bone fracture.

Where a victim has time to boost hands or arms before being shot by an assailant, the injury can also present as a gunshot wound. Severe laceration of the palmar surface of the hand may result from the victim grasping the blade of a weapon during an attack.  

Features of a Defense Wound

  • Fractures of the carpal bones, metacarpals, and digits may occur. Wounds are rarely seen on the shins and feet but might be seen if the victim was lying on the ground usually face up, as he/she kicks the assailant.
  • The arms and posterior aspects of the lower limbs and back may be injured as the victim curls into a ball with flexion of the spine, knees, and hips to protect the anterior part of the body and genitals.
  • The leg may be brought across the other or the thigh raised, due to which the outer side may receive blows and kicks.
  • The size and shape of the bruises depend upon the attacking object. If the weapon is sharp, the injuries may depend upon the type of attack, whether stabbing or cutting.
  • In stabbing with a single-edged weapon, if the weapon is grasped, a single cut is produced on the palm or the bends of the fingers or thumb.
  • Cuts are produced both on the palm and fingers if it is a double-edged weapon. The cuts are usually irregular and ragged because the skin tension is loosened by the gripping of the knife.  
  • When attacked, the victim usually holds up the hand or forearm and receives cuts on the hand, wrist, the ulnar border of the forearm, and on the fingers.
  • They are often irregular, in-depth and distributed.
  • A typical knife defense wound may be seen in the web between the base of the thumb and index finger when the blade is grasped.
  • Defense wounds are absent if the victim is unconscious, or is taken by surprise, or attacked from the back, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Abrasions and contusions over the knuckles can be sustained due to offensive efforts by the victim, or by his defensive efforts.
  • Fractures of the fourth and fifth metacarpals (knuckle fractures) may occur when the assailant is punched on his head or chin.
  • In manual assault, the hands of the suspected assailant may show injuries indicative of or compatible with his involvement in the assault. 


Defensive wounds are strong indications of a homicide. The type of weapon, relative position of the victim, and the assailant can be estimated.

In case of females, the presence of defense wounds might be an indicator of a sexual assault. Most importantly it indicates that the person was conscious and ready to offer some resistance during the attack.

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