Can martial arts “pressure points” really knock people unconscious? If so, how do they work?

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1) This study says “Yes, they can.”

2) Nobody knows.

BACKGROUND: Study physiologic changes occurring during “knockouts” produced by application of pressure point techniques during martial arts demonstrations.

METHODS: Experimental design: prospective analysis of physiologic variables during and immediately following an acute event. Setting: martial arts demonstration carried out at a medical center hospital. Subjects: 12 normal volunteers participating in a martial arts demonstration. Interventions: application of various pressure point techniques that have been observed to produce states of unresponsiveness in volunteers. Measures: continuous ECG and video/EEG monitoring with measurements of blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Qualitative analysis of EEG and ECG recordings and quantitative comparison of heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation measurements before during and after the period of induced unconsciousness.

RESULTS: No significant changes in blood pressure, oxygen saturation, cardiac rate or rhythm, or electroencephalogram are noted during the knockouts produced by application of pressure point techniques. There was only variable inability for subjects to remember words spoken to them during the episode of apparent unresponsiveness.

CONCLUSIONS: The mechanism for the state of unresponsiveness produced by application of pressure point techniques is not related to a significant cardiac or pulmonary process. There is no evidence of reduced cerebral blood flow during this time or of other dangerous physiologic changes. The exact mechanism for this phenomenon remains uncertain.

Source: “Physiologic study of pressure point techniques used in the martial arts.” from J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1999 Dec;39(4):328-35.

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