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What is Strangulation?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Strangulation is an activity in which someone's neck is constricted, with the goal of cutting off blood flow or the person's air supply. This activity can lead to death, and the goal of strangulation is sometimes death, but controlled forms are also used in some martial arts and in the law enforcement community, with the goal of suppressing an opponent without killing him or her. Humans have been strangling each other for thousands of years, with evidence of strangling being found in numerous archaeological sites all over the world.

In manual strangulation, the constriction is accomplished with the hands, sometimes paired with a tool such as a rod or baton. This form is sometimes known as throttling or choking, and it most commonly is perpetrated by men on women, because manual strangulation requires a great deal of force. People can also utilize something like a rope, wire, or cord in ligature strangulation, in which the cord does most of the work, and the strangler simply tightens it to compress the victim's neck. Hanging, in which the victim is suspended on a rope or similar device, is another form of strangulation.

Historically, many cultures have utilized this technique for executions, either by hanging or garrote for ligature strangulation. Evidence suggests that several cultures utilized garrotes in religious rituals such as ceremonial sacrifices and executions, and that controlled strangulation may also have been used in religious rituals. Strangulation is also a popular murder method in many regions of the world.

When someone is strangled, death can occur in several different ways. Many people associate strangling with asphyxia, in which the supply of air is cut off, but strangulation can also involve ischemia, in which the blood flow to the brain is restricted, and the brain dies. The patient often develops distinctive physical signs of strangling, such as small red marks known as petechiae, caused by burst capillaries, along with bruising and trauma along the neck, and severe damage to the voicebox and hyoid bone in the throat.

Studies conducted by several law enforcement organizations suggest that strangling is often a major component in domestic violence. While the victim of domestic violence may not necessarily be strangled to death, a violent partner could use controlled choking as a method of control, and the victim may not report it. Victims of persistent strangling can experience physical symptoms such as hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or difficulty breathing, in addition to the emotional trauma associated with domestic violence and abuse.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By amypollick — On May 24, 2013

@anon335849: I don't know where you live, but if you live in the U.S. contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They have a website. If you are in the UK, they also have a National Domestic Violence Hotline, and you can look for their web presence, too. These people have been through what you've been through. They can help you plan what you want to do and to be safe. They will not judge you or attempt to shame you.

Please contact them. Your life really does depend on it. Good luck.

By anon335849 — On May 24, 2013

Last night my violent boyfriend flew into a rage and started strangling me. He did it about five times, each time using both hands, squeezing tightly around my neck, lifting me off the floor, then throwing me to the ground. He dragged me on the carpet; I have carpet burns on my feet and knees.

He has made me feel so worthless and scared for my life. I don't want to ruin his life or career by going to the police, but I feel if I do not, he will do it again and maybe one day he will kill me.

I need help and support. I am ashamed to tell anyone or seek medical advice. My eyes are bloodshot my face has red marks all over my neck is bruised and swollen. What do I do?

By anon267111 — On May 08, 2012

Could almost all, if not all, throat cancer cases be caused by strangulation in the patient's past, which could've been as long ago as 10 to 15 years before, although my research says that they would start noticing symptoms almost immediately, they would continue to deteriorate psychologically first, followed by deterioration physically? --S. Gebski

By breakofday — On Feb 05, 2010

Does the hyoid bone always break? I know it's right up near the jaw, would it still break if the rope or whatever was placed lower down?

The tv shows always have the person being strangled with the rope half-way down..course that's tv.

But if there is only skeletal remains and the hyoid bone isn't broken, it could STILL be death by strangulation couldn't it?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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