Ballistics reviews: mechanisms of bullet wound trauma

Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2009;5(3):204-9. doi: 10.1007/s12024-009-9096-6. Epub 2009 Jul 31.


The location of an entrance wound (bullet placement) and the projectile path are the most important factors in causing significant injury or death following a shooting. The head followed by the torso are the most vulnerable areas, with incapacitation resulting from central nervous system (brain or cord) disruption, or massive organ destruction with hemorrhage. Tissue and organ trauma result from the permanent wound cavity caused by direct destruction by the bullet, and also from radial stretching of surrounding tissues causing a temporary wound cavity. The extent of tissue damage is influenced by the type of bullet, its velocity and mass, as well as the physical characteristics of the tissues. The latter includes resistance to strain, physical dimensions of an organ, and the presence or absence of surrounding anatomical constraints. Bullet shape and construction will also affect tissue damage and bullets which display greater yaw will be associated with increased temporary cavitation. Military bullet designs do not include bullets that will expand or flatten as these cause greater wound trauma and are regulated by convention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Firearms
  • Forensic Ballistics*
  • High-Energy Shock Waves
  • Humans
  • Wounds, Gunshot / pathology*