Mechanism of loss of consciousness during vascular neck restraint

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Feb;112(3):396-402. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00592.2011. Epub 2011 Nov 17.


Vascular neck restraint (VNR) is a technique that police officers may employ to control combative individuals. As the mechanism of unconsciousness is not completely understood, we tested the hypothesis that VNR simply compresses the carotid arteries, thereby decreasing middle cerebral artery blood flow. Twenty-four healthy police officers (age 35 ± 4 yr) were studied. Heart rate (HR), arterial pressure, rate of change of pressure (dP/dt), and stroke volume (SV) were measured using infrared finger photoplethysmography. Bilateral mean middle cerebral artery flow velocity (MCAVmean) was measured by using transcranial Doppler ultrasound. Neck pressure was measured using flat, fluid-filled balloon transducers positioned over both carotid bifurcations. To detect ocular fixation, subjects were asked to focus on a pen that was moved from side to side. VNR was released 1-2 s after ocular fixation. Ocular fixation occurred in 16 subjects [time 9.5 ± 0.4 (SE) s]. Pressures over the right (R) and left (L) carotid arteries were 257 ± 22 and 146 ± 18 mmHg, respectively. VNR decreased MCAVmean (R 45 ± 3 to 8 ± 4 cm/s; L 53 ± 2 to 10 ± 3 cm/s) and SV (92 ± 4 to 75 ± 4 ml; P < 0.001). Mean arterial pressure (MAP), dP/dt, and HR did not change significantly. We conclude that the most important mechanism in loss of consciousness was decreased cerebral blood flow caused by carotid artery compression. The small decrease in CO (9.6 to 7.5 l/min) observed would not seem to be important as there was no change in MAP. In addition, with no significant change in HR, ventricular contractility, or MAP, the carotid sinus baroreceptor reflex appears to contribute little to the response to VNR.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Carotid Arteries / physiology*
  • Carotid Sinus / physiology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Eye
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Hemodynamics / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Cerebral Artery / physiology*
  • Neck / physiology
  • Pressoreceptors / physiology
  • Restraint, Physical / adverse effects
  • Restraint, Physical / methods*
  • Stroke Volume / physiology
  • Young Adult