A reconsideration of the wounding mechanism of very high velocity projectiles--importance of projectile shape

J Trauma. 1988 Jan;28(1 Suppl):S63-7. doi: 10.1097/00005373-198801001-00014.


In 1976 a paper appeared which forecast "significant increases in velocities of projectiles from guns and fragments from warheads." It was postulated that the higher velocity projectiles would cause shallow wounds with wide tissue destruction on the surface--especially when striking velocity exceeded the speed of sound in tissue (about 1.5 km/sec). Other studies have not dealt with projectiles in this velocity range; the conclusions and assumptions stated in this 1976 paper have been quoted by others and accepted as fact. In a previous study, we shot blunt fragments into gelatin, but our findings did not support the proposed hypothesis that temporary cavity shape in tissue changes at velocities above the sonic speed. The temporary cavity becomes larger with increasing velocity but it does not become shallow unless the projectile fragments on impact. In the present study, we shot a series of blunt projectiles into animal tissue at velocities of 764 to 2,049 m/s. The stellate skin and muscle disruption splits from temporary cavity stretch we observed in this study are not apparent on entrance wounds from individual explosive device fragments in the living wounded. We suggest, therefore, that studies using blunt projectiles at striking velocities above 700 m/s are lacking in clinical relevance. We also compared wounds produced by pointed projectiles with those produced by blunt projectiles. The marked difference in wound morphology showed the fallacy of doing a study with blunt missiles and applying conclusions from that study to tissue disruption caused by all projectiles.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Firearms
  • Hindlimb
  • Muscles / injuries*
  • Skin / injuries*
  • Swine
  • Wounds, Gunshot / pathology*