Physical restraint refers to the practice of rendering people helpless or keeping them in captivity by means such as handcuffs, shackles, straitjackets, ropes, straps, or other forms of physical restraint. Alternatively, unarmed combat techniques or sheer force of numbers may be used to restrain a person.
For some types of restraint, devices leave the arms and legs free, i.e. safety harnesses.
For restraint for medical or psychiatric purposes, see medical restraints
Physical restraint may be used:
- by police to arrest and detain criminals
- to restrain people who are suffering from involuntary physical spasms, to prevent them from hurting themselves (see medical restraints).
- controversially, in mental hospitals
- as part of games of BDSM and sexual bondage
- by escapologists, illusionists and stunt performers
- by kids playing cowboy games
- by a kidnapper (stereotypically with rope or duct tape and a gag) or other material
Restraining someone against their will is generally a crime in most jurisdictions, unless it is explicitly sanctioned by law (i.e. false arrest, false imprisonment).
The misuse of physical restraint has resulted in many deaths. Physical restraint can be dangerous, sometimes in unexpected ways. Examples include:
- postural asphyxia
- unintended strangulation
- death due to choking or vomiting and being unable to clear the airway
- death due to inability to escape in the event of fire or other disaster
- death due to dehydration or starvation due to the inability to escape
- cutting off of blood circulation by restraints
- nerve damage by restraints
- cutting of blood vessels by struggling against restraints, resulting in death by loss of blood
- death by hypothermia or hyperthermia whilst unable to escape
For these and many other reasons, extreme caution is needed in the use of physical restraint.
Gagging a restrained person is highly risky, as it involves a substantial risk of asphyxia, both from the gag itself, and also from choking or vomiting and being unable to clear the airway. In practice, simple gags do not restrict communication much; however, this means that gags that are effective enough to prevent communication are generally also potentially effective at restricting breathing. Gags that prevent communication may also prevent the communication of distress that might otherwise prevent injury.
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