Neck Hold Techniques: A Cop's Perspective Part 3

By Al Arsenault

Valsalva Maneuver

When the technique is applied properly, the person should be still be able to breathe so there is no great panic for the uninitiated person to escape. Some novices, however, may panic and have an increased susceptibility to the Valsalva maneuver, which involves the pressurization of the thoracic cavity resulting from a person holding his breath while contracting the diaphragm (as with a cough, sneeze, bowel movement strain, or other forced exhalation against a closed airway). This restricts the return of deoxygenated blood flow through the diaphragm to the heart. It is proper technique to drop the elbow toward the opponent's sternum (if in the seated position), which enhances this pressurization. A person in the 'fight or flight' syndrome will have shorter, quicker breaths with enhanced blood vascularization to large muscles like the legs, making the amount of blood returning to the heart less pronounced. This stress-induced reaction can be seen in the paleness of the face, as the blood rushes to areas of more critical need.


As a result of all of these physiological responses, the person at the mercy of your arm will quickly feel light-headed and slip peacefully into temporary blackness. Additionally though, some people will experience harmful unconsciousness due to prescription and street drug use, epilepsy, and heart disease. Unconsciousness should be reached within three to seven seconds. If not, find out what is incorrect with your technique. If successful, take care to recognize when your opponent is 'out cold'. His struggle will cease and he will go limp. If this technique is done in a standing situation, it will be readily evident when he is unconscious, as his knees will buckle from under him. This may not be as obvious to you when in a ground fighting situation when your opponent/partner is in the prone position. In practice, be wary that your partner may fail to tap out. On the street, relax the pressure immediately when your opponent blacks out and release the hold entirely when it is safe to do so.


Be prepared to resuscitate your partner/opponent should it be required/ appropriate. It is not uncommon for the heart to actually stop beating. In a very few cases, the heart does not restart (carotid sinus syndrome) and emergency first aid must be administered, unless it is your intention to kill your opponent. If a person's heart does stop, cardiopulmonary resuscitation would be required to revive him. A more common effect is the temporary cessation of breathing. This too is not an unusual consequence of a fully and successfully applied technique, but respiration will return on its own in the vast majority of cases and consciousness will be regained within thirty seconds. The ancient revival techniques (kappo or katsu) used in judo include seating the unconscious person and sharply slapping the spine in the mid-thoracic area as to stimulate the diaphragm back into action. There are many revival methods, but this one is very commonly used.

Cautions About the Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint

Proper training in lateral vascular neck restraint is essential because of the possibility of lethal consequences. Deaths have occurred at the hands of the police who were improperly trained or who were not trained at all in its usage. As a result, this technique has been banned by many police agencies across the United States in particular over the past two decades. Improper application (a sleeper hold inadvertently turned into a choke hold) can damage the internal structures of the neck like the hyoid bone, larynx, trachea, etc. As such, it is important to line up your elbow with his chin and sternum, keeping his head locked into place looking directly ahead, with your elbow pressing down to avoid any dangerous stretching and rotation of the neck.

Other cautions come with using these techniques, such as holding the technique too long causing brain damage. Needless to say, applying these holds on elderly people should be avoided. Men over 40 have marked susceptibility to coronary artery disease that could result in a heart attack. [[FN: Reay and Eisele, 1982, p. 257]] Plaque can be loosened in the arteries, causing a stroke, or a heart attack may ensue from the stimulation of the vagus nerve, or resulting from the stress of the encounter. For those acting in a law enforcement capacity, it is advised that those taking control over the arrested party should be made aware that a neck restraint hold had been used to subdue him. This will allow the proper medical monitoring of this party lest complications develop while in custody such as swelling of the trachea causing asphyxiation, the common cause in-custody deaths related to the use of neck restraints.

Regaining Consciousness After a Sleeper Hold

In many cases, the judicious application of a properly applied sleeper hold ends a physical altercation quickly and reduces the need to administer the more punishing techniques to a violent offender. Often the opponent regains consciousness with little desire to resume in his violent behavior. This is due in part because of the temporary disorientation that comes with reawakening to consciousness, and more rationally, because of the realization that he has met his match and does not desire a repeat 'sleep' (particularly if bowel/ bladder control had been lost). After all, you have shown complete domination over your opponent by rendering him unconscious, and consequently he was totally at your mercy. When a person regains consciousness commonly he may start to shake uncontrollably for a few seconds as his brain signs back on ('doing the chicken'). Loud, repetitive, and simple verbal commands may be necessary to gain voluntary compliance, as the cognitive functions of the brain are a little fuzzy initially.

Prevention Against Neck Restraint Holds

The best defense against neck restraint holds is to protect your neck at all costs, otherwise the fight may be over in seconds for you. Having well-developed neck muscles, especially the protective sternocleidomastoid muscles, are assets when protecting your self from neck attacks. While some attacks to the neck can be diminished by shrugging the shoulders or tightening the platysma and sternocleidomastoid muscles, there are ways to overcome these defenses. The snaking of a choking arm around the neck can be achieved by hair pulling, eye gouging, or the painful rubbing the knuckles of the snaking hand(s) under the jaw line to create some space for the following wrist and arm.


The use of choking techniques should be limited to life and death situations because of the many inherent dangers of using it. There is little wonder that these strangulation techniques are banned in all North American police agencies (except in deadly threat situations). It should be noted though, that since the inception of judo in 1882, there have been no recorded deaths associated with the application of any strangle or neck restraint hold. No doubt, the presence of a referee in a sporting arena overseeing trained and healthy athletes accounts for this stellar safety record. The key to its safe use by police in the field lies in proper training and recertification. Light applications of the chokes can be made in practice as long as your partner taps out quickly. Remember, tap out or it's 'lights out'!


Arsenault, Alan, D. Chin Na in Ground Fighting: Principles, Theory and Submission Holds for all Martial styles. Boston, YMAA Publications, 2003.

Reay Donald, T. and J.W. Eisele, "Dearth From Law Enforcement Neck Holds." The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Vol. 3, No. 3: 253-258, 1982.

Siddle, Bruce K. Pressure Point and Control Tactics: Defensive Tactics Instructor Manual. Millstadt: PPCT Management Systems Inc., 1999.