What Happens During a Choke?

1505661_627603690643123_2055765870_nThough there are different variables involved in a chokehold, and many different kinds of chokeholds but they all boil down to just two different categories, the blood choke and the air choke. As these names imply a blood choke disrupts blood circulation to the brain while an air choke disrupts breathing. Air chokes usually do not result in a choke-out, instead they are very painful and cause “air hunger.” During a blood choke blood circulation to the brain is disrupted or cut off.

Disrupting the blood flow is accomplished by compressing one or both of the carotid arteries and or the jugular veins usually with little to no pressure put on the actual airway.

The logistics behind the loss of consciousness is somewhat confusing. As pressure is placed on the carotid artery there is also pressure being placed on the baroreceptors (which are little receptors inside of the carotid artery). These receptors send signals into the brain, causing vasodilation. The dilation causes blood vessels in the brain to get larger. The widened blood vessels don’t allow blood to properly profuse the brain leading to loss of consciousness. The vasodilation is analogous to taking a garden hose and replacing it with a fire hose but keeping the same pressure. Instead of having a steady flow with adequate pressure, water just dribbles out the fire house.

It is interesting that it isn’t from the actual cutting off of blood to the brain that causes someone to lose consciousness but the drop in blood pressure, the body shuts itself down.

Effects of a Choke-Out

220px-Gray513In 2004 there was an article published in the Journal of American Neurological association entitled “Syncope: A videometric analysis of 56 episodes of transient cerebral hypoxia”. In the 42 subjects that completely lost consciousness their syncope state lasted 12.1 seconds plus or minus 4.4 seconds. Muscle jerks occurred in 90% of patients. The most common pattern of movement consisted of multifocal arrhythmic jerks (uncoordinated spasms of multiple muscle groups moving at the same time) in both proximal and distal muscles.

Additional movements also occurred such as: righting movements (if the patient had slumped one way while falling asleep they woke up and immediately corrected, if not overcorrected), oral automatisms, and head turns. In most of the patients their eyes remained open. And sixty percent of the patients reported having visual and auditory hallucinations.

Different people feel different things while they are being choked. The sensations are often difficult to describe. Some common sensations as reported by Brazilian jujitsu practitioners include but aren’t limited to: a feeling that the victim’s surroundings are expanding and contracting around them. A sensation similar to tunnel vision, working in from the edges of the victim’s vision goes blank. Without intervention the victim’s vision will completely go dark followed by unconsciousness.

Pressure is extremely common. Pressure is usually felt in the neck and head area in particular the eyes. People often feel pressure pushing from the inside out on their eyes and burst blood vessels can occur. Pressure on the neck is the opposite the pressure is felt pushing from the outside in. One very predictable sensation is an intense feeling of light headedness. This is for the same reason that you feel light headed when you go from a laying position to a standing position you don’t have enough fresh oxygenated blood reaching your brain. Lastly in a competition setting with the adrenaline going many people claim to have felt nothing at all as they were being choked, they had no idea until it was too late that they had been put into a chokehold. They only find out after they are woken up and asked if they are alright.

The sensations don’t stop when the victim loses consciousness. Most people report having dreams that feel like they have lasted for long amounts of time, minutes to hours even though they have been in the syncope state for mere seconds. Through their dreams people report to keep the feeling of light headedness, and when they wake up everything seems a little unreal for a few seconds. Often times people’s dreams/hallucinations are tied into sounds around them, even more so than regular sleep. For example if there is the sound of a telephone ringing in the room the unconscious person’s dream could be based almost entirely around a phone. Other times the sensation of light and tingly stays with the victim for minutes after the victim wakes up.

Much of the time the victim can function enough to drive a car, or do any regular task within a few hours of waking up but will probably be disoriented for at least a few minutes.


Though some point to the possibility of a person being choked out as dangerous, it would appear from it being a common occurrence with no reported cases of fatality that it is safe. That being said it is definitely dangerous for someone to remain in a chokehold after losing consciousness.

It is highly recommended that anyone interested in any kind of grappling or in any way interested in practicing these chokes should consult a professional. Practice hard, practice smart, and practice in a safe controlled environment.

Adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choke-out.


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