In hanging (usually suicide), the neck can be compressed by rope, wire, or articles of clothing. Pressure on the neck will usually occlude the vasculature, but not necessarily the airway (larynx or trachea). Very little pressure is needed to occlude the blood vessels. It is a misconception that the airway must be occluded to asphyxiate. Ruptured blood vessels in the tissues from prolonged hanging, especially in the lower extremities, are called Tardieu spots.
The neck can also be compressed manually by strangulation or throttling. An assailant must compress either the airway or the blood vessels to render a victim unconscious. The time it takes to render an individual unconscious is quite variable (seconds to over a minute). Once a victim becomes unconscious, pressure must be continued in order to cause death.
Signs of trauma to the neck are generally evident in manual strangulation and hanging. There may be contusions or abrasions but rarely lacerations. An object used to compress the neck often leaves an abraded, imprinted mark. If the ligature is thin like a rope, the depressed mark on the neck is usually apparent and the pattern can be matched to the particular ligature. If the ligature is wide like a towel or shirt there will be no specific pattern of the ligature. There may superficial fingernail cuts from either the victim or assailant, however they are usually from the victim.
Pinpoint hemorrhages, or petechiae, are commonly present in the eyes after manual compression of the neck. Petechiae may be on either the bulb of the eye or on the lids or both. Petechiae may also be found on the face, especially the forehead, and around the eyes. They are caused by the buildup of vascular pressure which causes capillaries to rupture. They are not often found in suicidal hanging. Petechiae are not specific for asphyxiation and may occur in sudden natural death.
Was this article helpful?