Stab Wounds

Stab wounds are produced by pointed instruments. Most are homicidal. In stab wounds, the depth of the wound track in the body exceeds its length in the skin. The edges of the wound in the skin are typically sharp, without abrasion or contusion (Figure 7.1). In describing stab wounds, one should never use the term laceration. A laceration is a tear in the skin caused by blunt force.

The most commonly used weapon to produce a stab wound is a knife, which, by virtue of its cutting edge, can also produce incised wounds. The typical weapon is a flat-bladed, single-edged kitchen, pocket, or folding knife with a 4- to 5-in. blade. Other devices, such as ice picks, scissors, screwdrivers, broken glass, forks, pens, and pencils, have been used to inflict stab wounds.

The force needed for a knife to perforate the skin depends on the configuration and sharpness of the tip of the knife. The sharper, more needlelike the tip, the more readily it will perforate the skin.1 Once the tip has perforated the skin, the rest of the blade will slide into the body with ease. As long as it does not contact bone, a knife can readily pass through organs with very little force. Thus, even if a knife blade is driven its complete length into the body, this does not necessarily mean that the stab wound was inflicted with great force.

Shaped Stab Wound
Figure 7.1 Stab wound by single-edged knife. Top squared off, lower end V-shaped.

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