Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dislocating A Thumb to Escape Cuffs

Recently, at a writer's conference, I was on a panel called "Blood and Guts." Panels are a group of

folks who happen to know a little extra about a subject. They field questions from the audience which, in this case, happened to be writers.

One writer asked if we thought it was possible to dislocate your thumb to escape handcuffs. I said I didn't believe so and asked a few police officers after the fact. They agreed, probably not. However, they did said women escape cuffs more often. If it was because they were dislocating their thumbs, they couldn't say for sure. But, they kinda doubted it. More likely they escape because officers are required to leave a bit of room between the handcuffs and the wrist, enough to be able to slip a finger between the two.


From the videos I've viewed, all featuring women, the cuff is pulled over the hand. The obligatory amount of space police officers must leave can facilitate that. The women all folded their hand together vertically. And, in every case, the thumb joint required a bit of pulling to pass.

That is the type of escape we are going to consider: pulling the cuff over the entire hand. And, if you can't fit it over your hand, will dislocating your thumb help? First, which joint are we even talking about?

According to Andrew Winch, a physical therapist specializing in sports medicine, it's not the joint we commonly think of that causes the issue. The CMC joint at the wrist is what stops the cuff. According to PT Winch:

The 1st CMC actually controls where the 1st metacarpal (the next joint up), and thus the 1st MCP, moves in space. As the 1st metacarpal rolls over the socket created by the carpal bones (at the CMC joint), the 1st metacarpal rolls forward and brings the 1st MCP with it. So, in theory, dislocating the 1st CMC would, in theory, shift the whole 1st metacarpal out of place. So yes, the CMC is what would need to be dislocated to get the metacarpal out of the way, which is required to slip out of a properly tightened set of cuffs (which get caught first on the head of the 1st metacarpal at the 1st CMC).

He continued:
...the first CMC is a saddle joint, so the only real way to traumatically dislocate it is to break one of the bony components of the saddle (or pull the thumb so far straight out that you distract the joint past those ridges, thus ripping every ligament in the joint).

Even if it were the next joint up, the MCP joint, that held the cuffs at bay, dislocating it wouldn't be much help either.

As you can see, and according to Winch as well, the thickness of the hand isn't changed much. And, even if did make the hand thinner, once you got the cuff up over the dislocated joint, the rest of the thumb would pose a problem. Here's why:

Need I say more?

So, in my opinion and, more importantly, PT Winch's professional opinion, dislocating the thumb to remove handcuffs is not USUALLY a "thing." Might it happen in some rare case? Well, yes. But, it would be truly rare as in a syndrome like Ehlers-Danlos which effects the connective tissue. If that is the case, you have something like this:

However, it is common for folks with Ehler-Danlos Syndrome to also have heart issues. So, even if they remain calm enough in such an emergency situation to escape the handcuffs, a speedy getaway on foot might be an issue.

TOTALLY UPDATED INFO!!!! (01/01/20) This was sent to me by fightwriter Hanah. You can see this info below in the comments. I LOVE when you all send me more info. My favorite knowledge is the kind I don't have yet.

"While someone with EDS might have trouble escaping after getting out of the cuffs, that's going to be due to a drop in blood pressure on standing up (POTS), lack of coordination (EDS causes problems with proprioception and a lot of us are clumsy), pain from loose joints, or most likely other dislocations. Most people who can dislocate on command are also vulnerable to dislocating when they DON'T want to as well."

To really get out of handcuffs, check back next week! Until then, that's it for this round at Get blood on your pages. WAAAAAIT! One more thing...BUY THE BOOK! It's chocked full of cool stuff!


  1. I have to comment on this. And my comment is, "Well, dang!" :D

  2. This is really interesting. I was reading this article to figure out this sort of myth or theory. I’m writing a fiction piece where my character, who isn’t particularly smart, is desperate to escape a pair of cuffs.

    1. Do you want the character to escape? If so, consider putting her in zip ties in the front. I can do a post on how to escape them. :)

  3. Haha, well there goes that aspect of Oliver Queen; He always dislocates his thumbs to get out of restraints. But then again, that is just a tv show.

  4. Hey, I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and stumbled on this completely unrelated to that. But just for the record, only one form of EDS involves heart issues, and it's the rarest. While someone with EDS might have trouble escaping after getting out of cuffs, that's going to be due to drop in blood pressure on standing up (POTS), lack of coordination (EDS causes problems with proprioception and a lot of us are very clumsy), pain from loose joints, or mostly likely, other dislocations. Most people who can dislocate on command are also vulnerable to dislocating when they DON'T want to, as well.
    You probably don't really need to know this, but I thought it might help!

    1. good description Hannah Peterson. It's possible but lot of problems...

    2. Hannah, who cares if I need to know. I WANT to know! Thank you so much for telling me this! I will add your tidbit in to the post.

      This whole thing came about because a writer asked me if it were possible. I didn't think so and tried to look for the most extreme example where it might. I was hoping the pics would show how extreme the distortion of the hand would be and that it's just not a great option for a writer.

      Again, thank you so much. Do you own my book?

    3. Bruno, I completely agree. Lots of problems, not a great option.

  5. I got out of cuffs on nye. No dislocation needed. Just prised my hand through and my left hand is in agony because of it. Right hand is almost fine now just a little numb. These were police cuffs with the black middle but.


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