Autopsy & forensics
Types of injuries
Sharp force injuries

Topic Completed: 1 March 2012

Minor changes: 3 November 2020

Copyright: 2012-2021,, Inc.

PubMed search: Sharp force [title] injuries forensic

Lindsey Harle, M.D.
Page views in 2020: 122
Page views in 2021 to date: 378
Table of Contents
Sharp force injuries
Cite this page: Harle L. Sharp force injuries. website. Accessed March 4th, 2021.
Sharp force injuries
  • Injury caused by sharp or pointed weapons
  • Differentiated from lacerations by the absence of tissue bridging within the wound

Stab wound: injury from sharp weapon that is deeper than it is wide
  • Common weapons include knife, ice pick, scissors, fork
  • Stab wound on the skin should be examined to determine if it has sharp or blunt margins; this can be used to determine if the weapon had a single edged or double edged blade
  • Weapons such as a screwdriver, fork or serrated knife can leave distinctive skin patterns that can be matched to the weapon
  • Depth of penetration of the wound does not directly correlate with the length of the weapon, as it can be longer, shorter or equal to the weapon length depending upon the amount of force applied and the location on the body
  • Likewise, the length of the wound on the skin may be longer, shorter or equal to the weapon's for the same reasons
  • The guard of the knife may produce a patterned abrasion if it is stabbed with significant force into the skin; this can aid in identifying the weapon
  • If the weapon comes into contact with bone, the tip may break off and remain in the body; this can be used to identify the weapon
  • Suicidal stab wounds may show hesitation marks; i.e. multiple superficial stab wounds surrounding the final, fatal wound
  • Defense stab wounds can be found on the hands and extensor surfaces of the arms in homicidal stabbings

Incised wound: sharp force injury that is longer (as measured on the skin) than it is deep
  • Usually not fatal, except when they occur over major arteries (i.e. on the neck / arms)
  • As with stab wounds, suicidal incised wounds may be associated with hesitation marks; these marks do not rule out homicide
  • Defensive incised wounds occur on the hands and extensor surfaces of the arms in homicides

Chop wound: due to a heavy weapon that has a sharp edge, i.e. machete, axe, boat propeller
  • Commonly produces an incised wound associated with a cut into the underlying bone
  • Dull chop weapons, such as a shovel, produces more crush injury than sharp force injury
Back to top
Image 01 Image 02