Taser Injuries

Taser Injuries is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Emergency Consult.

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  • Tasers are part of a class of less lethal weapons referred to as conducted energy weapons (CEWs).
  • Most common in US are those made by Taser International; these include the M-26, X-26, and X2 although others exist.
  • These devices use a high-voltage low-amperage current to override the subject's ability to control the peripheral nervous system; they cause pain so as to induce subject compliance.
  • Handheld devices such as stun guns require the application of 2 exposed probes to the skin (or close to the skin) to cause a localized response (usually pain).
  • Other devices, such as the Taser International devices, have barbed probes attached to thin wires that can be shot up to 35 ft to deliver current from a distance.
  • Needle lengths of CEW barbs are of varied lengths but generally less than or around 0.5 in.
  • The effects of CEWs vary depending on the type of device being used, location, placement, and distance between the probes on the subject's body. If probe spread on the body is <5 cm, effectiveness is less.
  • Skin effects
    • May leave marks at site of probe contact, called “signature marks”
    • Small puncture wound from barbs
  • Skeletal effects
    • Fractures may result from falls.
    • Vertebral compression fractures have been reported as a result of a Taser discharge.
    • Barbs may penetrate bone.
  • Muscle effects
    • Strains possible
    • Rhabomyolysis possible with repeated prolonged use, though more likely could result from the underlying cause leading to use of the Taser (e.g., excited delirium syndrome [ExDS])
  • Cardiovascular effects
    • Theoretically could cause ventricular fibrillation if a charge was delivered over the heart during a vulnerable part of the cardiac cycle. This risk is not easily quantifiable but estimated to be very low.
    • A case of atrial fibrillation has been reported following Taser use.
    • No significant effects in otherwise healthy subjects. Does not cause changes in ECG or troponin I.
    • Unclear how device would affect pacemakers/automatic internal cardiac defibrillators (AICDs). Energy is low; theoretically should not cause damage. Could cause an AICD to deliver a shock if electrical activity of the CEW is misinterpreted as a dysrhythmia.
  • Nervous system effects
    • There have been case reports of skull penetration and seizure.
  • Respiratory effects
    • Initial concerns that the CEWs would disrupt ventilation proved unfounded. Research has shown that subjects actually increase ventilation during an application.


The devices are commonly used in law enforcement but may also be used in the military, self-defense, by those wishing to commit a crime, or an accidental discharge of a weapon on to law enforcement personnel.

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