Why can't your body handle a punch to the liver? - Human Anatomy | Kenhub

This is the liver, and this is what happens when someone punches you in the liver.

A well-placed shot to the liver even one that's not particularly hard can put you in excruciating


If you've yet to experience this sensation in your life, well, consider yourself fortunate.

A blow to the liver whether a punch, a knee or a swift kick will likely leave you incapacitated.

In addition to the agonizing pain, you'll feel breathless, fatigued.

Your legs may give out from under you.

It's not a matter of willpower or how big or tough you are.

A swift shot to the liver will shut your body down.

So why does this happen?

Why is your liver so vulnerable?

If we compare the liver shot to, say, the head shot, you can see that they're both extremely


They both target a vulnerable part of the body yet the effects of these strikes are

actually quite different.

When you see professional tough guys like Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone take a multitude of

shots to the head without blinking only to collapse when they're struck by a single blow

to the body, it seems kind of strange.

However, the thing is when it comes to head shots, well, they don't really hurt – at

least not in the moment.

When you get knocked in the head, you become disoriented, but you don't necessarily process

the pain.

This is the opposite of a liver shot where your mind is actually clear but your body

has completely shut down.

Now let's take a closer look at the liver to really understand what's going on.

This reddish-brown wedge-shaped organ is the liver.

It's located on the right side of the body below the diaphragm and overlying the gallbladder.

It's the largest and heaviest internal organ in the human body weighing about one point

five kilograms.

This is about two point five percent of an adult human's body weight.

The liver is responsible for many important functions including the detoxification of

harmful substances, protein synthesis, nutrient storage and the production of biochemicals

necessary for digestion.

It's one of the most vital organs in the body.

If your liver fails and you don't get a liver transplant, you die.

According to a two thousand thirteen study on blunt liver injuries, if a healthy adult

male were to take a direct liver punch to the side of the abdomen with a minimum punch

speed of five meters per second, it would be enough to cause liver injury.

To put this in perspective, the average adult male is likely capable of punching at a speed

of six meters per second with estimates of pro boxers or MMA fighters punching over twice


Here you can see the extent of liver damage caused by a six meter-per-second liver punch.

A comparison of the simulated result on the right with the victim on the left shows the

severity of such an injury.

A perfectly placed liver shot with even moderate power and speed could rupture a liver.

This is a fight between former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten – and expert in liver

shots – and Jason DeLucia.

This shot right here is the famous shot that ruptured DeLucia's liver.

Okay, injury or not, the liver shot is still going to take you out – at least temporarily

– and the cause of this sudden paralysis isn't just due to extreme pain.

Physiologically, there's actually more going on.

When a punch initially lands on the liver, there are dynamic pressure changes in the

organ itself.

The liver is flexible.

It's pliable, so if one side of the liver gets compressed with a punch, the other side

will get stretched.

There are a lot of nerve fibers in the capsule around the liver linking it directly to the

autonomic nervous system.

So, as the liver gets compressed and stretched from the impact, you get nerve signals that

move along this pathway.

The part of the nervous system that controls involuntary actions is the autonomic nervous

system or ANS.

Now, the longest nerve of the ANS is the vagus nerve, and when this gets stimulated, a series

of events start to unfold.

First, there's a sudden dilation or widening of blood vessels all over your body with the

exception of the brain.

Normally when this happens, your heart rate increases to maintain blood pressure to the

cardiovascular system but in this case, the stimulation of the vagal nerve network causes

a decrease in heart rate.

This happens at the same time as the dilation of blood vessels so the blood pressure drops


In a last ditch effort to control the blood pressure and maintain blood flow to the brain

– since the functioning brain is vital for life – the body tries to force itself into

a horizontal or supine position.

This survival tactic is the reason for the collapse, and if the liver shot is severe

enough, you could also lose consciousness.

In a professional fight setting, all of this is amplified due to the additional elements

of pain, stress and dehydration from the weight cut.

Now you may be asking yourself, why this doesn’t seem to happen with other internal organs?

But the truth is, it does.

Many organs are susceptible in the same way.

It's just that with the liver being the largest organ in the abdomen and situated in a relatively

precarious position that is protruding slightly from under the rib cage, it becomes a larger

and more exposed target.

The kidneys, in comparison, are a lot less vulnerable due to the surrounding muscle mass

as well as being hidden well within the rib cage.

As we've evolved over time, the role of the liver has increased in importance leading

to an increase in size.

Why the rib cage didn't expand to fully protect the liver, a vital organ, remains unclear.

But as we all know, the human body isn't a perfect system.

At the end of the day, if you get punched in the liver, you will go down.

But, as defenseless as you may feel, perhaps there's still a chance that you're the one

who will deliver the final blow.

Thanks for watching.

We hope you enjoyed this topic and if you've ever been punched or kicked in the liver,

tell us about it in the comments below.

Give this video a thumbs up, share it, and if you want to learn more about the fascinating

liver, you can go ahead and check out the Kenhub website.

Alright, guys, until next time.