Pain Compliance vs. Body Mechanics

What's the difference between pain compliance techniques and body mechanics techniques? In a nutshell, pain compliance involves either manipulating a person's joints or activating certain pressure points to create sufficient pain to achieve compliance. Body mechanics techniques rely on using leverage and momentum rather than pain to gain control of a suspect. Without question, police officers will benefit from being well versed in both skill sets. However, it's important for officers to understand the advantages and limitations of each.

Pain compliance

In the police academy, I was fortunate (depending on how you look at it) to have been on the receiving end of some perfectly executed pain compliance techniques, such as wristlocks, twist locks, and bar arm control holds. Even more memorable were pressure point applications to my mastoid (located in the area under the ear, near the jaw line), salivary gland (located under of the jaw line), and the sterno-clavicular nerve (located between the collarbone and the top of the sternum) just to name a few. These techniques were so painful that I assumed they were near foolproof. That is until I graduated from the academy and tried some of them on uncooperative suspects.

Many suspects are impervious to pain due to their mental or emotional state, drug or alcohol use, or simply an unusually high pain tolerance. Also, some suspects are so flexible that control holds that would make most of us scream, "Uncle!" have little effect. The obvious problem with pain compliance techniques is if the suspect does not feel pain, they aren't persuaded to comply. As they say, "No brain, no pain."

Verbal commands are an integral component of pain compliance techniques. Without verbalizing to the suspect what you want him to do (i.e. get on the ground, place his hand on his head, etc.) you are merely inflicting pain, which will likely result in the suspect becoming even more resistive.

The degree to which you apply pain is also a critical factor in the success of your technique. For instance, if while placing a relatively cooperative suspect in a control hold to facilitate handcuffing, you apply the hold too forcefully, you might unintentionally trigger a combative response.

When utilizing a pain compliance technique, you must control the application according to the level of resistance. If the suspect starts to comply, release the tension slightly to encourage full compliance. If he resists, apply more pressure until compliance is achieved. This is the essence of pain compliance methodology.

Attaining proficiency in pain compliance techniques requires that you train with a variety of partners, since factors such as size, strength, flexibility, and pain tolerance can influence the effectiveness of your techniques. A good training partner will tell you not only if you're applying too much pressure, but also if you're achieving the desired level of control.

Body mechanics

Although body mechanics techniques often result in the infliction of pain, they are not dependent on pain to achieve compliance. Instead, the effectiveness of these techniques is based on leverage and momentum. In theory, if you execute the technique correctly, the suspect will be unable to resist. The problem occurs when you aren't able to develop sufficient leverage and momentum.

Body mechanics techniques usually involve manipulating the suspect's body bilaterally, using the push/pull concept. This involves simultaneously pushing part of the suspect's body with one hand while stabilizing or pulling another portion of his body with your other hand.

Several effective takedowns are based on body mechanics, including the foldover, shoulder wrap, and head twist. Let's examine these techniques to ensure that you have a thorough understanding of what makes them work.


To execute the foldover, place one palm on the small of the suspect's back and pull. Drive the palm of your other hand upward to strike the suspect's chin, forcing his head back. When his head is off axis of his body, the suspect's balance will be compromised and he will likely fall over backwards.

Remember that you've got to have leverage and momentum to be effective. For maximum leverage, make sure your lead foot is past the suspect's leg. You also need to shuffle forward to develop momentum while directing the suspect's head back and down.

Shoulder wrap

The shoulder wrap is achieved by grabbing and pulling the suspect's far side shoulder and encircling your same-sided arm vertically around the suspect's arm. When both of your hands are placed on the suspect's shoulder, his shoulder and elbow will be unable to move. Step with your rear leg behind your lead leg and turn your upper body to face the same direction as the suspect while applying downward pressure on the shoulder. Using the suspect's arm as a lever, you are now able to direct the suspect into a prone position.

Momentum in this technique is developed not only by manipulating the shoulder but also by "opening the gate." Opening the gate refers to the action of stepping behind your lead leg and pivoting on the balls of your feet to spin roughly 180 degrees so that you are facing the same direction as the suspect.

Head Twist

This technique is proof that where the head goes, the body follows. To execute the head twist, simply place one hand behind the suspect's head and pull it toward your opposite shoulder. Use your other hand to drive the suspect's chin away. This action will cause the suspect's whole body to turn. Again, by opening the gate, you create a void for the suspect to fall into.

This technique won't be effective if executed lackadaisically. Only be forcefully pushing and pulling the suspect's head while performing the "opening the gate" footwork described above will you develop sufficient momentum.


Pain compliance techniques such as control holds and pressure point manipulation are effective methods for dealing with moderately resisting suspects. However, since these techniques tend to be based on fine-motor skills, they can be difficult to apply under stress. Additionally, they will be ineffective if the suspect does not feel pain. Since body mechanics techniques are more gross-motor based, they require less precision to execute. And, since their effectiveness is not dependent on the suspect's reaction to pain, they are usually the better option for dealing with a violent suspect.

Train hard. Stay safe!