Tag Archives: adrenaline

Q&A: Shock

In film often when characters get stabbed/assaulted they can often continue to fight or don’t pass out immediately. How does adrenaline or shock factor into the physical reaction, especially when the character isn’t a cop or military and isn’t accustomed to being in these violent situations. How long would they be able to function before they crash? Is it possible to run away or even fight?

Taking these questions in reverse order: Yeah, kinda, sometimes, and it varies wildly, based on the injuries sustained. Also, it’s not the adrenaline crash that kills you.

Adrenaline rushes mean that you’re often unaware of injuries sustained in the moment. I’ve never been fully certain if adrenaline actually dulls the pain response, or if it simply causes your brain to ignore it. Either way, while you’re under an adrenaline rush you can suffer injuries and be unaware of them. It’s why you’ll sometimes see characters (and, for that matter, real people, with prior experience) checking themselves for injuries after combat (or any other traumatic event). It is entirely possible to be wounded and have no idea it’s happened until you’re trying to figure out where all that blood is coming from.

Depending on what you’ve just been through, coming down off an adrenaline rush can be deeply unpleasant. Your brain is sure something’s fucked up, but it can’t pin down exactly what or where, so it’s going to take that out on you, and everything aches. Adrenaline crashes won’t kill you. (There may be some weird outliers here for people with heart conditions, but, in general.) A crash may make you wish you were dead, or make you want to throw up on people, but it’s not lethal.

In the moment an adrenaline means that you can suffer (fairly severe) injuries and keep on fighting. If the injury doesn’t outright disable a limb, you can keep using it, even if that’s a very bad idea. Getting stabbed or shot is no guarantee that someone will sit down and peacefully bleed to death. Actually, shooting someone is a pretty good way to ensure they won’t sit down and bleed to death without protest.

When you’re trying to figure out how long it will take someone to die, you’re actually asking about how fast someone bleeds out. This relates directly to the injuries sustained. Someone who’s had a knife driven into their neck isn’t going to keep fighting. Someone who had it run through their bicep or buried in their shoulder blade, probably can.

We’ve covered blood loss before (and I strongly recommend you take a look at that tag, if you haven’t), but that’s the real factor here that controls if someone can fight. If they still have enough blood in their body to function. Lose too much, your ability to fight is impaired, and you’ll eventually fall unconscious and die.

Blood loss is why concepts like, “first blood,” are important in duels. Once that happens, the clock is ticking for that character; the longer the fight goes, the more their ability will decay, and unless they find a way to turn it around, they will die. (Even if they manage to prevail, they may still die without medical attention.)

Fighting through a stab wound is a fantastically bad idea. Engaging in any physically strenuous activity that raises your heart rate, (for example: fighting someone, or running away), will speed up blood loss, meaning impairment kicks in sooner. Still, the point of adrenaline is to keep you functional after sustaining an injury, so that you can survive.

If someone suffers an injury which disables them in some way, such as breaking an arm, there’s no powering through that. Adrenaline won’t let you override shattered bones. The biomechanical pulley system of muscles and tendons simply doesn’t work with broken bones.

So, the short answer is, “yeah, kinda.” You can keep fighting after being attacked. So far as it goes, there’s plenty of cases where someone took a stray bullet and kept on fighting, only to bleed to death later.

-Starke

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When you are running away from someone / something, and you finally feel safe and the adrenaline starts to leave you, would it be realistic to pass out? From all the panic and other emotions you kept repressed so you could escape?

No. Flushing adrenaline can make you shaky, but it won’t cause you to simply keel over without warning unless there’s something seriously, medically, wrong.

Also, adrenaline doesn’t suppress panic. Keeping a clear goal in mind, and working towards that can, but adrenaline does nothing for panic. Also, panic can’t make you pass out. Except in rare cases where it could cause a heart attack, stroke, or similar “f— this I’m out” for the victim’s body.

Now, adrenaline can reduce or delay your pain response. That is to say, you can be seriously injured and not know it because of the adrenaline rush. Which could result in someone passing out after the adrenaline rush. But, that would be because they are bleeding to death, and not because they panicked or because the adrenaline did it to them.

-Starke

What are some of the physical responses to a sudden combat situation? For example, muscle tightening, heart rate, that kind of thing.

An increase to heart rate is usually a sign of adrenaline, along with a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, and in most people, some fine muscle tremors. I think we’ve talked about that before.

As with a lot of things, how someone handles an immediate combat threat is going to be very specific to that individual. A lot of people freeze up, and some can switch over smoothly and rapidly. Specialized training can help with this. But, it’s important to understand; this isn’t covered in most martial arts classes.

Usually training comes in two parts: First is an awareness of dangerous situations, so the combatant will be harder to take by surprise. The second part is rote responses to specific threats. This can vary pretty massively depending on who the person being trained is. It can include drawing a weapon, getting to cover, tensing muscles (which you mentioned), or going into a stance. It won’t always be completely appropriate, but it doesn’t really need to be, either. The entire point is just to get the combatant ready to fight faster. It’s worth pointing out, with military drills; those rote responses can include lethal takedowns.

How well someone handles an adrenaline rush is another matter. As far as I know, this is something that people either learn to deal with through experience or conditioning, rather than traditional training. The more adrenaline rushes someone’s experienced, the less they’ll be impaired by it, relatively speaking. In general, adrenaline rushes work towards your advantage in hand to hand or melee, but work against you when operating firearms.

-Starke