Original Article

International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 127, Issue 1, pp 103-110

First online:

Biomechanics and injury risk of a headbutt

  • Jiri AdamecAffiliated withInstitute of Legal Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilian University Email author 
  • , Vera MaiAffiliated withInstitute of Legal Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilian University
  • , Matthias GrawAffiliated withInstitute of Legal Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilian University
  • , Klaus SchneiderAffiliated withInstitute of Sports Sciences and Sports, University of the Federal Armed Forces
  • , John-Martin HempelAffiliated withDepartment of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, Ludwig-Maximilian University
  • , Jutta SchöpferAffiliated withInstitute of Legal Medicine, Ludwig-Maximilian University

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Headbutt is a relevant type of a criminal assault that can result in injuries. The aim of this study was to collect basic biomechanical data and assess the injury risk associated with a headbutt. Series of measurements were carried out with volunteers with and without relevant soccer heading experience, and the impact velocity of the striking head was measured. A soccer ball was used as a surrogate of the stationary victim’s head. Two scenarios were considered: one corresponding to the typical headbutt situation, i.e. short movement of the assailant’s head without backswing, and one representing the worst case, i.e. the most severe head impact without time or space constraints for the assailant. The results as well as epidemiological data from court cases and a large Munich’s university clinic show that a typical headbutt is not likely to lead to life-threatening injuries, but bony injuries of the face can easily occur. Under certain circumstances (support of the victim’s head, secondary impact on the ground etc.), severe injuries with potentially lethal outcomes are possible. A thorough analysis of each case is thus an imperative. The (soccer) heading experience does not influence the velocity of the headbutt.


Biomechanics Headbutt Biomechanical tolerance Injury risk Head injury