Restraints are items of equipment that are attached to parts of the body to restrict, or in some cases prevent, movement.

Restraints that are frequently used by law enforcement officials include handcuffs, leg cuffs (and combinations of handcuffs and leg cuffs linked by a chain), and belly chains/transport chains. Restraints such as gang chains, thumb cuffs, finger cuffs, neck cuffs, weighted leg cuffs, restraint chairs, restraint beds, and shackle boards are less common but are still available for use in some countries. Improvised, ad-hoc equipment such as shoelaces, rope, and lengths of chain-link could also be used as restraints.



Restraints are applied to the body to restrict movement. Different types of uses might present different risks, both in terms of physical injuries and psychological harm. For instance, handcuffs can be applied with arms to the front or, more harmfully, behind the back. Handcuffs and leg cuffs are used simultaneously in some jurisdictions, often with a chain connecting them, and this type of use causes additional risks. Detained people are sometimes handcuffed to one another (e.g. during prisoner transfers) or to fixed objects, which is an inappropriate restraint technique.

The use of some types of restraints by law enforcement officers should be prohibited. These inherently abusive restraints include bar fetters, gang chains, thumb cuffs, finger cuffs, thumbscrews, neck cuffs, weighted leg cuffs, restraint chairs with metal restraints, cage or net beds, shackle boards or beds, and hoods or blindfolds. Restraint beds or chairs with soft restraints may be used only by medically trained personnel for medical reasons, and any use must comply with human rights standards (see individual entries for further information).


Potential Injuries

Injuries from restraints, which in some cases can be life threatening, include:

  • cuts and bruises
  • open wounds
  • joint dislocation
  • nerve damage
  • suffocation if used around the neck
  • positional asphyxia if a person is restrained face down
  • hyperextension of limbs
  • secondary injuries sustained as a result of falls while restrained.


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