An old movie myth – does a knocked out person remain unconscious for hours?

So here‘s a thing – movies don‘t have to be very accurate. That is why we like them – they show things that are more dramatic than the real life. However, some commonly used clichés are rather annoying. For example, have you noticed how a single blow to the head can disable the character of the movie for hours without causing permanent damage? This stupid myth is far from reality and can be dangerous.

A hit from a glass bottle can knock out a man, but he will wake up within seconds. Image credit: Konto na chwilę via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

We’ve all seen this. A villain sneaks up to our main hero and with a swift blow with a blunt object he sends a fully grown man unconscious. That, of course, is possible regardless of how tough you are – people get knocked out all the time. Then the villain takes his new hostage to the car and drives away to an unknown direction. Hero wakes up and doesn’t know where he is, but he is ready to fight his way out. This movie cliché is so popular, it is kind of ridiculous. People get hit in the head all the time, but nothing similar happens.

When you are hit to your head, your brain moves around a bit. It hits your skull on the inside, causing a certain degree of brain trauma. A strong hit can essentially shut off nervous signals from the brain to your body, making you fall down limp. Or it can even shut off your consciousness. And you know where we see it all the time? In combat sports, of course.

Athletes of various martial arts hit each other’s heads all the time. The main goal is typically a knockout, which is a more impressive finish and also a guaranteed victory (as opposed to leaving it for the judges’ decision). And yes, a strong punch sometimes sends fully grown muscular men to the canvas. But the difference is that he is back up in a couple of minutes complaining about the lucky shot or that the fight was stopped prematurely. In other words, when you see someone becoming unconscious from a hit with a glass bottle, you should expect them to wake up in 30-120 seconds. If they are out for hours, you should call the ambulance.

A boxer is knocked down and receives the 10-count. Image credit: Allan J. Grdovich, U.S. Marine Corps (Public Domain) via Wikimedia

Here’s a thing – people’s heads are different. Professional fighters can withstand hits that would probably kill normal people. It is because they train for that – they have stronger neck muscles, trained cardio system. And villains could never trust their strategy – the same blow with a stick would leave one man very angry, another one unconscious and the third one – dead.

Finally, after waking up after being knocked out people are confused, weak and scared. Fighters often don’t even know what happened and keep losing that memory over and over again. They can’t continue fighting, because their legs are shaking, their sense of direction is messed up and their reaction times are worse than ever. This means that movie heroes would not be so ready to fight their way out of the situation either, regardless how much you pour water over their faces.


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