Medical restraint

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Medical restraints are physical restraints used during certain medical procedures to restrain patients with the minimum of discomfort and pain and to prevent them from injuring themselves or others.


There are many kinds of mild, safety-oriented medical restraints which are widely used. For example, the use of bed rails is routine in many hospitals and other care facilities, as the restraint prevents patients from rolling out of bed accidentally. Newborns frequently wear mittens to prevent accidental scratching. Some wheelchair users use a belt or a tray to keep them from falling out of their wheelchairs. In fact, not using these kinds of restraints when needed can lead to legal liability for preventable injuries.[1][2]

Medical restraints are generally used to prevent people with severe physical or mental disorders from harming themselves or others. A major goal of most medical restraints is to prevent injuries due to falls. Other medical restraints are intended to prevent a harmful behavior, such as hitting people.

Ethically and legally, once a person is restrained, the safety and well being of the restrained person falls upon the restrainer, appropriate to the type and severity of the restraining method. For example, a person who is placed in a secured room should be checked at regular intervals for indications of distress. At the other extreme, a person who is rendered semi-conscious by pharmacological (or chemical) sedation should be constantly monitored by a well-trained individual who is dedicated to protecting the restrained person's physical and medical safety. Failure to properly monitor a restrained individual may result in criminal and civil prosecution, depending on jurisdiction.

Although medical restraints, used properly, can help prevent injury, they can also be dangerous. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimated in 1992 that improper use of restraints results in at least 100 deaths each year, most by strangulation. FDA also noted reports of injuries — including broken bones and burns — caused by the improper use of restraints.[3]

Because of the potential for abuse, the use of medical restraints is regulated in many jurisdictions. At one time in California, psychiatric restraint was viewed as a treatment. However, with the passing of SB-130, which became law in 2004, the use of psychiatric restraint(s) is no longer viewed as a treatment, but can be used as a behavioral intervention when an individual is in imminent danger of serious harm to self or others.[4][unreliable medical source]


There are many types of medical restraint:

  • Four-point restraints, fabric body holders, straitjackets are typically only used temporarily during psychiatric emergencies.
  • Restraint masks to prevent patients from biting in retaliation to medical authority in situations where a patient is known to be violent.
  • Lap and wheelchair belts, or trays that clip across the front of a wheelchair so that the user can't fall out easily, may be used regularly by patients with neurological disorders which affect balance and movement.
  • All four side rails being in the upright position on a bed can be considered a restraint.
  • Safety vests and jackets can be placed on a patient like any other vest garment. They typically have a long strap at each end that can be tied behind a chair or to the sides of a bed to prevent injury or to settle patients for satisfying basic needs such as eating and sleeping. Posey vests are commonly used with elderly patients who are at risk of serious injury from falling.
  • Limb restraints to prevent unwanted activity in various limbs. They are wrapped around the wrists or ankles, and tied to the side of a bed, to prevent self-harm, harm to medical staff, or as punishment for physical resistance to medical authority.
  • Mittens to prevent scratching are common for newborns, but may also be used on psychiatric patients or patients who manage to use their hands to undo limb restraints.
  • A Papoose board can be used for babies and young children.
  • Chemical restraints are drugs that are administered to restrict the freedom of movement or to sedate a patient.

Manual techniques[edit]

A number of private national and regional companies teach physical (non-mechanical) restraint techniques for companies and agencies that care for or have custody of people who might become aggressive. The strategies vary widely, with many based on police or martial art pain compliance techniques, with others using only pain-free techniques. Most also emphasize verbal de-escalation and defusing skills before using any physical skills. A non-inclusive list:

  • Crisis Consultant Group (CCG) Non-Violent Physical technique.
  • The Mandt System.
  • Non Abusive Psychological and Physical Intervention (NAPPI).
  • Non-Violent Crisis Intervention (NVCI) techniques.
  • Professional Crisis Management (PCM).[5]
  • Professional Assault Crisis Training (ProACT).
  • Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI).

Adverse effects[edit]

Throughout the last decade or so, there has been an increasing amount of evidence and literature supporting the idea of a restraint free environment due to their contradictory and dangerous effects.[6] This is due to the adverse outcomes associated with restraint use, which include: falls and injuries, incontinence, circulation impairment, agitation, social isolation, and even death[7]

Applicable laws[edit]

Current United States law requires that most involuntary medical restraints may only be used when ordered by a physician. Such a physician's order, which is subject to renewal upon expiration if necessary, is valid only for a maximum of 24 hours.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Use of Restraints". 15 Nov 2016. 
  2. ^ "Physical Restraints: Patient Who Had Fallen Should Have Been Restrained, Court Rules". Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession. December 1997. Archived from the original on 2013-10-15. 
  3. ^ Cruzan, Susan (1992-06-16). "Patient Restraint Devices Can Be Dangerous". News Release. Food and Drug Administration. Archived from the original on 2008-01-29. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 
  4. ^ Morrison, Leslie (2004-09-16). "Restraint & Seclusion: Review and Update". Archived from the original (PPT) on 2015-12-04. 
  5. ^ "Professional Crisis Management Association". 
  6. ^ Evans D, Wood J, Lambert L (Feb 2003). "Patient injury and physical restraint devices: a systematic review". Journal of Advanced Nursing. 41 (3): 274–82. PMID 12581115. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2003.02501.x. 
  7. ^ Luo H, Lin M, Castle N (Feb 2011). "Physical restraint use and falls in nursing homes: a comparison between residents with and without dementia". American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease & Other Dementias. 26 (1): 44–50. PMID 21282277. doi:10.1177/1533317510387585. 
  8. ^ Wigder, Herbert; Matthews, Mary S. (2006-03-07). "Restraints". Archived from the original on 2006-12-05. 

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