General Bondage Safety
Taken from the
(c) Copyright 1996, 2002 Des de Moor, David 'Slakker' Merrill and david
All Rights Reserved.
Used by permission. Please do not reproduce.
Fortunately, none of the dangers in basic bondage are inherent; all are preventable with good techniques and sensible precautions.
Never make any restraint too tight, especially around joints (wrists, elbows, knees, ankles) or the neck -- anywhere that major arteries or veins are near the surface. Generally, the harder and less flexible the restraint, the looser it should be. Metal cuffs and collars should be the loosest; they should be able to slide easily around the limb or neck. Light, flexible chains looped around a wrist or ankle and padlocked can be a little tighter, but very heavy, large-link chains can bruise a joint or pinch a nerve as easily as solid cuffs and should be used with caution. Stiff leather cuffs can be tighter but should still have some "play" in them so they can be adjusted on the limb to keep the tension in a comfortable, safe direction. Rope and soft leather restraints, such as very lightweight cuffs or strips of glove leather, can be snug, but even with these you should be able to work one or two fingers between the restraint and the body.
Snug restraints should not be left on too long, and never without regular monitoring. Every 10 minutes or so, check for cooling of the skin or discoloration (usually whitening) on the limb below where the restraint is fastened. Ask the bottom to tell you if any extremity starts to go numb (and bottoms should always volunteer this information if necessary).
Avoid excess strain on muscles or joints by multiplying the points of tension to spread the effect over a wider area. Don't limit a rope web, for instance, to attachments at the wrists and ankles; attach ties to the elbows, knees, shoulders, waist, and thighs as well. The more widely distributed tension will be more exciting as well as safer. When you must put substantial tension on a single point, as when the bottom is held upright by restraints on hands stretched above the head, distribute the pressure over as wide an area as possible through the use of padded cuffs or wide coils of rope cinched between arms or legs.
Never leave someone who's inescapably bound completely alone for long periods, and no more than a minute or two if they are gagged or tied by the neck. Keep in earshot at least and look in on them frequently.
Make sure you know how to undo restraints before you put them on; keep any keys handy. Be prepared to cut difficult knots or bonds in an emergency.
Go slow with novices and first encounters, and be especially sensitive to the bottom's emotional reactions, providing frequent gentle body contact, spoken encouragement, and other reassurance. Watch out for developing panic. A good rule of thumb for bottoms is, never let yourself be tied up on a first date. Get to know the top's style and abilities without bondage first. It's a judgement call whether to break this rule; it depends on how much you can learn about the top before you go home with them.
Some Bondage Positions and Their Dangers
A prone position (such as flat on a bed) has the least potential for problems, a vertical position (such as a standing spread-eagle) the greatest potential. If someone is tied standing up, it's fairly easy for their upper extremities to go numb or for them to faint or lose their balance and fall (putting even more stress on arms and wrists, or -- worst of all -- neck if that's tied). There's danger of a faint or fall even after release from a standing position, as you may be dizzy or shaky from impaired circulation. It's not necessary to avoid standing positions completely but you need to exercise extra caution.
Even with the bottom prone, an extremely tight spread-eagle is very strenuous and should not be continued for any great length of time. Closely monitor the bottom for cramping or other distress. Leaving just an inch or two (5cm) of "play" for each arm and leg may make the difference between a position that can be sustained for several hours and one that requires release in 15-30 minutes.
Hogties (with wrists and ankles secured together) are always strenuous, and they can be very dangerous if the neck is collared, chained, or tied and then attached to the bonds on the wrists and ankles, putting pressure on the throat that can interfere with breathing. To hog-tie with head held off the floor or bed, use a tie attached to a gag strap, a forehead strap, a leather head harness, or the top of a hood -- anything that redirects the tension away from the neck. Monitor frequently to check for cramps or breathing problems because of the pressure of bodyweight on the chest. The wrists are also at risk in a hog-tie: Use only thick rope or leather straps, preferably applied over gloves, never handcuffs or thin cord.
If you stretch someone horizontally as on a rack, do not pull so hard as to tear a ligament or tendon or to dislocate the joints in arms or legs. These are very serious medical problems that can only be handled properly by medical professionals. Because it's hard to see when you're going too far in this kind of scene, when in doubt, ease off. Extreme pain is a good clue that you're going too far. In a static stretching scene, where the tension does not change over time, the danger of a strain or dislocation comes from the bottom's own struggles. The key, therefore, is to give neither room nor reason for violent struggles. Bottoms should not have the slack to get leverage to pull one of their limbs hard enough to dislocate something and they should feel safe enough not to panic.
Medical Problems and Injuries
Numb or cold extremities
Remove restraints and gently lower the arms and legs so blood can flow in. Massage any area that has become numb; apply warmth if necessary to restore circulation (use a heating pad or warm towels). A short period of numbness in previously bound extremities is common and usually does not indicate any serious problem; if the numbness lasts more than an hour or so, however, at least some nerves have been damaged. This typically happens when handcuffs are too tight and the nerves leading to the thumb are affected. If the nerves are simply "pinched," the condition will clear up on its own in a few days. However, excessively severe or prolonged bondage can permanently damage nerves with no effective medical treatment available; while killed nerves may regenerate, they do so very, very slowly.
Bone fractures and dislocations
Fractures in the wrists or ankles can be caused (though rarely) by steel restraints used improperly or carelessly; a fractured collarbone might result (though this is still less likely) from use of a steel collar or head cage. This will generally be a "closed fracture" where the bone does not protrude through the skin. A joint might also be dislocated by struggles against tight restraints in an uncomfortable position. Symptoms are severe localised pain, tenderness to touch, deformity of the limb or joint, swelling, and discoloration of the surface skin (these latter two may take some time to develop). Do not attempt to fix a fracture or dislocation yourself: keep the victim still, immobilise the injured area, using bandages above and below the point of injury and splints along the limb then get the victim to a doctor or emergency room for medical attention.
Bruises, sprains, and strains
A "bruised bone" is really an injury to the tissues surrounding it -- the muscles, tendons, or ligaments and the blood vessels serving them. A sprain is an injury to a joint (especially in the fingers, wrists, ankles, and knees) caused by forcing it to bend too far or in an unnatural direction. A strain is a muscle injury caused by excess exertion or stretching. In a serious sprain or strain, the tissues are actually torn, not just stretched. Symptoms of all three are pain on motion, extreme tenderness to touch, and swelling and discoloration (the surface manifestation of a bruise) developing over time. Any of them might be caused by awkward or overly strenuous bondage positions, particularly if the bottom has struggled against the bonds and thereby increased the tension at some point.
Immobilise to avoid any further injury and use ICE: Ice or cold pack, Compression, and Elevation. Apply ice (not directly to the skin) or a cold pack for 20-30 minutes to retard or reduce swelling; gently compress the damaged area by wrapping it with elastic (Ace) bandages, making sure you do not bandage tightly, as this could interfere with blood circulation; as soon as possible -- this can be before you apply ice or a bandage -- elevate the limb to keep excess fluid from draining into it. Do not administer pain killers or alcohol. If the pain is extreme and you suspect a torn ligament or tendon, call an ambulance. If movement is not too painful after ICE and a couple of hours immobility, medical attention is probably not necessary unless severe symptoms are still present next day.
A cramp is a sudden, painful muscle contraction, most commonly in a leg. Medically, a cramp is less serious than a sprain or strain, but it can be equally painful and debilitating. The best treatment is, first, gentle massage and reverse stretching of the affected muscle (for instance, if the back of the leg cramps, bend the foot inward, toward the body, which will stretch out the cramped muscle), followed by application of moist heat. Moving around and using the affected limb will promote circulation and help relax the cramped muscle.
A faint is a temporary loss of consciousness because of decreased blood circulation to the brain (which can have many causes). A faint in itself is not dangerous, as breathing normally continues despite the unconsciousness, but it is scary to witness or experience. Someone who "feels faint" should sit down immediately to avoid a fall (if bound standing up, release immediately and help down), and breathe deeply with their head between their knees. If someone actually faints, lay down and elevate legs and backside with pillows or padding. That will make it easier for blood to get to the brain and restore consciousness. You should not use smelling salts or ammonia to revive a fainting victim; only if their breathing stops or there are symptoms of heart failure should you take more aggressive measures. After coming out of a faint, the victim should rest quietly for at least an hour before moving. Do not administer any kind of drugs or alcohol, and give other water or liquids sparingly only if wanted. If unconsciousness continues for longer than a few minutes, seek emergency help.
Rope burns or cuts, shackle chafing
Essentially an abrasion wound. If there is no bleeding no special measures are needed except to avoid irritating the damaged area further. If there is bleeding wait for it to stop, and then cleanse the area thoroughly with sterile gauze pads and an antiseptic such as Dettol, Betadine or hydrogen peroxide. Make sure no particles of rope have been left in the wound. Bandage only if necessary to keep the wound clean and avoid further irritation (free air flow promotes healing).
These are discussed separately under hoods and gags. However, remember that some bondage can cause them even without direct restriction of nose or mouth. In binding the body, always make sure that ropes or straps around the chest permit sufficient lung expansion for unimpeded breathing. Straitjackets can be particularly problematic in this respect. Don't just ask: look to see how far the chest moves, listen to the breathing to be sure and keep checking regularly throughout the scene. Many very rigorous stretched positions also can impede breathing: crucifixion victims, for instance, ultimately died of suffocation, because the strain of the body's unsupported weight eventually made it impossible for the chest to rise to take in air.
Stiff or sore muscles
These are almost inevitable in a long-term bondage scene, unless the bondage is very loose. They should not present a problem if no unreasonable demands are put on the affected muscles right after release; massage, warmth, and rest should get them back to normal use in an hour or two. Some soreness (not stiffness) may persist longer, but if it lasts longer than 48 hours, there is a chance that a strain or sprain occurred, and medical attention may be needed.
Heat, cold, dehydration
Problems in these areas are not common and not likely to be serious in an SM context, but simple precautions should be regularly taken. Problems from excess heat or cold may arise, respectively, in a long-term scene where the bottom is tightly wrapped or bound naked, so regulate the temperature of the room accordingly. Dehydration can occur in any long-term scene if the bottom is not allowed to replenish fluids lost through sweating and urinating, such as an outdoors summer stake-out in the summer, which could also present problems of sunburn if the bottom is naked. Anyone tied up for more than 4 hours should be given some fluid, especially if they've pissed during that time.