In combat sports, a difficult but effective strike is one targeting the liver. The liver is an organ that sits in the right abdominal cavity immediately behind the lowest ribs.

While the ribcage does a good job of protecting many vital organs, the liver remains partially uncovered and can be prone to attack. Traumatic impact to the liver, via punch, kick or knee can be excruciatingly painful and can incapacitate your opponent.

How can a liver strike cause this effect? Vasovagal syncope.

The vagus nerve innervates many vital organs and connects the parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” system. As the liver is one of the few organs left unprotected by the ribs when it is struck with a sufficient force it can unbalance the parasympathetic nervous system.

When the system is stimulated in this manner there can be a cardioinhibitory (slows heart rate) and/or vasodepressor response (blood pressure drops). When this happens there is reduced blood flow to the brain, which can cause fainting, confusion or temporary paralysis.

People often describe this feeling as their bodies turn off momentarily.

In boxing a liver shot is often when an orthodox fighter throws a left hook to the body against an opponent with a staggered stance. In kickboxing or Muay Thai this is often when a southpaw fighter throws a rear leg body kick to an opponent with a mirror stance or open stance.

Many strikers focus their efforts on the head but the body has many other weak points that can be exploited to win the battle.

Dr. Mike Piekarski, DPT
BJJ Brown Belt
Former MMA Fighter