Can You Be Stabbed With a Knife and Not Know it?

A remarkable news story unfolded recently. A Russian woman, Julia Popova, aged 22, was mugged and had a 6 inch knife blade lodged in her back. She was so traumatized that she did not realise it was there until she walked home and her parents saw it!

Details of the actual mugging are unclear but it is the image above which is being widely spread around the Internet. There is some speculation as to whether it was faked but it seems at this stage that it is genuine.

This story prompted me to examine if this is a common occurrence. The examples below indicate that it may be.

Extreme Stress and Adrenaline

So is this possible? The human body is a remarkable organism. It can adapt to extreme stressors with some amazing adaptations. Some stories have emerged which involve knife attack victims being unaware they have been stabbed until after the attack. Some samples are provided below.

Punch/Stab in Leg

I remember a story told to me by a friend some time ago. Yes, he'd had a few drinks and was waiting with a friend who was at an ATM nearby. A male in his late 20's walked up to my friend and a disagreement or argument began. The man walked right up to my slightly intoxicated friend and the discussion continued face to face. The man then punched my friend in the leg, turned around and walked off. My friend thought at the time, "Who punches people in the leg? What a weirdo." It wasn't for another 30 seconds or so that he realised blood was on his leg. It was not a punch, but the man had stabbed my friend in the leg. He felt no pain, just a punching sensation. He almost died as the knife severed his femoral artery.

Stabbed in Back

Ron Kosakowski wrote at a Stick Fighting Forum, that when he was stabbed in the back, that he did not feel it right away but could barely move for 4-5 days afterwards. Also, one of his students is a doctor at an emergency room at a local hospital. The doctor says that people come in all the time, unaware they have been stabbed.

13 Days in Hospital

In another case, a man was stabbed on New Years Eve for 2009/2010. The victim, Adam Weaver, was stabbed in the chest and abdomen at 2am. Weaver spent the next 13 days in hospital recovering from a punctured and collapsed lung and abdominal wounds. During an altercation, Weaver said that he stepped in front of one of his friends and was knocked to the ground. He didn't realise he had been stabbed until he got back to his feet and the attackers had fled.

Statistics and Research

An interesting read on the subject is by Darren Laur called Edged Weapon Tactics and Counter Tactics. It contains some brief insights into statistics from government bodies and research conducted by the author. Some of the findings include:

  • Many people seldom saw the edged weapon that penetrated their body. They failed to recognise the danger cues due to faulty perception.
  • Knife attacks were found to be exceptionally accurate, to penetrate deeper that some bullets, creating remarkable permanent cavities and rip through numerous organs in one stroke.
  • Of subjects stabbed, 30% die from their wounds.
  • In the US, the majority of "street" type people carry some kind of edged weapon be it legal or illegal.
  • In the UK, edged weapon assaults are the most commonly used weapon for killing people (7 in 20).
  • Typical depth of a stab wound in homicide cases is 1 inch to 1.5 inches through the rib cage.
  • In most edged weapon attacks the victim received multiple knife wounds. The usual cause of death are usually the last few wounds of the overall attack.
  • In most edged weapon attacks, the defender is already involved in the physical encounter way before he or she even has time to realize that a knife is being used.
  • Most defenders see a thrust or slice with a knife as just another punch or kick and not an edged weapon assault.
  • It was difficult if not impossible for the defender to differentiate between an attack with an edged weapon or an attack using hands of feet. This was especially true when the defender was not aware from the start of the assault , that the attacker had a knife.

On Twitter, RomeZa shared with me an account of a knife attack on a friend of his. His friend got in a fight and was stabbed in the back with an ice pick. He didn't realise he had been stabbed until a few minutes after it had happened. The ice pick was lodged close to his spine but he eventually made a full recovery.

Brent Sharp - Knife Attack Victim

The final example is a terrible attack where a 22 yr old victim, Brent Sharp, was savagely attacked as he walked home from the pub at 2:20am on a Wednesday morning. Two men inflicted multiple cuts and slashes causing a punctured lung, ruptured spleen and cuts on his face. The attack appears to be for no reason as the two attackers made no attempt to steal any of Sharp's belongings.

After the attack, Sharp said, "I thought I had just been bashed and didn't know I'd been stabbed." A common situation it seems.

Shark Attack Too?

Other stories involve shark attack victims. Many times the victim says that they felt down to their leg and it simply wasn't there. Their leg was bitten off but they felt no pain. All they felt was the overall impact of the strike. It is possible that the injury caused by a shark is similar to one caused by a knife. The shark has teeth and a knife has a blade. Perhaps the nature of the injury and the sharpness of the tool causes minimal signals to pain receptors. It is likely that a tearing of flesh or crushing injuries cause pain, where as a sharp cut or stab does not generate the same signals to send to the brain.


One of the biggest reasons people are unaware they have been stabbed is due to them not realising a knife has been deployed at all. If people do not see a knife, they are very unlikely to consider that they have been stabbed. This comes down once again to awareness. Look at peoples hands when in a dangerous environment, time or situation. Remember that edged weapons are the most likely weapon used except in the US where they are the second most used weapon behind firearms (links to Australian edged weapon findingsUK edged weapon stats and US edged weapon stats).

If they don't have a weapon in their hands, keep an eye on those hands as the weapon may still be concealed. This is quite common. Look for them going to their weapon. It may be up a sleeve, tucked in their pants or in a holster under their shirt. It may be fastened by velcro, a clip or simply held in place by a tight fitting. Keep an eye out for a knife or other weapon appearing DURING an encounter. It doesn't need to be there at the beginning.

Finally, after an encounter, no matter if you "won" or not, check yourself. You may have been cut and not realise. Check thoroughly as the wounds may not hurt at all. Feel for blood. Get someone to check your back. If there is a wound, immediately apply pressure with some clean cloth preferably. Get medical help ASAP. If you don't have clean cloth use whatever is available including shirts. But stop the bleeding. And get to professional help straight away.

Do you have any experiences with people getting stabbed and not knowing about it right away? Please share them below in the comments.


Wim has found another example where a Chinese man had a knife recovered from INSIDE his head! He was involved in a robbery four years ago. That is when the knife was used against him. It has been inside him ever since. The man had no idea he had been stabbed the whole time! He went to the doctor with complaints of headaches and other ailments. An X-Ray revealed all...

Check out Wims article at the following link, Knife Found in Chinese Mans Head

  • Want to learn more about how weapons are used to commit violent crime?
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  • Want to examine some more real case studies of violent attacks involving weapons?
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