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Int J Legal Med. 2005 Jul;119(4):226-30. Epub 2005 Mar 25.

Skin tension and cleavage lines (Langer's lines) causing distortion of ante- and postmortem wound morphology.

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Forensic Science SA and University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.


The assessment of individual wounds at autopsy may be complicated by the superimposition of a number of injuries or damage to tissues that occurred after death, either of which has the potential to distort the morphology of the initial injury. Additional factors that may change the shape of wounds are (1) the relationship of the wound to the so-called skin cleavage lines (Langer's lines) and (2) tension placed on the skin. Three autopsy cases are reported to demonstrate once more how wound morphology may be altered by such factors. In case 1, rectangular stab wounds to the base of the neck in a 53-year-old man, which suggested that a square or rectangular tool may have caused the injuries, were altered to more typical knife stab wounds once skin tension had been released at autopsy. The uppermost wounds, however, continued to gape due to the effects of skin cleavage lines. In case 2, slit-like wounds resembling stab wounds in the neck of a 54-year-old woman found in a river were shown to be circular once skin tension had been released. In case 3, the effects of either cleavage lines or skin tension could be demonstrated on excised wounds from a 43-year-old man whose body had also been found in a river; tensile forces easily changed circular into slit-like wounds. Tension and/or skin cleavage lines may transform round skin defects into slit-like wounds resembling knife stab wounds, round out genuine stab wounds and artefactually lengthen stab wounds. These factors must be taken into consideration carefully when wounds are assessed at the death scene prior to autopsy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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