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Forensic Sci Int. 2013 Jun 10;229(1-3):167.e1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2013.03.039. Epub 2013 May 1.

Tomodensitometric survey of the distance between thoracic and abdominal vital organs and the wall according to BMI, abdominal diameter and gender: proposition of an indicative chart for the forensic activities.

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LUNAM Université, Angers, France.



Forensic doctors are frequently asked by magistrates when dealing principally with knife wounds, about the depth of the blade which may have penetrated the victim's body. Without the use of imaging, it is often difficult to respond to this question, even in an approximate way. Knowledge of the various distances between organs and the skin wall would allow an assessment to be made of the minimum blade length required to obtain the injuries observed. The objective of this study is thus to determine average distances between the vital organs of the thorax and abdomen, and the skin wall, taking into account the person's body mass index (BMI).


This is a prospective single-center study, carried out over a 2-month period at University Hospital in Angers. A sample of 200 people was studied. The inclusion criteria were as follows: all patients coming to the radiology department and the emergency department for an abdominal, thoracic or thoraco-abdominal scan with injection. The exclusion criteria included patients presenting a large lymphoma, a large abdominal or retroperitoneal tumor, a tumor in one of the organs targeted by our study and patients presenting ascites. The organs focused on were: the pericardium, pleura, aorta, liver, spleen, kidneys, abdominal aorta and femoral arteries. The shortest distance between the organ and the skin wall was noted. Median distances were calculated according to gender, abdominal diameter and BMI.


We associated these values to propose an indicative chart which may be used by doctors in connection with their forensic activities.


The problem of the depth of a wound is frequently exposed to the expert. Without a reliable tool, it is difficult to value and a personal interpretation is often done. Even if, in current days, tomodensitometry is frequently done in vivo or after death, measurement can be difficult because of the local conditions. We classified values according to the different factors of fat repartition (BMI, abdominal diameter, gender). These tables, collectively used, permit evaluation of the distance between wall and thoracic or abdominal vital organs.


We suggest an indicative chart designed for forensic doctors in their professional life to help determine the minimum penetration length for a knife, which may wound a vital organ.

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