My understanding of anatomy isn't very good, so I'd love some help. The most commonly seen way, in movies and tv, of stabbing someone in the back is the old melodramatic grasp the knife with the blade extending downward past the pinkey finger, raise the arm over the head, and plunge the knife downward into the back. Only problem is that I've read that doing this would be unlikely to result in the blade entering the body cavity: you'd run the risk of hitting the shoulderblade, and even if you missed, the ribs overlap so that you'd probably just skitter along them. Not fun for the victim, but not fatal

The proper way, as I understand it, is to hold the knife in the other orientation, with the blade coming out between the thumb and forefinger, and thrust upward through the rib cage.

My question is this: if you made such a thrust, and the knife entered just under the shoulderblade, what would it hit? Would it actually penetrate the heart? I realize that there are a number of variables here. Perhaps I mean to ask, would it be likely or possible to hit the heart in this manner?

Thanks. I must have missed the episode of CSI that dealt with this in detail.
Bill

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Provided you got between a rib, and all the intervening muscle, you'd probably just puncture a lung. Doubtful you'd get the actual heart, as it's actually pretty close to the center of the chest cavity and has a lot of intervening tissue.

It's certainly possible, though. As long as it's believable, that's all that really matters. You also don't need to actually stab the heart to really put a cramp on someone's day. You could nick something like the pulmonary artery, and the end result's pretty much the same. Get some good internal hemorrhaging going and the end result's the same.
Stephen's right about putting a damper on a man's style with a nicked artery.

This isn't exactly what you asked, but my training was, if you come up behind a man, you reach around and put the blade up under the rib cage from the front. As Stephen pointed out, it punctures the lung and makes it impossible for the man to cry out.

Then you thrust into the side of the throat and push forward and down.

Hey, I didn't say it was pretty.

So it all comes down to how efficient and trained your attacker is. I don't have a lot of confidence 35 years out that I could put the blade in the right place with the proper amount of force. It's hard as hell to kill somebody with a knife. The body doesn't give up easily.
A good reference website for medical fiction questions is Dr D P Lyle. Doug is a mystery writer and has an excellent website with resources. He also responds quickly to questions from authors. Here's his link: http://www.dplylemd.com/
This is where you need a librarian! And, in particular, a science librarian. so here are a couple of sites that allow you to see the human body in cross-section, which might help you envision the action you're thinking about.
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/research/visible/applications.html
http://www.dhpc.adelaide.edu.au/projects/vishuman2/
Hope these help!
In many reports of stabbing deaths, there's often a description of the great number of stab wounds, as if to indicate that the person who did it must have been really, really crazy.

Possible but not necessarily so.

It takes a lot of effort to kill someone with a knife, unless you're trained as well as, say, Terrenoire.
The discussion of knife fighting that always comes to my mind is the young Jack Klugman, in Twelve Angry Men, explaining how you hold a switchblade, almost as you would a table knife, and thrust upward, not in the "stabbing" motion that Lee J. Cobb imitates.
Stabbing a person from behind by using a long knife with great force and furious will it seems possible but not likely that the knife could hit (and damage) the heart. If you look from the backside scapula and heart reach as low as the 8th. rib. If a knife enters a body just below the 8th. rib and aims a bit upward it could hit the heart; but be beware: The intracostal space (between the ribs) is small and filled with muscles, ribs do not lie horizontally but curve downwards so that the knife has to be turned if the knife enters from the side, the knife could be deflected by the a rib and the impact could be softened by lung tissue.


PS

If the knife enters from above between scapula and clavicle and moves downward and to the middle it could (perchance) severe a main artery. But again: I wouldn´t give it a shot.
I'd rather be shot than stabbed. Most stabbings are pretty nasty because of the extreme amount of tissue and vessel damage. A knife-wielding suspect usually inflicts more than one incision, and those combined with the twisting and lunging action of the attacker normally results in the victim bleeding to death. A puncture to the heart is a rare occurance.

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