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Vulcan nerve pinch

Spock using the Vulcan nerve pinch on a doomed redshirt

In the fictional Star Trek universe, the Vulcan nerve pinch is a technique used mainly by Vulcans to render unconsciousness by pinching a pressure point at the base of the victim’s neck.


  • Origin and use in the series 1
  • Use outside the series 2
    • In computing 2.1
    • In television and other media 2.2
    • Use prior to the series 2.3
  • Physiology 3
  • Death grip 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Origin and use in the series

Nimoy demonstrating the Vulcan nerve pinch.

Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed the Vulcan science officer Spock, conceived the maneuver in the early days of the original Star Trek series.[1] The script for “The Enemy Within” stated that Spock "kayoes" Captain Kirk’s duplicate,[2] but Nimoy—who opposed the Vietnam War and supported Eugene McCarthy[3]—felt that such a brutal action would be undignified for a Vulcan. He therefore invented an alternative by suggesting that Vulcans have the ability to project telepathic energy from their fingertips (à la "the Vulcan Mind Meld"), which if applied to a nerve cluster correctly could render a human unconscious. Allegedly, the director of the episode didn't understand the idea when Nimoy explained it to him, but William Shatner understood immediately and reacted in exactly the way Nimoy had hoped when they executed the move during filming, explaining that it would be similar to "feeling an electrical charge." From then on, the pinch was referred to as the FSNP, for Famous Spock Nerve Pinch in Star Trek’s scripts.

Since Spock, various other characters in the Star Trek spin-offs have used the technique, however the fact that some of these have included non-Vulcan characters creates some confusion about the above explanation as to how the nerve pinch is achieved-- likely among writers and production-staff, since in the episode "The Omega Glory" Kirk tells Spock "Pity you can't teach me that" (i.e. the Vulcan Nerve Pinch), and Spock replies "I have tried, Captain." The first non-Vulcan was the android Data,[4] followed by the Changeling Odo,[5] Voyager’s holographic Doctor,[6] and the humans Jean-Luc Picard,[7] Seven of Nine,[8] and Jonathan Archer[9] (though Archer was carrying the katra of the ancient Vulcan Surak at the time). In Carpenter Street, T'Pol uses the nerve pinch on the kidnapper Loomis to stop him escaping from his apartment, and again later in the episode. She also uses it in the 4th episode of the first season on Travis Mayweather to calm him down.

Some humans, however, have been unable to use the nerve pinch. When Dr. McCoy was in possession of Spock’s katra he was unable to use the nerve pinch despite also being a doctor of great skill. This was partially due to McCoy's arthritis at the time.

The nerve pinch has been used on Vulcans and the vulcanoid Romulans several times, showing that neither race is immune to the technique.[4][6][8][9] In the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness, Spock used the pinch on the film's villain, Khan, during their final battle. Though it appeared to cause him immense pain, it did not lead to unconsciousness, suggesting Khan and similar superhuman creations are indeed immune to it. However, in the original episode "Space Seed" Spock does use the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on one of Khan's henchmen, with typical results of causing instant unconsciousness, despite all indications that he was similarly superhuman.

In the 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and while travelling in a San Francisco city bus, Spock used the Vulcan neck pinch to subdue a punk traveler who rudely ignored Kirk's request that he turn off his boom box as his music was causing the other travelers discomfort. This action garnered Spock applause from the relieved travelers on a bus.

Use outside the series

In computing

In computing, "Vulcan Nerve Pinch" is sometimes used as a slang term for a key-combination that forces a computer to reboot. The term originated amongst Amiga users, and referred to the Ctrl + Left Amiga (or Commodore) + Right Amiga key combination that commands a hard-reset[10] (see: Control-Alt-Delete).

In television and other media

The Vulcan nerve pinch has been referred to and parodied in many other television series and other media.

  • An episode of Mork and Mindy shows Mindy's father uses the Vulcan Nerve Pinch on a hysterical Mork, saying "I saw this on a TV show once;" thus apparently it works on Orkans.
  • In March 2010, politician Mitt Romney was accused of using it on rapper SkyBlu of the group LMFAO during an airplane altercation.[11]
  • In the movie by Mel Brooks, Spaceballs, Lone Starr tries to use it on a henchman, initially unsuccessfully, but the henchman points out Lone Starr's mistakes - he gripped where the head meets the neck, when he should have gripped where the neck meets the shoulders - and is used again, successfully this time.[12]
  • In the movie Hudson Hawk, the butler, Alfred, uses it on Bruce Willis character Hudson Hawk.
  • In the movie You Don't Mess with the Zohan, the Zohan uses the nerve pinch on a crying kid in a hair saloon and then suggests that it is a good time to shave his neck.
  • The protagonists of the TV series The Powers of Matthew Star employ a method of strictly defensive pressure-point manipulation referred to as "digital tranquilization".
  • On a 1990 episode of A Different World, "Getaway (Part 2)", Walter uses the nerve pinch to subdue two dangerous drug dealers in the nick of time and a little later to silence a talkative Whitley.
  • In the movie Mallrats (1995) character Silent Bob uses the Vulcan nerve pinch on two security guards trying to take Brodie and T.S. into custody.
  • In an episode of Chuck, "Fear of Death", Agent Rye (Rob Riggle) uses something similar to knock out a guard, then jokes he learned it from Star Trek.
  • During an episode of Kung Fu, a young Kwai Chang uses something resembling the neck pinch on a Chinese soldier.
  • During an episode of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Kwai Chang Caine II uses the neck pinch to subdue a henchmen from behind by breaking his arms through a wooden door and applying the nerve pinch to the unsuspecting bad guy, thus subduing him.
  • In Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach, Sgt. Nick Lassard administers the Vulcan nerve pinch to a bad guy. To his partners' disbelieving looks, he offers the Vulcan salute, then shows them a hypodermic needle in his other hand.
  • In the ending of ModNation Racers, Gary Reasons knocks Biff Tradwell out with the Vulcan nerve pinch (twice) for insulting him during the entire course of the game.
  • In a fourth season episode of Soap, Jodie Dallas, played by Billy Crystal, is surprised when he successfully uses the "Vulcan neck pinch" and thanks Star Trek.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons titled "Mayored to the Mob", it is frequently used (even comically overused) by then-bodyguard Homer Simpson (perhaps the only occasion when someone is seen performing the pinch on himself).
  • In the Stephen King movie The Langoliers (1995) when passenger Nick Hopewell confronts an irate businessman, Craig Toomey, on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston. When Mr. Toomey wakes up to the screams of a young blind girl and notices that all but ten people on the plane are no longer there, he demands answers from a deadheading pilot. Mr. Hopewell interjects and asks Mr. Toomey, "You ever watch Mr. Spock on Star Trek?" Mr. Toomey responds, "What the hell are you talking about?" Mr. Hopewell replies, "'Cause if you don't shut your cakehole, you bloody idiot, I'll be happy to demonstrate his Vulcan sleeper-hold for you."
  • In an episode of My Name Is Earl titled "Early Release" (season 3, episode 12), Darnell incapacitates a prison guard using the nerve pinch. Joy realizes that Darnell had used the same technique on her several nights previous.
  • In the iCarly episode "iPsycho", Sam Puckett uses the pinch against Nora Dirshlitt, a girl that held the crew hostage in her house. It is later called the "Vulcan Squeezy-thing" by Spencer at the end of the episode.
  • In the BBC series Red Dwarf episode titled Legion, Kryten parodies the pinch and calls it the "Ionian Nerve Grip".
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, Uncle uses the pinch several times in the series. Even Shendu, one of the main villains used it twice, the first time was when he possessed Jades body because he used the sheep talisman to astral project himself, he used it on Captain Black and one of Black's men at the same time, and then he used it on Uncle in the Season 2 premier while inhabiting Valmont body, another villain in the show.
  • In Adventures in Odyssey, Eugene Meltsner is initially attacked with the move unsuccessfully at first but then faints after a successful second attempt in 724: Home Again, Part 1. He is attacked with the move again in 725: Home Again, Part 2 this time successfully.
  • In Zoey 101, a girl named Quinn was able to use the nerve pinch and used it in several episodes. However, this technique was done to the arm instead of the neck.
  • In Bravest Warriors "minisode", Impossibomb, Wallow uses the nerve pinch on Impossibear to get his hands on a present (with a bomb inside).
Ian Chesterton using "his thumb" on Ixta.

Use prior to the series

In the first series [1964] Doctor Who episode "The Warriors of Death" from the story "The Aztecs" the Ian Chesterton character holds up his thumb and boasts "This is all I need [to defeat an enemy]," and proceeds to grip the Aztec warrior Ixta between the shoulder and neck, rendering him unconscious.


The pinch to the subclavian artery has been compared to the karate chop, which was used in other 1960s television series to render opponents unconscious.[13]

Over the years, fans and Star Trek Expanded Universe writers have made a number of suggestions as to how it would work.

The book The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry offers a simple explanation: the pinch blocks blood and nerve responses from reaching the brain, leading to unconsciousness. How this might lead to instantaneous unconsciousness is not explained. (Preventing all blood flow to the brain can result in unconsciousness, but many seconds later.) In this earliest of Star Trek reference books, the pinch is referred to as the “Spock Pinch.”[14]

Another conjecture is that it can be done by applying strong and surgically precise pressure over baroreceptors of the carotid sinus at the base of the humanoid neck. The objective would be to elicit the baroreceptor reflex as the receptors detect an apparent high pressure state due to the externally applied force and causes reflex bradycardia and/or hypotension, leading to decreased blood supply to the brain and syncope.

A third conjecture is paranormal rather than medical: because of Vulcans’ telepathic nature and incredible control over their own bodies, they are able to send a burst of neural energy into another being and overload its nervous system, rendering it unconscious (although the pinch does not work on all species, nor on the time-travelling human Gary Seven[15]). This was supported by the fact that Dr. McCoy could not use it in Star Trek III, but it has been rendered moot by the fact that many non-telepathic characters used it in later Trek series, such as the android Data.

The canonical mechanism of the nerve pinch was finally offered in the episode "Cathexis" of Star Trek: Voyager. There, the Doctor inspects a crewmember who was found unconscious and observes an extreme trauma to the trapezius neck bundle, "as though her nerve fibers have been ruptured"; and it is later revealed that the person was the victim of a nerve pinch.

Death grip

The Star Trek episode “The Enterprise Incident” includes a scene in which Spock administers the so-called "Vulcan death grip" to Kirk to convince Romulan onlookers, apparently unfamiliar with Vulcan techniques, that Kirk had been killed. In fact, Spock had merely used a particularly powerful nerve pinch to put Kirk into a deep unconsciousness that closely resembled death. Kirk awoke a short time later with head and neck pain but no lasting injury. The "death grip" differs from the "nerve pinch" in that the nerve pinch is administered to the neck area and the death grip was administered to Kirk's face; the palm directly over the nose and the fingers spread out over the rest of the face. This also differs from the "Vulcan mind meld" grip which is administered to only one side of the face.


  1. ^ "Leonard Nimoy ("Spock" - TOS)". Star 1999-05-13. Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  2. ^ "The Enemy Within". Orion Press. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  3. ^ Diehl, Digby (1968-08-25). "Girls All Want To Touch The Ears". The New York Times. p. 173. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  4. ^ a b " 
  5. ^ " 
  6. ^ a b " 
  7. ^ " 
  8. ^ a b " 
  9. ^ a b " 
  10. ^ "vulcan nerve pinch". April 4, 2000. Retrieved October 13, 2012. 
  11. ^ Romney denies “Vulcan grip” in contretemps with electro-hop artist, Palm Beach Post, March 8, 2010
  12. ^ This is used as the example in The Action Hero's Handbook section on how to perform the nerve pinch, which relates two methods - one using a combination of the radial nerve and the brachial plexus tie in, and one using the jugular notch.Borgenicht, David; Borgenicht, Joe (2002). The Action Hero's Handbook. Michael Jones (Part of Penguin).  
  13. ^ John Walsh, Star Trek: Prick up your ears, Irish Independent, April 23, 2009
  14. ^ Whitfield, Steven E.; Roddenberry, Gene (1970) [1968]. The Making of Star Trek. Ballantine Books.  
  15. ^ "Assignment: Earth"

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