Playing with new types of restraints can be a lot of fun. They may enhance the realism of a role play, provide a different sensation for the bottom, or simply be a change of pace. When we start playing with new toys or techniques we should consider any new risks that might accompany them and how to deal with those risks.
Nerve injury due to compression is a hot topic within the rope community and has some implications here. Nerve injuries may occur when a nerve is pressed on for few seconds with a lot of force or a longer period with a lesser amount of force. Due to slight variations in individual anatomy some people may be at greater risk of a nerve injury than others. Anyone who has had a leg fall asleep due to sitting on an uncomfortable chair has experienced a nerve related symptoms due to compression or decreased blood flow. Nerve injuries may an entire limb or part of it and cause numbness, pins and needles, burning, tingling, weakness, or paralysis. Nerves do regrow but do so slowly and if the injury is severe and especially when it causes weakness or paralysis it can have a significant negative impact on someones day to day life. Prevention is possible through knowledge of nerve locations and points of particular vulnerability, awareness of restraint placement and tightness, and assessment of the bottom’s ability to wiggle fingers and toes as well as feel sensations equally.
Restriction of blood circulation is more obvious due to color changes in the limb. Especially for fair skinned individuals skin color will turn darker tending towards bluish or purple. Harm from this takes much longer than nerve injuries and therefore nerve injuries should be of greater concern than changes in circulation. Worth noting however is that with decreased circulation some people will experience numbness which can mask the symptoms of a nerve injury.
These are semi-rigid plastic strips which come in a variety of sizes ranging from quite small to quite large and can often be found rather inexpensively at many home improvement stores in the electrical supplies section. These work on a one way locking mechanism that requires the tie to be cut or the lock to be defeated or destroyed. They are not reusable and cannot be loosened once applied. I am unaware of any that can be locked to prevent them from tightening further once applied. Given that they are flat, thin, and made from semi-rigid plastic they have a tendency to slightly cut or abrade the skin, especially when applied while being met with resistance. As a general guideline I would caution against placing a single one around a single limb. Should the zip tie become tight it will be very difficult to remove without hurting or harming the bottom and you run the risk of causing a compression nerve injury. A single zip tie applied around two limbs still runs the risk of a compression nerve injury given that the tie is narrow and focusing the pressure in a small area but there will be a gap between the two limbs making the zip tie much easier to cut. Very small zip ties will be weaker than thicker ones but are still fairly strong. They work well as improvised thumb cuffs. Placing a bottoms palms together, fingers spread and small zip ties secured snugly around each finger is a quick, cheap, and easy way to do some interesting microbondage. Larger zip ties work great on wrists and ankles. A single zip tie can be placed around two limbs or two zip ties linked together and each limb placed in their own loop and the two zip ties tightened simultaneously.
Zip ties around wrists should not be used to suspend someone or bear a significant amount of weight. The zip ties are not designed to support weight and even if they have a general weight rating they may perform unpredictably and the pulling can further focus pressure on harmful areas.
Zip Tie Based Restraints
Home improvement store zip ties have been used by law enforcement for detaining large numbers of individuals such as in protests and based on that usage companies started producing devices that were based on common zip ties but purpose built for detaining people.
Like common zip ties, zip tie based restraints for law enforcement are almost exclusively single use. There are training models of most law enforcement style cuffs which allow them to be tightened and then released with a key or switch. The purpose built zip tie based restraints share the same risks of nerve injury as common zip ties.
Both common zip ties and law enforcement ones can be cut with EMT shears or a rescue hook but it may be difficult to do so and even more difficult to do so without hurting the bottom. EMT shears require the the approximately .5” bottom jaw of the shears get between the skin and the zip tie while the top jaw comes down to cut it. If the tie is tight enough getting the bottom jaw in can prove difficult and may be painful. Rescue hooks can suffer the same problem plus they work well on fibers but not great on plastic. Law enforcement uses specialized cutters to destroy their zip tie style restraints and I would recommend kinksters to do the same. They aren’t expensive and will make destroying the restraint much easier, faster, and safer. Below are some options.
There are two grades of metal hand cuffs. Novelty/adult store type hand cuffs and National Institute of Justice (NIJ) approved hand cuffs. The latter of the two are a bit more expensive ranging from $25-80 but are what I recommend. NIJ approved handcuffs will perform reliably in a variety of conditions and feature a double locking mechanism which prevents them from tightening further once applied and locked. My concern with novelty grade cuffs is that they may fail in the locked position and often do not feature a means to prevent unwanted tightening so should the bottom apply pressure to the cuff in certain positions the cuff will tighten and potentially harm the bottom. NIJ cuffs are sold for law enforcement use and can be purchased legally online from a variety of sources. NIJ approved cuffs come in two styles either a hinge or chain variety. The hinge or chain refers to how the cuffs are connected to one another. The hinge variety feature a single pivot point centered between the two cuffs whereas the chain variety uses several links of chain to connect them. For individuals with large wrists and or significant shoulder joint immobility a single pair of either style cuff may not fit correctly. Two pairs of cuffs can be joined together to address the joint issue and ankle cuffs may be used if an individual’s wrists are too large for standard wrist cuffs. All NIJ approved hand cuffs use the same key and the simplest style of key is very cheap ($0.70-$2.00 per key) so if you are playing with real hand cuffs there’s no excuse not to have multiple keys around. When playing with these cuffs make sure you know where your keys are, that they are easily accessible, and that you are familiar with how to double lock and un-double lock your cuffs. Be aware that some cuffs have the double locking mechanism accessible from only one side of the cuff which may be very difficult to access once the cuffs are applied to the bottom.
Medical Style Leather Cuffs
These are coming out of favor with many healthcare institutions but can still be purchases new and sometimes are available used. Made of stiff leather and sometimes lined with a canvas these reusable wrist and ankle cuffs are designed to restrain a combative patient. They typically feature a buckle system that gets looped through a stretcher and then buckled near the patient’s wrists or ankles. In my experience this style of restraint is awkward to use and can be tricky to get sized correctly, especially for small wrists. Additionally, they can be slow to remove due to having to unbuckle them. For combative patients I am not a fan of these but for kinky fun these can be a perfect way to enhance the feeling of a medical play scene. These are extremely difficult to cut with EMT shears given the thickness of the leather. Given that they are leather they can be difficult to clean, especially if a lot of bodily fluids are introduced to them.
Medical Style Disposable Soft Restraints
The disposable medical restraints may be nylon and foam versions of the leather restraints or a design featuring velcro rather than buckles. The velcro based ones are quick and easy to apply as well as size for a variety of wrist and ankle sizes. Unlike metal cuffs there is generally no difference between wrist and ankle soft restraints since they can be adjusted quite well. Depending on their materials and features prices can range $20-60/pair but if you are doing play that is expected to be messy (blood play, food play, scat) the slightly more pricey ones will be all nylon and can be easily washed in a washing machine with any type of detergent. Almost all of these style restraints should be able to be easily cut with a rescue hook or EMT shears if needed but they are not single use.
Hopefully this article has sparked your imagination to use some less traditional restraints. Each type of restraint has pros and cons plus their own safety considerations but can really help shake things up a bit. Some restraints may really help set the mood or given authenticity to a role. There is lots of fun to be had beyond rope and neck ties.