What is the solar plexus
The solar plexus consists of two bundles of nerves located in the central abdomen that intertwine together. It sits below the sternum and behind of the top of the abs.
It gets its name because it resembles the Sun with rays of nerves radiating out from it in all directions.
The nerve complex controls aspects of the stomach, the spleen, the liver and the pancreas.
What happens if you’re hit in the solar plexus
The solar plexus is a common striking target for many martial arts, including karate and krav maga.
If you’re hit in the solar plexus you’re likely to feel as though you’ve had the wind knocked out of you.
If the blow has sufficient force, the energy will travel through the body not only affecting the solar plexus but also the diaphragm which sits directly behind this nerve bundle.
The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that stretches across the rib cage below the lungs.
When the diaphragm contracts it pulls the lungs downward causing them to expand. It is this expansion that causes air to rush in. Conversely when the diaphragm relaxes, the lungs move upwards and contract; forcing the air out. The diaphragm is therefore responsible for allowing you to breathe in and out.
When the diaphragm receives a blow, it goes into spasm and contracts erratically. With it unable to contract or relax properly, the lungs no longer function properly, resulting in breathing problems such as shortness of breath.
So being struck in the solar plexus results in two things: extreme pain as a result of the result of the collection of sensitive nerves in this area, and being unable to breathe properly as the diaphragm does into spasm.
How to hit someone in the solar plexus
With the solar plexus being such a vulnerable point in the body, fighters make every effort to defend it against incoming blows.
For example, if you look at most boxers, they adopt a side on fighting stance either South Paw, where the boxer has their right hand and foot forwards, or orthodox, which has the left side of the body facing forward.
This side on stance means that less of the body is exposed to potential strikes from your opponent. It also means that the forward most facing arm is able to block or parry punches thrown from their opponent. It also prepares the rear most arm to throw a punch: a swift twist of the hips and shoulder, means that a powerful cross punch can be thrown.
Boxer will also attempt to build up the abdominal muscles which sit in front of the solar plexus. This may involve specific ab exercises such as sit ups and leg raises.
Other conditioning exercises include dropping a medicine ball onto tensed abs as you’re lying down. I’ve written about this type of medicine ball training here. This is to mimic being struck in the stomach and is designed to build up the strength of the abs and make them more resistant to being struck.
With the solar plexus so well defended, how do you land a punch in this vulnerable area?
A direct attack, such as a straight punch, is unlikely to be successful. It will be blocked by your opponent.
Instead of an immediate attack, often a more subtle approach is required.
This often involves feigning an attack. This could involve a pretending to throw a strike to the head. The opponent raises their hands to protect themselves from what they think will be an attack.
This leaves their midsection exposed and allows you to quickly launch an attack to the solar plexus.
See the clip from Daniel Zaragoza vs Erik Morales below. Erik threw a number of jabs to the head and realised Daniel would raise his hand to fend off the attack. After his final jab, he threw a quick punch to Daniel’s solar plexus and down he went.
Knee to solar plexus
Punches to the solar plexus are effective but it can also be attacked with the knee. This type of strike is very common in Muay Thai. The hands typically grasp around the opponents head pulling it down. As this takes place, the knee is launched towards the midsection. Frequently, the knee will strike the solar plexus which, if done with sufficient force, will result in the opponent collapsing.
Can you damage your solar plexus?
A very forceful blow to the solar plexus can result in trauma and damage to the muscle complex. Typically the pain will dissipate over a week or so as the body repairs it. In rare cases, the pain may not subside and a minor operation to perform a celiac plexus block may be needed. As in all cases, where you’re experiencing pain that does not subside, you should see your healthcare professional.