Rubber bullets and pellet guns should be reclassified as lethal weapons as they cause significant damage to all the tissues of the limbs including the bones, according to a team of doctors.
Rubber bullets are blunt-nosed with a muzzle velocity of around 70m/s and a kinetic energy of nearly 400J.
A study by doctors of Srinagar's SKIMS Medical College published in the Chinese Journal of Traumatology states that the degree of a wound would depend on the conditions under which the rubber bullets are fired.
According to the study, shorter firing distances may increase both the mortality and morbidity and hence there is a need to reclassify it as lethal.
The recent violence in Jammu and Kashmir has brought pellet guns and rubber bullets into focus.
For the study, the doctors observed 28 male patients, ageing 11-32 years, with penetrating injuries of the upper and lower extremities caused by pellet guns.
According to the study, most of the reports focused on injuries of relatively vulnerable tissues like the eyes, brain and the lungs caused by the rubber bullets.
A significant number of wounds were larger than the size of the rubber bullet which had probably occurred due to the bullet first hitting the nose and then entering sideways, the study suggested.
The wound was surrounded by skin splits which were debrided and the smaller wounds were managed by dressing. The larger ones were managed in the operating theatre by longitudinal incisions in the fascia and skin to relieve the haematoma and remove the debris and the bullet.
"Our findings suggested that these weapons are capable of causing significant injuries, including fractures, and it is important for the surgeon to be well versed with the management of such injuries especially in areas of unrest," said Shabir Ahmed Dhar and his colleagues in the study.
The study suggested that even in the limbs, the rubber bullets can cause significant morbidity and, therefore, should not be considered a safe method for controlling crowds.
"In view of possible damage caused by rubber bullets, surgeons should be aware of the potential seriousness of these injuries and manage them on the pattern of other ballistic injuries," said Raju Vaishya, Senior Consultant, Apollo Hospitals in a statement.