What Is Physical Abuse?

Physical abuse is the infliction of pain on a person. Get full definition of physical abuse, physical abuse examples and detailed information.

The definition of physical abuse, according to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, is: "Non-accidental use of force that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment. This includes, but is not limited to, being slapped, burned, cut, bruised or improperly physically restrained."1 Physical abuse is not limited to children and can happen to adults of any age. Neglect is also considered an aspect of physical abuse and this type of abuse often happens when one adult cares for another; such as in the case of an adult child caring for a parent.

Physical abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse such as financial, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Physical abusers use their abusive behaviors to try to control their victims. 

More info on: Physical and Emotional Abuse Usually Travel Together.

Who Suffers from Physical Abuse?

While anyone can suffer from physical abuse, physical abuse victims are most often women and often:

  • Frail elderly
  • Developmentally disabled
  • Mentally ill
  • Physically disabled
  • Substance abusers
  • Intimate partners

While it is never the fault of the victim, victims of physical abuse often feel shame and guilt over the abuse and hide the abuse from others. Victims are also typically afraid of what would happen if the physical abuse were found out. Unfortunately, this often allows physical abuse to go on unreported.

The Cycle of Physical Abuse

Physical abuse often occurs in cycles and not all parts of the relationship may be physically abusive. A physical abuse cycle often includes:

  • Threats of violence, such as, "if you do that one more time, you'll be sorry"
  • The physical abuse itself such as hitting, burning or slapping
  • Apologies by the abuser; the abuser may be extra attentive, "turn on the charm," or buy gifts
  • The cycle begins again, often with the abuser planning the next action of abuse

Examples of Physical Abuse

Physical abuse can range from relatively mild such as a slap, to severe such as the breaking of bones. An example of physical abuse in the words of one woman,

"...he broke into my house. He was breaking my fingers, to take my daughter out of my arms, because that was his way to control me and my other daughter was upstairs, that was late at night and he was going to take her from me because I had taken the children out for dinner, and he didn't know where I was..."2

Other examples of physical abuse include:

  • Being physical restrained; such as being tied to a chair
  • Being burned
  • Being cut
  • Being slapped, punched, kicked, bitten or choked
  • Being stabbed or shot
  • Withholding of food or medical attention
  • Being drugged
  • Being denied sleep
  • Inflicting pain on other people or animals

More information on: Effects of Physical Abuse, Pictures of Physical Abuse.

article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 17). What Is Physical Abuse?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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