Football Illegal Use Of Hands Penalty

Football Illegal Use Of Hands Penalty

A penalty for the illegal use of hands in football is when either an offensive or defensive player deliberately places their hand in the face of their opponent. The penalty can also be called if the hand is near the neck area. The repercussions of this penalty are greater for the defense than for the offense.


Illegal use of hands usually occurs near the line of scrimmage. Illegal use of the hands occurs when a player thrusts their hands above an opponent’s torso and makes forcible contact with their head, neck, or face. In order for the contact to be illegal use of hands, an official must determine it to be either direct and forcible or prolonged. Both offensive and defensive players can commit this foul.

Illegal use of hands typically occurs right after the snap, as players are trying to block or evade getting blocked. Hands sometimes slip and land in areas that are illegal, and this foul can be committed unintentionally.

The main reason illegal use of hands is enforced is for safety reasons. Because the head and neck areas are so sensitive, they can be injured easily. Thus, avoiding such injuries is a top priority for the NFL in all aspects of play. Fairness is also considered when calling this penalty, as players can gain an unfair advantage by putting their hands into an opponent’s face.

Illegal use of hands can be confused with a facemask penalty since the hands are in the location of the helmet when the foul occurs. In comparison, illegal use of hands punishes hitting or pushing the facemask, while a facemask penalty is assessed for grabbing or twisting the facemask.


If committed by the offense, illegal use of hands results in a 10-yard penalty from the spot of the ball, with the down replayed afterward. On the defensive side, the penalty in the NFL is only five yards, but the offense is also granted an automatic first down. In all other leagues, the penalty is 10 yards on both sides of the ball, with an automatic first down if committed on defense. Drawing an illegal use of the hands can be an unfortunate mistake for the defense, especially if they were one down away from a three-and-out.

PenaltyNFLNCAAHigh SchoolCFL
Illegal Use Of Hands (Offense)10 Yards10 Yards10 Yards10 Yards
Illegal Use Of Hands (Defense)5 Yards, Automatic 1st Down 10 Yards, Automatic 1st Down 10 Yards, Automatic 1st Down10 Yards, Automatic 1st Down

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal use of hands

The signal for an illegal use of hands penalty is performed by placing one hand over the opposite wrist and extending the covered arm outwards in a pushing motion.


  • The thrusting of hands or arms by one player into another player’s head or neck area.
  • Prolonged contact to the area above the shoulders.
  • An offensive or defensive player’s head being pushed upwards, dangerously bending their neck.


What is a hands to the face penalty in football?

In football, the penalty for a player contacting an opponent’s face with their hands is an illegal use of hands penalty. The resulting punishment for illegal use of hands is a 10-yard penalty if the offender is on offense and a 5-yard penalty with an automatic first down if the foul is committed by the defense.

What is the difference between illegal use of hands and a facemask?

The difference between illegal use of hands and a facemask is that a facemask penalty involves the grabbing or twisting of an opponent’s facemask, while illegal use of hands is pushing or hitting the facemask. The main practical difference is the penalty. In the NFL, a facemask is a personal foul resulting in a 15-yard penalty, while illegal use of the hands results in a 5 or 10-yard penalty, depending on whether it is committed by the offense or defense.