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 the offense.


Illegal use of hands usually occurs near the line of scrimmage. Forcible contact to the neck or head of a player with the hand will trigger this penalty to be called. Both offensive and defensive players can commit this foul.

The foul often 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. Sometimes, players purposely commit this foul with the intention of not getting caught. It provides an advantage because the head and neck area is sensitive, forcing the player affected to lose momentum.

The main reason this penalty is called is for safety reasons. The head and neck area is a top priority for the NFL to address in all aspects of play. Fairness also comes into play, with players gaining an advantage for using this maneuver.

This penalty can be confused with a common facemask penalty since the hands are in the location of the helmet when the foul occurs. In comparison, illegal use of hands does not focus on the twisting or grabbing on the facemask, but rather the force and prolonged contact with the area. Illegal use of hands is more of a pushing motion rather than grabbing.


If committed by the offense, it will be a 10 yard penalty from the spot of the ball, with the down replayed afterward. On the defensive side, the penalty is only 5 yards, but the offense is also granted an automatic first down. This is crucial and can be very unfortunate for the defense, especially if they were one down away from a 3 and out.

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

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal use of hands

The signal for an illegal use of hands penalty is done by placing one hand over the other wrist and extending the covered arm outwards, like 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 to the point that their field of view is the sky/roof.