How to Put Someone in the Recovery Position
Please note that this information does not qualify you as an official first aider, and Virtual College advise calling 999 in the first instance at the scene of an emergency.
This material and any associated assessments do not constitute a qualification or accreditation as an official first aider. All content provided is for general information only.
Virtual College advocate dialling the emergency services before attempting any form of first aid.
What is the Recovery Position?
The recovery position is one that a person’s unconscious but breathing body can be placed in as part of the first steps of administering first aid. The primary function of this is to prevent obstruction of the airway, a significant risk for unconscious persons, particularly where they would otherwise be laid on their back. The two main causes of obstruction are either mechanical or fluid; typically, these are either the patient’s own tongue or vomit.
There are numerous causes of unconsciousness that may require a first aider to place a person in the recovery position. These can include otherwise non-emergency situations such as alcohol intoxication, to more severe ones, such as injury-related trauma and seizures. It is important to remember however, that the recovery position is suitable only in situations where the casualty is breathing normally. If this is not the case, then 999 must be called immediately, and CPR initiated.
The primary survey is a recognised method of assessing an incident involving a casualty, and can help first responders to understand the relevant risks and key processes, along with the application of the recovery position. Click here to find out more about the course Virtual College can deliver on this subject.
Recovery Position Steps
Note: The following instructions on how to put someone in the recovery position assume that you encounter the person lying on their back. If they are on their side or front, then you may not need all of the following steps to place them into the position.
Step 1: Kneel down on one side of the person.
Step 2: Take the arm closest to you, and place it at a right angle, with the palm facing upward beside their head.
Step 3: Carefully take their other arm with your palm on theirs. Move the arm so that it’s across their chest, and place the back of their hand against their opposite cheek. If you take their left arm for instance, then it should now be across the body and against their right cheek. Keep your hand here to support the person’s head throughout the manoeuvre.
Step 4: Using your other arm, lift the person’s knee opposite you, and place it so that their foot is flat to the floor, and the knee is bent.
Step 5: Carefully pull the top of the knee towards you to roll the person’s body over so that it is facing you. The patient’s body weight should make this straightforward.
Step 5: Position the leg that you’ve just moved slightly in front of the person’s body. This will ensure that they do not roll any further.
Step 6: The final step is to ensure that the airway remains open, and also to allow any fluid to drain away. Gently lift the person’s chin and tilt their head back slightly. Listen to ensure that breathing continues unobstructed.
In many situations, it will now be appropriate to call 999, such as in the case of severe injury or first-time seizure. If in any doubt as to the casualty’s current situation, you must seek professional medical attention.
Note on Spinal Injuries:
It may be the case that you suspect the casualty has a spinal injury, but that they still require attention to their airway. In such a situation, the standard recovery position is unlikely to be appropriate, as the spine should be kept as straight as possible. Tilting the head and bending the spine could cause further trauma.
Instead, there are two modifications to the usual steps:
- Firstly, when attempting to open the airway, the head should not be tilted back. Instead, you should use what is known as the jaw-thrust manoeuvre. Kneel beside the top of the patient’s head, take two hands to either side of the face, and move the jaw by lifting it with your index and middle fingers, and gently pushing the chin with your thumbs.
- Secondly, if at all possible, the help of others should be sought in turning the casualty onto their side. Several people will make it much easier to turn the patient onto their side without causing their spine to bend.
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