The recovery position – left or right side?

The recovery position is used to protect an unconscious person’s airway. It involves rolling the casualty onto their side with the head tilted back – but should it be the left or right side?

This is a common question asked on first aid & CPR courses by candidates. There are also lots of different explanations about which side is “better”.

Before we consider this question, let’s remind ourselves of how the recovery position works.

How the recovery position works

The recovery position works by protecting the casualty’s airway. An unconscious patient will be unable to protect their airway due to loss of muscle tone resulting in the tongue blocking the airway as shown in the diagram below.

Blocked airway

In addition, the recovery position protects against aspiration (“inhalation”) of stomach contents. By placing the casualty on their side, any stomach contents will drain away from the airway.


So which side is better?

Short answer – it doesn’t matter which side you roll a patient onto!

Your main priority with the recovery position is to save life and maintain a patent airway. This is the absolute priority and should take precedent over other actions. Do not waste unnecessary time deciding which side might be better to roll them onto.

There is one main exception to this rule. In an unconscious casualty who is heavily pregnant you should attempt to roll them onto their left side. This prevents the baby from compressing one of the main blood vessels in the abdomen.


John Furst

JOHN FURST is an experienced emergency medical technician and qualified first aid and CPR instructor. John is passionate about first aid and believes everyone should have the skills and confidence to take action in an emergency situation.

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1 Response

  1. Wayne says:

    As a paramedic, I see first aid being taught in so many ways. We train the same way at Perth Training Institute in that the focus of the recovery position is to have the patient on their side to protect their airway. Whether you roll them away or towards you to meet the objective, the outcome of having them on their side is the focus.

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