What is the Recovery Position in First Aid?

The recovery position is used to protect the airway of an unconscious patient. If a patient is unconscious and lying on their back, there is a risk of the airway becoming blocked due to the tongue or by regurgitation of stomach contents. This situation can be fatal within minutes, as the patient will be unable to breathe.

The recovery position involves rolling an unconscious patient onto their side in order to protect the airway. The recovery position is taught on most first aid & CPR courses. There are a variety of techniques that can be used to roll a patient into the recovery position. In this first aid blog post, we will describe one recovery position technique that can be used.

The recovery position should only be used for unconscious patients who are breathing normally. If the patient is not breathing normally, immediately commence Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and send for the nearest Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

How to Place Someone into the Recovery Position

Follow these steps to place an unconscious, but breathing, patient into the recovery position:

  • Check for and carefully remove any bulky objects in the pockets nearest to you 
  • Place the nearest arm palm up in an outward position. If it will not bend into a right angle just let it relax away from the body 
  • Bring further arm across the body towards you, place the back of their hand against their face and hold it there with the palm of your hand, you do not need to interlock fingers or to grasp the thumb. 
  • Reach across the furthest leg and grasp the outer thigh near the knee to raise the knee. The foot must remain on the ground and does not need to be placed under the nearest thigh. It is more respectful if you able to reach across the body rather than placing your hand between the legs to raise the thigh 
  • Pulling on the thigh near the knee carefully pull the patient towards you. This must not be a quick “flick” but a careful controlled movement 
  • Once on their side, bring the top knee up at right angles to support the body 
  • Carefully lower the head to the floor 
  • Open the airway and re-check for normal breathing 
  • Check – jaw forward, mouth low and chest clear of the ground 
  • Call for emergency medical help if not already done 
  • Monitor the patient, checking pulse, respirations and level of consciousness
  • Perform a secondary survey (a head-to-toe check for any injuries) 
  • Check for medical alerts, diabetic cards, SOS talismans and other items that may indicate a pre-existing medical condition 

The recovery position for infants

An unconscious baby can be placed in the parent’s arms with the head low and mouth forward to allow for drainage of the airway.

The recovery position for infants

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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