Recovery Position: Proper Technique and Importance for First Aid

Last updated:
May 24, 2023

In emergency situations, whether they are medical crises, accidents, or sudden injuries, quick and effective actions can make a significant difference in the outcome for those in need. One critical technique that plays a vital role in ensuring the safety and well-being of an unconscious or injured individual is the recovery position. The recovery position is a simple yet powerful maneuver designed to protect and support an individual's airway, reduce the risk of complications, and potentially save lives.

This article explores the importance of the recovery position and its practical application in various medical emergency scenarios. We will delve into the proper technique, benefits, and situations where the recovery position is especially relevant. Whether you are a healthcare professional, a concerned bystander, or someone who wants to be prepared for unexpected emergencies, understanding and being able to perform the recovery position can be invaluable.


What Is The Recovery Position?

The recovery position, also known as the lateral recumbent position, is a specific body posture designed to keep an unconscious or injured person safe and maintain an open airway. It involves positioning the individual on their side, with their upper leg bent and their head tilted back slightly to prevent the tongue from obstructing the airway. The recovery position helps to prevent choking, reduce the risk of aspiration, and promote adequate breathing.

It is an important technique used in first aid and emergency care to ensure the well-being and safety of individuals who are unable to maintain a seated or upright position on their own. By placing someone in the recovery position, the risk of complications and potential harm can be minimized while awaiting further medical assistance.


Within The Context Of First Aid, Why Is The Recovery Position Important?

The recovery position is essential in first aid because it helps maintain an open airway, prevents aspiration, ensures comfort and stability, facilitates monitoring, and allows for swift medical assistance. It is a simple yet critical technique that can significantly improve the outcomes for individuals in need of immediate care, especially when they are unable to maintain an upright position on their own.


In What Situations Is The Recovery Position Used?

The recovery position is commonly used in various situations where an individual is unconscious, injured, or unable to maintain an upright position on their own. Some specific situations where the recovery position is applied include:

  • Unconsciousness: If someone becomes unconscious and is breathing normally, placing them in the recovery position helps maintain an open airway and reduces the risk of airway obstruction. This could be due to causes such as fainting, alcohol intoxication, drug overdose, or medical conditions like seizures or diabetic emergencies.
  • Traumatic Injuries: In cases where a person has sustained injuries, particularly head or neck injuries, placing them in the recovery position ensures that their airway remains unobstructed while minimizing movement of the spine. It is essential to balance the need for immobilization with maintaining a clear airway.
  • Seizures: When someone experiences a seizure, placing them in the recovery position can help protect them from injury and ensure their airway is clear. It prevents them from choking on saliva or vomit during the seizure and allows any fluids to drain out of the mouth.
  • Intoxication or Drug Overdose: If an individual is heavily intoxicated or has overdosed on drugs, the recovery position can prevent choking on vomit or any other substances present in the mouth. It aids in maintaining an open airway and minimizing the risk of aspiration.
  • Cardiac Arrest: While the recovery position is not the primary approach for individuals in cardiac arrest, it may be used in specific cases where it is not feasible to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or if the person has regained consciousness but remains unresponsive. In such situations, the recovery position can help maintain an open airway until professional medical assistance arrives.

Related Article
Understanding Cardiac Arrest: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

How To Put Someone In The Recovery Position?

Putting someone in the recovery position involves the following steps:

Step 1: Positioning

With the person lying on their back, kneel beside them and place the arm that is closest to you at a right angle to their body, with the palm facing up. Take their other arm and cross it over their chest, placing the back of their hand against the cheek closest to you. This position helps stabilize the head and prevents it from falling backward.


Step 2: Bend the knee

Bend the knee that is farthest from you to a right angle. Keep their foot on the ground to provide support and stability.


Step 3: Roll onto the side

Carefully roll the person toward you by applying gentle pressure on their bent knee and shoulder. As you roll them, ensure that their head is tilted back slightly to keep the airway open and prevent the tongue from blocking it.


Step 4: Adjust the head position

Once in the recovery position, make sure the person's head is slightly tilted back, allowing any fluids to drain from the mouth and keeping the airway clear. Check that their breathing is regular.


Step 5: Monitor and wait for help

Stay with the person in the recovery position and monitor their breathing and condition while waiting for professional medical assistance to arrive.


Remember, it is important to prioritize the person's safety and well-being while positioning them in the recovery position. If at any point you suspect a spinal injury or if the person's condition worsens, do not attempt to move them further and seek immediate medical help. Proper training in first aid techniques, including the recovery position, is highly recommended to ensure effective and safe assistance in emergency situations.


On Which Side Should an Unconscious Person Be Placed In The Recovery Position?

An unconscious person should be placed on their left side in the recovery position. By positioning them on the left side, their airway is more likely to remain clear and open. This position helps prevent the tongue from obstructing the airway and allows any fluids, such as saliva or vomit, to drain out of the mouth more easily. Placing the person on their left side also helps to minimize the risk of regurgitation and aspiration.

However, in certain situations, such as when the left side is not feasible due to injury or discomfort, the right side can be used as an alternative. It is important to remember that the recovery position is meant to maintain an open airway and should be adjusted based on the person's condition and any specific considerations related to their health or injuries.

After Placing Someone In The Recovery Position, What Should Be The Next Step?

After placing someone in the recovery position, the next step is to monitor their condition and wait for professional medical assistance to arrive. While they are in the recovery position, stay with the person and observe their breathing and overall state.

Look for signs of improvement or deterioration in their condition. If their breathing stops or their condition worsens, be prepared to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if necessary and continue to follow any additional instructions provided by emergency services (EMS) dispatchers over the phone.

It is crucial to maintain constant vigilance and be prepared to take appropriate action based on the person's response and the instructions given by medical professionals. Stay calm, reassure the person, and provide comfort while ensuring their safety until the arrival of professional medical help.


Who Should Not Be Put in the Recovery Position?

While the recovery position is generally safe and beneficial for most unconscious or injured individuals, there are certain situations where it may not be appropriate or advisable. Here are some scenarios in which the recovery position should not be used:

  1. Suspected Spinal Injury: If there is a suspicion or possibility of a spinal injury, such as from a fall or accident, it is important not to move the person unnecessarily. Maintaining the head, neck, and spine in a stable position is crucial to prevent further damage. In such cases, it is best to keep the person in their current position and wait for professional medical assistance.
  2. Facial or Jaw Injuries: Individuals with facial or jaw injuries may have difficulty maintaining an open airway in the recovery position due to the position of their head. Placing them in the recovery position may further obstruct their airway or cause pain. In these cases, it is advisable to seek immediate medical assistance and follow any specific instructions provided.
  3. Pregnancy: Pregnant women in the advanced stages of pregnancy should not be placed flat on their backs due to the potential compression of major blood vessels. Instead, it is recommended to tilt them slightly onto their left side to relieve pressure on the vena cava and ensure adequate blood flow to the baby.
  4. Any Obvious Fractures: If there are obvious fractures or suspected broken bones, it is important to avoid moving the injured limb or applying pressure that could worsen the injury. Stabilize the injured area as best as possible while awaiting professional medical help.

It is important to note that in certain situations, the priority may be to initiate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) rather than placing the person in the recovery position. This includes cases of cardiac arrest or when the person is not breathing or has no pulse. In such instances, immediate CPR should be initiated following the appropriate guidelines.


Through Which First Aid Courses Can I Learn the Correct Recovery Position?

You can learn the correct recovery position through Basic First Aid courses. It provides a solid foundation in first aid skills, including the proper technique for placing someone in a recovery position.

CPR and First Aid courses go a step further, offering comprehensive training in CPR and other life-saving techniques, with the recovery position being a crucial component of cardiac emergency response. There are also specialized first aid courses for specific populations, such as infants or sports-related injuries, which may cover the recovery position in the context of those specific groups.

It is important to seek certified training from reputable organizations like the American Red Cross, American Heart Association, or online training providers like USCPR Online to ensure the course content is reliable, practical, and up to date.

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