If you are giving first aid to a person who is unconscious, but breathing normally, then putting them in the recovery position will enable their airway to remain open and reduce their risk of choking on fluids, for example if the person vomits.
A person should not be moved into the recovery position if a spinal injury is suspected, or if they have any life-threatening conditions.
How to move a person into the recovery position:
- Kneel down beside the person
- Move the arm closest to you into a right angled position in relation to their body with their elbow bent and their hand at the level of their head
- Gently take hold of their other hand (palm to palm). Now lift this hand across the person’s body and position the back of their hand against their opposite cheek (for example, the back of their right hand should be touching their left cheek). Continue to hold your hand in theirs in this position to guide and support their head as you roll them
- With your free hand reach down to the person’s knee that is furthest from you. Lift this knee up so that the leg is bent with the foot resting flat on the floor
- Pull the bent knee towards you so that the person rolls onto their side facing you. The leg you have just pulled over should be left in a bent position to keep the person balanced on their side.
- The person’s airway can now be opened by gently lifting their chin to tilt their head back slightly. Check the person’s airway to ensure that there are no obstructions which could block the airway, such as food in their mouth. Remove any obstructions if you can do so safely.
- Don’t leave the person alone while they are in the recovery position. You will need to continue to monitor their breathing until medical help arrives.
If you suspect that the person has injured their spine then the person should only be moved by the emergency services, unless they are at risk of choking or further injury.
You should suspect a spinal injury if there is evidence that the person has suffered trauma to the head or back and is or has been unconscious.
If a person has injured their spine they may exhibit one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Severe pain in the neck or back
- Spasticity (the muscles spasm and feel tight and stiff)
- Weakness, numbness or paralysis
- Loss of control of the limbs, bladder or bowels
- Difficulty breathing
If you are treating a person with a suspected spinal injury you can open their airway by kneeling at the top of their head (facing their feet) and placing your hands on either side of their face. You then gently lift the persons jaw by pushing the jaw bone upwards and forwards with your fingers. Be careful not to move their head and neck while you do this.
If you absolutely must move the person (for example, because they are vomiting, choking or they are in danger of further injury), you will need assistance to roll them.