It is vital that people understand how and when to put someone into the recovery position and re-positioning someone can often save their life.

About the recovery position

When someone is unconscious/unresponsive most of their muscles relax and go floppy. The tongue is a huge muscle attached to the bottom jaw.  If someone is unconscious and lying on their back, the back of their tongue will flop back and block their airway, making them unable to breathe. In addition, their oesophagus (the tube from the throat to the stomach) and their sphincter (the valve at the top of the stomach) relax and remain open. This means the contents of their stomach may trickle up and drip into their lungs. This is called passive vomiting. If someone is unconscious but breathing, the best way to keep their airway open is to roll them onto their side, into the recovery position. This will make their tongue flop forward and allow the contents of their stomach to drain.

8 simple steps

The following method shows you how to put someone into the recovery position if you are on your own. Use them even if you think they could have a spinal injury.

1. Move the arm closest to you out of the way.

The Recovery Position: 8 Simple Steps

2. Use your hand which is closest to their head to hold their other hand and put this onto the side of their cheek to support the head and neck as you turn them.

The Recovery Position: 8 Simple Steps

3. Use your other hand to lift up the outside of their knee.

The Recovery Position: 8 Simple Steps

4. Use this as a lever to pull them over.

Basic First Aid - the Recovery Position

5. Pull the knee to the floor, whilst supporting their head and neck with your other hand.

The Recovery Position: 8 Simple Steps

6. Pull their bent knee upwards into a running position to stabilise their body. Then ensure they are over enough to make their tongue flop forward and allow the contents of their stomach to drain out. Ideally, the casualty should not be on their front as this puts the weight of their body on their lungs and it is not as easy to breathe. To avoid this, bend their knee to 90° to support them on their side

If you are not worried about a possible spinal injury, tilt their head back slightly to ensure the airway is properly open. If you are worried about a possible neck injury, just ensure they are rolled over enough to drain.

The Recovery Position: 8 Simple Steps

7. Get the emergency services on the way if they haven’t been called before.

8. Keep checking they are breathing by feeling holding the back of your hand in front of their mouth.

The Recovery Position: 8 Simple Steps

Want to know more about how to take care of and help older people? Then, you might find this article particularly useful. 


First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

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