Why The Recovery Position Saves Lives

Table of Contents

The Recovery Position / Rescue Pose or Lateral Position is a simple way of turning an unconscious/unresponsive (but breathing) casualty onto their side to assist in opening their airway, to help them breathe.

The Recovery Position is critical in saving lives due to:  

Airway Management: Keeps the casualty’s airway open and clear to help with breathing.

Prevention of Aspiration and drainage of fluids: Keeps the casualty from choking on fluids like saliva, blood or vomit.

Comfort and Stability.

Why is the Recovery Position Important

One of the most important reasons for the Recovery Position is to maintain an open airway. When someone becomes unconscious their whole body relaxes. With the tongue being a muscle, this too relaxes and falls back into the airway creating a blockage in the throat. 

There are 2 ways to open and maintain an airway:

1: The Recovery Position:

recovery pose

With this position the tongue falls forward in the throat and keeps the airway open. The person is placed on their side, which reduces the risk of them choking on their vomit which can cause aspiration. Being in a first aid recovery position the fluid can drain out of the mouth, which means the casualty cannot breathe in the vomit or choke on it.

2: The Head-Tilt Chin-Lift:

head tilt chin lift

In the left picture you can clearly see how the airway gets blocked. By doing the Head-Tilt Chin-Lift manoeuvre you can see how the airway is opened up.

When to use the Recovery Position

As we have discussed, a patient should be placed in the recovery position when they are unconscious, as they cannot protect their own airway. The Recovery Pose/position is there to protect and maintain the airway for effective breathing. 

If a person is conscious, we do not use the recovery position as they can maintain and protect their own airway.

And if they are not breathing, the recovery position will not help. CPR needs to be performed as quickly as possible.

Here are a few scenarios where you can use the Recovery Position:

  • Fainting
  • Seizures 
  • Poisoning
  • Drug overdoses
  • Stroke, concussions 
  • Head injuries without neck pain  

How to perform the Recovery Position:

what is the recovery position

It is important for the arm to be under the casualty’s head as it helps to maintain the airway. The leg on the side of the body prevents the individual from rolling over onto their stomach which will then force the head into the ground causing a covered face.

Other methods that can be used to open and maintain an airway:

  • Head-Tilt Chin-Lift position (For maintaining an airway of a casualty with no neck injury.)  Place your hand on the forehead and tilt backwards while lifting the chin up. This will open the airway.
  • Jaw thrust manoeuvre (when we suspect a neck injury and cannot move the head).  Keep the head in the position found. Place 3 fingers under the jaw and push upwards, with the thumbs on the jaw, push forwards to open the mouth. This will now open the airway.

Please remember that with any manoeuvre we must consider the injuries of the person. Always think of safety.

With any unconscious casualty with a spinal injury, you can consider doing a Jaw Thrust to open the airway. With no spinal injuries, the head-tilt chin-lift manoeuvre or recovery position can be used.

As you arrive at the patient’s side, you also have to look at what injuries the casualty has suffered before turning them onto their side, as you don’t want to make the injuries worse. With a stroke patient, you must always turn the casualty onto the side that is paralysed as they cannot protect that side of the body.

Additional tips and Resources

You must monitor and reassess the casualty every 5-10 minutes, even when they are in the recovery position. You might have been busy covering a wound or assessing for injuries, and in that small amount of time the person could have stopped breathing completely or they could have been moved slightly which caused the airway to close again.  Always make sure the casualty’s airway is open and that they are breathing.

Always call for emergency services after performing a head tilt-chin lift manoeuvre and placing someone in the rescue position. The casualty needs to be assessed by the professionals to see what has caused them to become unconscious. The emergency services can assess and assist the casualty and take them to hospital for further treatment.

If you ever come across an unresponsive/unconscious person that is breathing, always place them in the recovery position, so that the airway can be maintained and opened.  Without an open and maintained airway there is a risk of aspiration (vomit going into the lungs) which can be deadly.

Absolute Health Services encourages everybody to learn about the life-saving skills of knowing first aid and how to use the recovery position. Most of us have had the experience of having to wait for the emergency services. By learning these skills, you could save the life of someone close to you in the near future.

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