If a person is breathing normally and unable to be woken up (unconscious), they should be gently placed in the recovery position, avoiding any twisting or forward movement of the head and spine.
Depending on the situation you may need to assess the area and the sick or injured person before attempting to put them into the recovery position. Read more about how to assess the environment and the person.
What is the recovery position?
The recovery position is a way to place a person on their side in a way that supports their body if they are unconscious.
|If you think a person may have a spinal injury, don't try to move them until the emergency services have assessed them.|
Suspect a spinal injury if:
- the person has been involved in an accident that could have affected their spine, eg a fall from a height or a blow to the back
- they have severe pain in their neck or back
- they can’t move their neck
- they have weakness or numbness or are unable to move
- they have lost control of their bowel, bladder or limbs.
When to use the recovery position
The recovery position is designed to keep unconscious people safe by making sure their airway is kept clear and open. It also reduces the risk of any vomit or fluid causing them to choke.
Use the recovery position when someone is unable to be woken up or is unresponsive. For example if they:
- don't respond to commands such as “open your eyes” or “squeeze my hand”
- don't react to you grasping and squeezing their shoulders firmly
- only groan without opening their eyes.
Possible spinal injury
If you think the person may have a spinal (neck or back) injury, don’t try to move them but wait until emergency services arrive. If you need to open their airway, keep their head and neck still by placing your hands on either side of their face and lift their jaw slightly with your fingertips to open up their airway.
How to put someone in the recovery position
Gently place the person into the recovery position while being careful to avoid any twisting or forward movement of the head and spine.
Image credit: 123rf
Follow these steps (for someone who is lying on their back)
- Kneel next to them on the floor.
- Remove their glasses and any bulky items in their pockets.
- Make sure their legs are straight.
- Take the arm closest to you and move it out at a right angle to their body with their palm facing upwards.
- Take the other arm and move it so that the back of their hand is resting against the side of their face (cheek and chin) nearest to you and hold it there.
- With your other hand, lift the knee furthest from you up until their foot is flat on the floor.
- Pull on the raised knee to roll them over towards you, keeping their hand under their cheek.
- Adjust the top leg so it’s at a right angle.
- Open their airway by slightly tilting their head back.
- Call 111 if it’s not already been done and stay with them until help arrives.
A video of the recovery position
Watch this video to see how to put someone into the recovery position.
(St John Ambulance, NZ, 2016)
Seizures or convulsions, how you can help St John, NZ
Dealing with someone who is unconscious Patient UK, 2017
First aid courses St John, NZ
First aid library St John, NZ
- Recovery position NHS, UK, 2022