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Adelaide’s #1 in Nationally Accredited First Aid Courses

How to Put Someone in the Recovery Position

recovery position

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One key topic taught in a basic first aid course is when and how to put someone in the recovery position during an emergency.

An unconscious victim is challenging to manage as they can’t tell you what’s wrong or if they are choking and about to vomit. All the unknowns may send any bystander into a panic – unless you have proper medical training in addressing emergencies.

Putting someone in the recovery position can save their life in the event of serious illness or injury. Read on as we look into several reasons why knowing this procedure is important and explain step-by-step instructions on how to do it.

What is the recovery position?

The recovery position refers to placing the casualty onto their side, with their limbs slightly bent to support the body. It is also called the “semi-prone” or stable side position.

The procedure is designed to keep casualties safe by ensuring that the airways are kept clean and open at all times. It also reduces the risk of fluid or any vomit that causes the person to choke.

If the casualty is breathing abnormally and cannot be woken up (unconscious), they should be gently placed in the recovery position. When doing so, avoid twisting or forward movements of the spine and head.

It is recommended to use the recovery position in the following conditions:

  • If the casualty does not respond to the responder’s commands such as “squeeze my hand” or “open your eyes.”
  • If the casualty did not react to grasping or squeezing in their shoulder
  • If the casualty “groans” without any eye movement.

The recovery position aims to prevent the airway from suffering an obstruction either by vomit or their own tongue. A first responder may be able to switch the unconscious person onto their side in the event of severe trauma, seizure, or alcohol intoxication.

In all these situations, the casualty is less likely to keep their airway clear on their own, which is why this position is important. Remember that there are a number of recorded deaths of unconscious people suffering from blocked airways.

Putting someone in the recovery position

Here’s a step-by-step guide to putting someone in the recovery position.

Step 1.

Open the airway by tilting the head in a backward position. Check if the casualty is breathing normally. Take the arm closest to you and bend the elbow to rest in an upward-facing position on the floor.

Step 2.

Take the furthest arm and bring it closer, placing it on the back of the casualty’s hand to their cheek.

Step 3.

Raise the leg furthest away from you and bend it to remain the foot flat on the floor. Keep hold of the hand on the casualty’s cheek and roll them towards you by pulling the bent knee in the opposite direction.

Step 4.

Once the casualty is rolled onto their side, adjust the bent knee to ensure it is at the right angle.

Open the airway by tilting their head back and monitor changes in breathing patterns.

Step 5.

Call triple zero (000) for emergency help if this step has not been already done. Monitor the person’s level of response while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

If you suspect the casualty may have suffered a spinal injury, do not try to move them until the emergency services have properly conducted an assessment.


Learning how to put an unconscious person in the recovery position is an important life skill and could certainly be the difference between life and death in some situations.

It is an invaluable skill that anyone can learn. We highly suggest you take first aid training from a qualified instructor to ensure you fully understand the procedure.

Explore our range of first aid courses to see how we can help you learn skills that could help manage injuries and save lives.

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