What is Recovery position: A guide to correctly position an unconscious patient

This guide will help you how to put a patient in a recovery position. Putting someone in the recovery position is a crucial skill in first aid that can help maintain an open airway and prevent complications. Follow these step-by-step instructions to correctly position an unconscious patient in the recovery position:

  1. Check for danger
  2. Assess Responsiveness
  3. Call for Help
  4. Open the Airway using head tilt, chin lift technique
  5. Extend the person's arm that is closest to you
  6. On the same side as the extended arm, bend the person's knee, keeping the foot flat on the ground.
  7. Roll the person onto their side by gently pulling their hip and shoulder towards you.
  8. Ensure the head is tilted back slightly to maintain an open airway.
  9. Observe the person's chest to confirm that they are breathing normally.
  10. Stay with the person and monitor their vital signs until medical professionals take over.


Step 1: Check for Danger

Before approaching the person, ensure the area is safe for both you and the unconscious individual. Look out for potential hazards like traffic, fire, or unstable structures.

Step 2: Assess Responsiveness

Tap the person gently and shout loudly to check if they respond. If there is no response, assume they are unconscious and in need of assistance.

Step 3: Call for Help

If you're alone, call for emergency medical help immediately before proceeding with any first aid.

Step 4: Open the Airway

Gently tilt the person's head back and lift their chin upward to open the airway. This helps ensure that the tongue is not blocking the air passage.

Step 5: Extend the Arm

On the side that is facing upward, extend the person's arm that is closest to you. Bend their elbow at a right angle, with the palm facing upward.

Step 6: Cross the Leg

On the same side as the extended arm, bend the person's knee, keeping the foot flat on the ground. This will help stabilize the body in the recovery position.

Step 7: Roll the Person

Carefully roll the person onto their side by gently pulling their hip and shoulder towards you. The top arm can be used to support their head. The person's head should rest on the extended arm, and their top leg should be bent at the right angle to keep them stable.

Step 8: Adjust the Head Position

Ensure the head is tilted back slightly to maintain an open airway.

Step 9: Check for Breathing

Observe the person's chest to confirm that they are breathing normally. If they are not breathing or having difficulty breathing, start CPR immediately and continue until medical help arrives.

Step 10: Monitor Vital Signs

Stay with the person and monitor their vital signs until medical professionals take over. Note any changes in their condition.


Remember, the recovery position is appropriate for individuals who are unconscious but breathing normally. If there is any doubt about the person's condition or if they are not breathing, call for emergency medical help and begin CPR as necessary.

Blood Pressure Category
Systolic (Upper)
Diastolic (Lower)
Health Risks
Less than 120 mm Hg
and Less than 80 mm Hg
Low risk of heart disease or stroke
Maintain healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, no smoking)
120-129 mm Hg
and Less than 80 mm Hg
Doubled risk of cardiovascular complications
Make lifestyle changes (lose weight if overweight, increase physical activity, limit alcohol)
Hypertension Stage 1
130-139 mm Hg
or 80-89 mm Hg
Increased risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease
Lifestyle changes and potentially medication under doctor's guidance
Hypertension Stage 2
140 mm Hg or Higher
or 90 mm Hg or Higher
High risk; can lead to heart failure, vision loss, dementia
Medication required in addition to lifestyle changes as recommended by doctor
Hypertensive Crisis
Higher than 180 mm Hg
nd/or Higher than 120 mm Hg
Immediate danger of life-threatening complications
Seek emergency medical care immediately
Cardiac Arrest
Heart Attack
Sudden loss of heart function, leading to collapse
Blockage in a coronary artery, affecting blood flow to the heart muscle
Interruption of blood flow to the brain, leading to brain damage
Main Cause
Electrical malfunction of the heart
Blockage in coronary arteries
Blockage or rupture of blood vessels in the brain
Circulation Affected
Entire body
Heart muscle
Brain tissue
105Sudden collapse, unconsciousness, no pulse
Chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath
Sudden numbness or weakness, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech/73
Emergency Response
Immediate CPR and defibrillation
Activate emergency medical services, chew aspirin
Activate emergency medical services, FAST assessment (Face, Arms, Speech, Time)
CPR, defibrillation
Thrombolytic therapy, angioplasty, stenting
Thrombolytic therapy, clot retrieval,
Long-term Management
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), medication management
Medication management, lifestyle changes, cardiac rehabilitation
Medication, rehabilitation, lifestyle changes
Dependent on prompt CPR and defibrillation, underlying health conditions
Dependent on extent of heart muscle damage, effectiveness of intervention
Dependent on severity of brain damage, rehabilitation progress
Risk Factors
Previous heart conditions, arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances
Atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, diabetes
Hypertension, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation

What is Recovery Position?

The recovery position is a specific body position used in first aid to place an unconscious or unresponsive person who is breathing but not fully alert. It is designed to maintain an open airway, facilitate drainage of fluids, and prevent complications that can arise from a compromised airway. When applied correctly, the recovery position can significantly reduce the risk of complications and improve the chances of a positive outcome in emergency situations.


In what situations is the recovery position used?

  • When someone is unconscious and breathing, but you cannot wake them up or they do not respond to stimuli, the recovery position is appropriate.
  • The person must be breathing normally on their own. If someone is not breathing or is having difficulty breathing, immediate CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) is required instead.
  • The recovery position is generally suitable for individuals without suspected spinal injuries. If there is a possibility of a spinal injury or neck inury, it's essential to follow appropriate protocols for spinal immobilization.


On which side should an unconscious person be placed in the recovery position?

The recommended side is the left lateral recumbent position. In this position, the person is lying on their left side with the left arm extended, and the left leg bent at a right angle to provide stability. However, there are instances where the right lateral recumbent position might be used instead. The decision may depend on factors such as the person's physical condition, injury, or other considerations. Generally, though, the left lateral recumbent position is the preferred choice when placing an unconscious individual in the recovery position.

Why the Left Side: Understanding the Preference for the Left Lateral Recumbent Position

When placing an unconscious person in the recovery position, the left lateral recumbent position is often recommended. This preference is rooted in several physiological and practical considerations:

  1. Reduced Pressure on the Heart: Lying on the left side can reduce the amount of pressure the unconscious person's organs exert on the heart. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with heart conditions or when heart health is a concern.
  2. Optimal Blood Flow: The left-side position can facilitate better blood flow throughout the body, including critical blood flow to the heart and brain. This is crucial in emergency situations where maintaining optimal circulation is a priority.
  3. Digestive Advantages: The stomach is positioned slightly to the left of the body. Placing a person on their left side can aid in preventing regurgitation and aspiration, which is the inhalation of stomach contents into the lungs – a significant risk in unconscious individuals.
  4. General Medical Practice: In many medical scenarios, the left side positioning is a standard practice. This consistency helps in emergency situations, ensuring a familiar and widely understood approach.


Right vs. Left Lateral Position: Comparing the Two Positions in Emergency First Aid

While the left lateral position is generally preferred, there are situations where the right lateral position might be more suitable:

  • Injury Considerations: If the person has injuries on the left side of their body, such as fractures or wounds, placing them on their right side may be more appropriate to avoid exacerbating these injuries.
  • Medical Devices or Conditions: Certain medical conditions or the presence of medical devices (like a feeding tube on the left side) might necessitate placing the person on their right side.
  • Assessment and Comfort: The decision can also depend on the responder's assessment of the situation and the unconscious person's comfort. For instance, if the person is found lying on their right side and appears stable, it might be safer to maintain that position.
  • Flexibility in Emergency Situations: Ultimately, the most important factor in an emergency is to ensure the person is in a stable lateral position that keeps the airway open and allows for fluid drainage. Whether this is on the left or right side can be secondary to these immediate concerns.

The Purpose of the Recovery Position in Emergency Situations

  1. Airway Management: The primary purpose of the recovery position is to ensure that the person's airway remains open and unobstructed. When unconscious, the muscles in the throat may relax, causing the tongue to fall back and block the airway. The recovery position helps to prevent this, allowing air to flow freely in and out of the lungs.
  2. Preventing Aspiration: Placing someone in the recovery position helps to reduce the risk of aspiration. Aspiration occurs when stomach contents or other fluids are inhaled into the lungs, leading to respiratory distress and potential complications like pneumonia.
  3. Drainage of Fluids: If a person is vomiting or has blood in their mouth, the recovery position enables any fluids to drain away from the airway, minimizing the risk of choking or inhaling those substances.
  4. Comfort and Stability: The recovery position ensures that the person is lying on their side, providing a stable and secure position while reducing the likelihood of them rolling onto their back or stomach, which could obstruct their airway.


Physiological Benefits of Recovery Position

The recovery position ensures the safety and well-being of an unconscious person who is breathing and has a pulse. Below are the benefits and advantages of placing someone in the recovery position:

  • Airway Management: The foremost advantage of the recovery position is the maintenance of a clear and open airway. When a person is unconscious, muscle relaxation can cause the tongue to block the air passage. Side positioning helps keep the airway open, ensuring that the person can breathe without obstruction.
  • Prevention of Aspiration: In an unconscious state, there's a risk of vomiting or regurgitation, which can lead to aspiration – where stomach contents are inhaled into the lungs. This can cause choking or serious lung infections like aspiration pneumonia. The recovery position, by keeping the person on their side, allows fluids to drain out of the mouth, significantly reducing this risk.
  • Enhanced Circulation: Lying on the side helps maintain better blood circulation throughout the body. This is particularly important in emergency situations where circulation may be compromised. It ensures that vital organs, especially the brain and heart, continue to receive an adequate blood supply.
  • Reduced Pressure on Organs: Side positioning can relieve pressure on the internal organs. When lying on the back, the weight of these organs can compress against each other, potentially affecting their function. The side position alleviates this pressure.
  • Safety and Comfort: For an unconscious person, the recovery position is safer than lying on the back or stomach. It prevents them from rolling into a position that could obstruct the airway or cause injury. Additionally, it provides a degree of comfort and dignity, avoiding the risks associated with lying face down.
  • Ease of Monitoring: In the recovery position, it's easier for first responders or bystanders to monitor the person's breathing and overall condition. This position allows for clear observation of the chest and abdomen, making it simpler to detect any changes or distress.
  • Flexibility in Emergency Response: The recovery position can be adapted based on the individual's specific needs, injuries, or medical conditions. This flexibility makes it a universally applicable technique in a wide range of emergency scenarios.



Through which first aid courses can one learn the correct recovery position?

You can learn the correct recovery position through various first aid courses and training programs. These courses, offered by organizations like the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, St. John Ambulance, and others, cover essential first aid techniques, including placing an unconscious person in the recovery position. 

Online first aid courses are available for theoretical knowledge, but hands-on practice is crucial for proficiency. Obtaining first aid certification demonstrates the ability to respond effectively to emergencies, ensuring proper use of the recovery position and other life-saving skills.

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Blood Pressure Chart by Age

Age Group
Min Systolic/Diastolic
Normal Range
Max Systolic/Diastolic
1-12 months
Consult pediatrician if outside normal range. Cuff sizing is critical.
1-5 years
High BP in children may indicate underlying condition. Lifestyle factors.
6-13 years
Obesity, family history increase risk. Promote healthy habits early.
14-19 years
Adolescent rise normal. Rule out secondary causes if elevated.
20-24 years
Stressors, medications may impact. Start monitoring if high-normal.
25-29 years
Dietary changes, exercise for elevated readings. Birth control effects.
30-39 years
110/77 - 111/78
122/81 - 123/82
134/85 - 135/86
Monitor closely if readings increasing with age.
40-49 years
112/79 - 115/80
125/83 - 127/84
137/87 - 139/88
Lifestyle changes proven to reduce hypertension risk.
50-64 years
116/81 - 121/83
129/85 - 134/87
142/89 - 147/91
White coat effect common. Home monitoring advised.
65+ years
130+ Systolic Risk
Frailty, medications, conditions factored in management.