The recovery position 

If a person is unconscious but is breathing and has no other life-threatening conditions, they should be placed in the recovery position.

Putting someone in the recovery position will ensure their airway remains clear and open. It also ensures that any vomit or fluid will not cause them to choke.

To place someone in the recovery position:

  • kneel on the floor on one side of the person
  • place the arm nearest you at a right angle to their body with their hand upwards towards the head
  • tuck their other hand under the side of their head, so that the back of their hand is touching their cheek
  • bend the knee farthest from you to a right angle
  • roll the person onto their side carefully by pulling on the bent knee
  • the top arm should be supporting the head and the bottom arm will stop you rolling them too far
  • open their airway by gently tilting their head back and lifting their chin, and check that nothing is blocking their airway
  • stay with the person and monitor their breathing and pulse continuously until help arrives
  • if their injuries allow you to, turn the person onto their other side after 30 minutes

Spinal injury

If you think a person may have a spinal injury, do not attempt to move them until the emergency services reach you, unless their airway is obstructed.

If it is necessary to open their airway, place your hands on either side of their face and gently lift their jaw with your fingertips to open the airway. Take care not to move their neck.

You should suspect a spinal injury if the person:

  • has a head injury, especially one where there has been a large blow on the back of the head, and is or has been unconscious
  • complains of severe pain in their neck or back
  • won't move their neck
  • feels weak, numb or paralysed
  • has lost control of their limbs, bladder or bowels
  • has a twisted neck or back

If you must move the person (for example, because they are vomiting, choking or they are in danger of further injury), you will need assistance to roll them.

How to put someone into the recovery position

This video provides a step-by-step guide on how to put someone into the recovery position.

Media last reviewed: 16/07/2014

Next review due: 16/07/2016

If your child has an accident

How to deal with accidents and injuries, including cuts and broken bones

Page last reviewed: 17/02/2014

Next review due: 17/02/2016