An Article by Worsley Training – First Aid Training in and around Wiltshire
The recovery position or The safe airway position?
Why do we roll unconscious casualties, who are breathing normally, onto their side? It is not so that they recover but to keep their airway safe, so the name is rather misleading.
Having done your DrABC checks (Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing and Circulation) and ensured someone has called 999, your casualty may stop breathing normally if left lying on their back. This is because 2 things can block their airway – their tongue and any fluids coming up their throat.
Your tongue is a huge muscle that fills up most of your jaw. It is impossible to ‘swallow your tongue’ as it can’t invert and go down your throat, but all muscles go floppy when you are unconscious, so the tongue can fall into the back of your mouth and block the airway. Also, any fluids which may come up their throat e.g. vomit, saliva, blood, bile, can pool in the back of the mouth and block the airway. So this is why we roll unconscious casualties onto their sides, and as long as they are in a stable position so they don’t roll back again, it doesn’t matter where their arms and legs are. When you faint, you rarely end up flat on your back, so check DrABC in the position that you find them and then:
- tilt the head back, to extend the jaw which ensures the tongue is away from the back of the throat,
- and also tilt the head downwards towards the floor, so that the back of the neck is higher than the front of the mouth and any fluids will drain out of their mouth as opposed to causing them to drown. If they have their hand under their head then you may need to remove it to get the correct angle. Likewise if they are wearing glasses.
- Then your casualty is in a safe airway position
If possible, place pregnant women on their left side as otherwise the large vein near the uterus may get compressed.
If you suspect a spinal injury and the airway is compromised then you must roll them over – remember ‘life over limb’. Get help and perform a log roll to keep the head and spine aligned.
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