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All forms of the recovery position share basic principles. The mouth is downward so that vomit or blood can drain from the patient; the chin is well up to keep the epiglottis opened. Arms and legs are locked as to stabilise the position of the patient

The recovery position, more technically the lateral recumbent position, is an airway management technique for assisting people who are unconscious, or nearly so, but are still breathing. It is frequently taught alongside CPR in first aid.

An unconscious person (GCS <8) cannot be trusted to maintain his or her own breathing. Many fatalities occur where the original injury or illness which caused unconsciousness is not inherently fatal, but where the unconscious person suffocates for one of these reasons. This is a common cause of death following unconsciousness due to excessive consumption of alcohol.

When an unconscious person is lying face upwards, there are two main risk factors which can lead to suffocation: Fluids, possibly blood but particularly vomit, can collect in the back of the throat, causing the person to drown. When a person is lying face up, the esophagus tilts down slightly from the stomach toward the throat. This, combined with loss of muscular control, can lead to the stomach contents flowing into the throat, called passive regurgitation. Fluid which collects in the back of the throat can also flow down into the lungs; stomach acid can attack the inner lining of the lungs and cause aspiration pneumonia.

It's possible to achieve limited protection of the airway by tilting the head back and lifting the jaw. An unconscious person will not remain in this position unless held constantly, and crucially it does not safeguard against risks due to fluids. In the recovery position, the force of gravity will allow any fluids to drain. The chest is also elevated from the ground, making breathing easier.

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When to use the recovery position

The recovery position is recommended for any unconscious person who does not need CPR, those who are too inebriated to assure their own continued breathing, victims of drowning, and also for victims of suspected poisoning (who are liable to become unconscious).

Putting a victim in the recovery position

Checking carotidian pulse in recovery position after initial assessment and while waiting for arrival of emergency services.

Before using the Recovery Position, perform the preliminary first aid steps. First assess whether the scene is safe for the rescuer. If not, leave. Assess whether the person is responsive to your voice by asking something like "hey, buddy, are you OK?". If not, assess whether the person responds to painful stimulus by rubbing their sternum with your knuckles (this is not accepted practice in some countries). Assess whether the victim has an open airway, is breathing and has a pulse ("airway, breathing, and circulation" or "ABC"). If the victim is alert and an adult, obtain consent before performing first aid. For children, attempt to obtain consent from a parent, guardian, or other responsible caregiver. If the victim is not alert, and is not breathing, check for a pulse. If there is no pulse, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. If there is circulation, perform rescue breathing. The initial assessment should be done quickly, in a minute or less. Before you perform any of this, however, alert trained emergency medical personnel. Call the emergency telephone number or other emergency services.

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If no spinal or neck injury is indicated

The correct position is called the "lateral recovery position."[1] Start with the victim lying on the back and with the legs straight out. Kneel on one side of the victim, facing the victim. Move the arm closest to you so it is perpendicular to the body, with the elbow flexed (perpendicular). Move the farthest arm across the body so that the hand is resting across the torso.

Bend the leg farthest from you so the knee is elevated. Reach inside (preferably the outside of the knee, grasping clothing) the knee to pull the thigh toward you. Use the other arm to pull the shoulder that is farthest from you. Roll the body toward you. Leave the upper leg in a flexed position to stabilize the body.

Victims who are left in this position for long periods may experience nerve compression. Still, that is a more desirable outcome for the victim than choking to death.

If spinal or neck injuries are possible

When the injury is apparently the result of an accidental fall, collision or other trauma, the risk of spinal or neck injuries should be assumed. Movement of spinal-injured victims runs the risk of causing permanent paralysis or other such injuries, and is best left to trained medical personnel.[2] They should be moved to a recovery position only when it is necessary to drain vomit from the airway.

In such instances, the correct position is called the "HAINES modified recovery position" (High Arm IN Endangered Spine.) In this modification, one of the patient's arms is raised above the head (in full abduction) to support the head and neck.[3][4] There is less neck movement (and less degree of lateral angulation) than when the lateral recovery position is used, and, therefore, HAINES use carries less risk of spinal-cord damage.[5]

If an individual has suffered a fall or injuries that suggest damage to the spine, as a first aider the priority is to keep the airway open. If breathing, position should not be changed. If breathing has stopped, regardless of possible injury to the person, perform standard checks: DR & ABC (Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing, Circulation)and then move them into the recovery position to open the airway. If they do not start breathing, begin CPR. If they begin to breathe, keep them in that position.

Pregnant victims

A pregnant woman should always rest on her left side, as lying on the right side may cause the uterus to compress the Inferior vena cava, possibly resulting in death.

Victims with torso wounds

A victim with torso wounds should be placed with the wounds closest to the ground to minimize the possibility of blood affecting both lungs, resulting in asphyxiation.

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