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How to Help A Person Change Position Safely

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

A change of position can take pressure off the skin and keep blood flowing. The person's risk for bedsores and blood clots is lower if he or she moves often. Examples of a change in position is shifting weight in a wheelchair or scooting up in bed. A bedridden person may be independent (needing minimal help) or totally dependent. Safe techniques can help protect the person and you from injury and falls.


General safety precautions:

  • Use correct form. It is important to protect your lower back when you help a person change position. Do not stretch your back or turn at your waist during a move. Keep your body in a straight line, with a straight back and bent knees. Your head and chest should be up and straight. Keep your feet a little wider than your shoulder width. Stand close to the person so you do not have to reach too far during the move. Keep the person's head, torso, and legs in line during the move.
  • Move the person safely. The person's arms should be crossed over his or her chest before a move. This will help protect you and prevent the person's arm from becoming trapped beneath him or her. Do not let the person wrap his or her arms around your neck or back. The person will hang too much weight on you. This can injure your back or neck. Do not pull the person up in bed by the arms. Always slide the person's body.
  • Ask for help if needed. Ask the person to help as much as possible. Ask someone to help you if needed. You and your helpers can count out loud to 3 to coordinate efforts.
  • Move the person smoothly, without sudden movements. Quick changes in position can cause falls, injuries, or pain. You can also tear the person's skin if a movement is too quick or forceful.
  • Use the right device to help the person change positions safely. Equipment includes slide sheets to change position and air mattresses to shift the person's weight. The person can also use an overhead trapeze to adjust his or her position in bed. The person's healthcare provider can suggest devices or equipment that are right for the person.

Before you help the person change position:

  • Check the person for pain or other problems. A position change can cause pain or make pain worse. The person may need to take his or her pain medicine before the change. Check the person's skin for sores, redness, or other problems. You may need to cover the skin with a bandage to prevent it from tearing.
  • Gather extra pillows. Pillows can be placed behind the person and between his or her knees for comfort and support.
  • Look around the area. Move anything you might trip over. Wear shoes with nonslip soles.
  • Secure all medical equipment on or near the person. You may need to move or secure tubes, medicine pumps, or monitors. Make sure nothing will come loose or break when you move the person. Do not remove any equipment from the person unless the person's healthcare provider tells you to.

After you help the person change position:

  • Make sure the person is comfortable. The person should not be in a position that cuts off circulation or is uncomfortable. You may need to adjust the person's position. You also may need to add or adjust pillows.
  • Help the person sit with his or her back resting against the back of the chair. If the person is in a wheelchair, place his or her feet and arms on the chair rests.
  • Check all medical equipment to make sure it is running correctly. Make sure any alarms are turned on. Check for tubes or other equipment that needs to be adjusted after the move.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.