First Aid: Choking Relief with Chest Thrusts & Back Blows

A distressed Asian woman sits at a table, clutching her throat with both hands as she chokes on a burger lodged in her throat while eating.

Choking incidents can be frightening; knowing the proper first aid techniques could mean a difference between life and death. Choking is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths worldwide.

This blog will guide you on effectively performing chest thrusts and back blows for choking relief in line with Australian Resuscitation Council guidelines. Keep reading to arm yourself with essential knowledge that might save a life one day!

Key Takeaways

  • Choking happens when something blocks the airway, making breathing hard and potentially dangerous.
  • Symptoms of choking include coughing or gasping for air, difficulty breathing, clutching the throat, and a bluish colour on the lips or face.
  • To perform chest thrusts for choking relief: stand behind the person, make a fist with one hand above their navel, grasp your fist with your other hand, and give firm upward thrusts until they can breathe again. (See Photo)
  • To perform back blows for choking relief: position yourself behind the person and deliver quick blows between their shoulder blades using the heel of your hand. Seek medical help afterwards, even if they seem fine. (See Photo)

Understanding Choking and Its Symptoms

Choking is a condition where the airway is blocked, causing difficulty in breathing and potential danger to the person affected.

What is choking?

Choking happens when something gets stuck in your throat. It might be food, a toy or anything that can block air from entering your lungs. You can’t breathe well and may not make any sound at all.

If this happens, you need help immediately because it can be hazardous.

Symptoms of choking

Choking happens when something gets stuck in the throat and blocks the airway. Here are the symptoms to look out for:

A person in distress, clutching their throat with both hands, experiencing a choking incident.
A moment of panic: Someone experiences a choking incident.
  • Coughing or gasping for air
  • Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
  • Wheezing or high-pitched noises when inhaling
  • Clutching the throat or showing signs of distress
  • Bluish colour on the lips, face, or nails
  • Inability to speak or make sounds
  • Loss of consciousness

First Aid Steps for Choking Relief

The peak body in Australia that provides guidelines and recommendations for performing first aid techniques, including five x back blows and five x chest thrusts for a person choking is the Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC).

The ARC is a nationally recognised organisation that sets standards and guidelines for resuscitation and first aid procedures in Australia. They provide evidence-based guidelines for healthcare professionals and the general public during emergencies such as choking incidents. They recommend performing five sharp chest thrusts and five x sharp back blows, which are crucial first-aid steps for relieving choking & potentially saving someone’s life. (Click here to see the flow chart recommended by The Australian Resuscitation Council).

Chest thrust technique

To perform the chest thrust technique for choking relief, follow these steps. Stand behind the person who is choking and lean them forward slightly. Make a fist with one hand and place it above their navel, thumb side in.

Grasp your fist with your other hand and give quick inward and upward thrusts, repeating until the object is expelled or the person can breathe again. Be sure only to apply pressure to the lower sternum.

This method can help remove blockages from someone’s airway in a choking emergency.

Back blow technique

To perform the back blow technique for choking relief, start by positioning yourself slightly behind the choking person and using the heel of your hand. Deliver firm and quick blows between their shoulder blades.

Make sure to support their head and neck while doing so. Repeat this motion up to five times until the blockage is dislodged, and they can breathe again. It’s essential to seek medical help after performing this technique, even if the person seems fine, as underlying injuries or complications may need further attention.

Remember always to prioritise safety precautions during any choking relief procedures.


Performing Chest Thrusts and Back Blows

The diagram below shows how the experienced first aider approaches the situation. They stand in front of the choking person while their back is against the wall. The first aider delivers five sharp thrusts to the lower part of the sternum. Each thrust is followed by a 3 to 5-second pause to allow the choking victim a chance to respond with a cough.

Step-by-step instructions for chest thrust

A person receiving chest thrusts from a trained responder during a choking emergency.
A trained responder administers chest thrusts to assist a person in choking.


Performing a chest thrust can help relieve choking. Here’s how to do it:

        1. Stand in a position where you can get some leverage on the person’s chest. Such as in front of the person as they lean on a wall.
        2. Place the heel of the palm of your hand on the person’s lower sternum.
        3. give them a firm, upward thrust into their sternum. After the initial thrust, wait 2 to 5 seconds. Listen for a response. Are they coughing?
        4. Repeat for five thrusts until the object blocking their airway is dislodged, or they can breathe again.
        5. After each thrust, check if they are still choking and continue if necessary.

Step-by-step instructions for back blows.

A person receiving back blows from a trained responder during a choking emergency.
A trained responder administers back blows to help someone in a choking emergency.

If the chest thrusts are not successful, they start performing back blows. Here is how to do it:

  1. Position yourself behind the choking person, ensuring you have a firm footing.
  2. Lean the person forward slightly to create an angle that will aid in dislodging the object.
  3. Grab the person around the chest. Similar to the diagram opposite.
  4. Deliver sharp and upward thrusts with the heel of the palm of your hand onto the person’s upper back, between their shoulder blades. Could you perform each thrust with enough force to help dislodge the obstruction?
  5. After each back blow, check if the choking object has been expelled from their airway or if they can now breathe properly.
  6. If the object is still blocking their airway or they remain unable to breathe, repeat steps 1 – 6 until professional medical help arrives or until they can breathe normally.


Importance of Seeking Medical Help and Safety Precautions

Call emergency services immediately if you think the persons life is in danger. Also, it is crucial to adhere to safety precautions during choking relief procedures to avoid causing harm or exacerbating the situation.

When to call emergency services

If someone is choking and unable to breathe or talk, it is essential to call triple zero (000) immediately.  Emergency services are trained to handle these situations and can provide immediate assistance.

Even if you can dislodge the blockage and the person seems fine, it is still a good idea to seek medical help as there may be underlying injuries or complications that need attention.

In addition, if the person choking starts turning bluebecomes unconscious, or their condition worsens despite your efforts, calling emergency services is crucial. These signs indicate a serious situation that requires professional intervention.

Safety precautions to keep in mind during choking relief procedures

During choking relief procedures, it is essential to take certain safety precautions to ensure the well-being of the person in distress. Here are some basic safety precautions to keep in mind:

  1. Stay calm and focused throughout the situation.
  2. Assess the severity of the choking. If the person can cough or speak, encourage them to do so.
  3. Ensure you have clear access to the person’s airway and remove any objects that may obstruct it.
  4. Position yourself behind the person and provide support by placing one hand on their chest or back.
  5.  Use gentle but firm pressure to dislodge the obstruction when performing chest thrusts or back blows.
  6. Avoid using excessive force as it may cause harm.
  7. Be aware of your surroundings and ensure there is enough space for you to perform the techniques safely.
  8. Do not attempt to perform these techniques if unsure or untrained.
  9. If the person becomes unconscious at any point during the procedure, initiate CPR and call emergency services immediately.


In conclusion, knowing how to perform chest thrusts and back blows appropriately can be crucial in providing effective choking relief. By following the step-by-step instructions and understanding the symptoms of choking, you can be better prepared to respond in a choking emergency.

Always seek medical help if needed and prioritise safety precautions during these procedures.


1. What is the best way to give chest thrusts and back blows for choking relief?

The effective method for choking relief involves performing the Heimlich maneuver or abdominal thrusts, followed by shoulder blade blows.

2. How do you perform chest thrusts on a baby?

To give a baby chest thrust, hold the baby with their face down along your thigh while gently thumping their back between shoulder blades.

3. Are there any Australian Guidelines on how to help someone who’s choking?

Yes, there are clear step-by-step instructions from Australian first aid recommendations that guide in carrying out lifesaving measures like proper execution of chest thrust and back blows during a choking emergency.

4. Can I use these techniques on adults as well?

Absolutely! The same procedures in chest thrush and back blow apply to babies and adults experiencing blockage relief emergencies.

5. What should be done after a choking incident?

After providing immediate first aid for choking relief via compression position tactics or resuscitation techniques, it’s crucial to get professional medical support regardless of whether the blockage has been relieved.


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