What Are Abdominal Thrusts And When To Use It

Abdominal thrusts are a life-saving technique that bystanders and first responders alike can use to treat choking victims.

When someone is choking, you need to spring into action quickly to help them. Every moment counts. The longer that the object stays lodged in their throat, the more dangerous the situation becomes. You have to dislodge the object and help restore normal breathing, but what should you do? One effective treatment for choking is abdominal thrusts.

Abdominal thrusts are a life-saving technique that bystanders and first responders alike can use to treat choking victims. An abdominal thrust means that a rescuer delivers a quick but strong thrust to a choking victim’s abdomen to help force the object out of their throat.

What Are Abdominal Thrusts?

Abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich maneuver, are a first-aid technique used to treat conscious choking victims in which the rescuer delivers thrusts to a patient’s upper abdominal region. This motion pushes air from the lungs up through the throat to dislodge foreign objects and treat upper airway obstructions.

Abdominal thrusts are relatively simple to perform and don’t require any equipment or extensive training. Once you learn the proper technique and abdominal thrust hand placement, anyone can perform them. They’re a quick and accessible way to help a choking victim.

However, there is a misconception that abdominal thrusts are too dangerous and could harm the victim. While there is potential for an abdominal thrust to cause injury, they are a life-saving maneuver that is approved by medical experts and can be used to help a choking patient.

The History of Abdominal Thrusts

The abdominal thrust was first brought up as a treatment for choking in 1974 by Dr. Henry Heimlich. He created the maneuver after realizing that air in the lungs could be used to dislodge an object stuck in a choking victim’s throat. Eventually, it was adopted by the medical community, and today, it is recognized by the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross as an effective method to stop choking.

When To Use Abdominal Thrusts

Abdominal thrusts should be used when the victim is choking but still conscious. You can even perform abdominal thrusts on yourself if you are alone and choking. They are not recommended for infants, pregnant patients, or unconscious patients. Abdominal thrusts can be performed on children over 1 year old and adults, but note that the technique varies slightly for young victims.

You should not use abdominal thrusts unconscious patients or infants. For pregnant patients, perform the abdominal thrusts above the baby bump.

How to Perform Abdominal Thrusts

Proper technique is essential in order to successfully unblock the patient’s airway. You’ll need to know the correct location and hand placement to perform abdominal thrusts.

To give an abdominal thrust, you should:

  • Stand behind the patient and wrap your arms around them.
  • Place your fist, thumb side in, just above the person’s navel (belly button). Then, put your other hand over it and begin delivering abdominal thrusts.
  • Squeeze the patient’s abdomen in an upward motion and allow for recoil completely and minimize interruptions between each thrust.
  • Perform abdominal thrusts until the object is removed or patient goes unconscious.

If the victim is under 5 years of age or weighs less than 45 pounds, you’ll likely need to kneel behind the child instead of standing up to ensure correct abdominal thrust hand placement. You can also use less forceful thrusts than you would with an older or larger patient.

FAQs about Abdominal Thrusts

The Heimlich maneuver was replaced by abdominal thrusts in the 2006 guidelines by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association.

The abdominal thrust maneuver should not be performed on unconscious patients (who should receive chest compressions) or infants (who should receive backslaps).

Abdominal thrusts are not part of CPR, but sometimes they are used in conjunction with CPR. If a patient becomes unconscious during abdominal thrusts, the rescuer will switch from abdominal thrusts to chest compressions and CPR.

Abdominal thrusts can be painful, but that doesn’t mean you should hesitate to deliver them if a patient is choking. While an injury from abdominal thrusts is not ideal, it’s much better than the alternative.

Learn CPR with SureFire CPR

Want to learn more about abdominal thrusts and other life-saving topics? Sign up for a CPR course with SureFire CPR! Our intro CPR class is ideal for laypeople interested in learning emergency aid, including CPR, AED use, and how to treat choking victims. If you’re a current or future healthcare provider, take our BLS for healthcare professionals course, a more in-depth look geared for industry personnel.

To find out more, contact us today through our online contact form or give us a call at (888) 277-3143.


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About the author

I spent 15 years as a firefighter and paramedic...

And too often I would arrive on the scene of someone unconscious, surrounded by a circle of people feeling helpless. Sometimes those people would even have CPR training but lacked the confidence and experience to act.

That’s why I started SureFire CPR. Our classes are practical and engaging – teaching you the crucial skills you need to know what to do and feel empowered to take action.

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Zack Zarrilli, Founder

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