When Should You Move an Injured Person?

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When Should You Move an Injured Person?

One of the most dangerous threats to an injured person is unnecessary movement. Moving an injured person can cause additional injury and pain, and may complicate the victim’s recovery. Generally, you shouldn’t move an injured person while treating them. If at all possible, wait for trained first responders so you don’t cause the victim more harm.

However, there are certain circumstances where it becomes absolutely necessary to move an injured person away from the scene. If you witnessed or were involved in an accident where someone was injured, would you know whether it’s safe to move that person for immediate treatment or if it’s better to leave them where they are until emergency responders arrive?

In this article, I will help you learn what to do if you find yourself in a situation where you have to move an injured person to safety.


What should you do first?

Anytime you see an accident or an injured person, dialing 911 immediately is the key to getting help there as soon as possible. As you wait for help to arrive, there are some things you can do to help the injured person remain calm, while also keeping yourself safe.

Before you go towards an accident or an injured person, make sure the area is safe to enter. You don’t want to get injured or killed by rushing into an unsafe environment to help someone else.

If the area is safe, proceed to the injured person and try to keep him or her calm and still:

  • Talk to them and explain what has happened.
  • Let them know that they need to stay still so they don’t cause further harm or injury to themselves.
  • Tell them that you will be with them until help arrives.
  •  Always be on the lookout for safety hazards. If things change and the situation becomes unsafe, you may need to move yourself and the injured person to a safe location and wait for help to arrive.

When to move someone

If someone has minor injuries or seems like they’re not hurt at all, they could most likely move themselves to safety.  But if they seem confused, complain of back or neck pain, have severe abdominal pain, or are bleeding, it’s best to wait for first responders.

However, there are definitely times when the injured person needs to be moved to prevent further harm. These could include:

  • When they are faced with immediate danger, such as an unsafe accident scene or traffic hazards, fire, lack of oxygen, risk of explosion, or a collapsing structure.
  • When you have to get to another person who may have more serious injuries. You may have to move a person with minor injuries to reach someone needing immediate care.
  • When it’s necessary to give proper care. For example, if someone needed CPR, they need to be moved from a bed or couch because CPR needs to be performed on a firm, flat surface.

How to move them

If someone needs to be moved, try not to bend or twist them if possible. When they are lying on the ground, grab their shirt at the top of the shoulders, and using your forearms to cradle their head, pull their shirt to drag them in a straight line to a safe location.


When Should you move an injured person? Photo courtesy of wikihow.com

 You can also drag them by their feet—make sure you drag them in a straight line.  If they have back or neck pain, you need to keep them flat and straight. Make sure their neck and spine are as straight as possible, so you can move them to safety without further injury.

If there happens to be something hard, like a piece of wood, you can log roll the patient onto the object to carry them to safety. A log roll is a move used to turn an injured patient from back to side without flexing the spinal column. The trick is to keep the person’s spine straight while placing them on the wood. This technique requires 3 to 4 people—one person to hold the head and neck straight, while the other two to three people roll the body onto the wood.


When Should you move an injured person?

Photo courtesy of wikihow.com

The person at the head will count to three, and all individuals will roll the patient on their side towards them at the same time as the person at the head turns the head to maintain the alignment with the body. Once the person is placed on something hard, the person at the head will again count and roll the person onto their back.


Human Nature

Most people are equipped with an internal need to give compassion and help others when they are sad, don’t feel good, or are hurt.  Even though these are great emotions to have, there are times when they could cause more harm than good to an injured person.

A mother’s first instinct when a child is hurt is to run to them and pick them up to offer comfort. But what if that child had been hit by a car, or fell from a tree or window and is seriously hurt? Picking up a child up or moving them could cause severe damage or unfortunate outcomes.  Many of us don’t think about the consequences that moving an injured person could have if an accident happens. In the moment, we just want to offer comfort and make them feel secure.

I would never fault a mother or any family member for running to an injured child and picking them up after something like this happens. But I hope that after reading this article, it will always be in the back of your mind, and that it might trigger something in you, so that if you are ever put into this type of situation you will remember not to move a person unless it’s absolutely necessary. The best thing you can do is remain composed and try to keep them as still and calm as possible. If you do this until emergency personnel arrive, you won’t risk further injury.

Unfortunately, good outcomes don’t always happen despite the most professional care and all the advances of medicine. But we don’t want to complicate an injury by doing the wrong thing and moving someone when it isn’t necessary.

We hope you never have to use this skill, but it’s worth thinking about (and even practicing), just in case.


Have you ever had to move an injured person? What was your experience?


11 Responses

  • I’ve never had to move an injured victim, but I did once convince other bystanders not to move one. He was upside-down in an overturned vehicle, and if anyone had cut the seat belts loose he would have fallen on his head and could have received a very serious neck injury. What is amazing in retrospect is that nobody on the scene — including me — was thinking clearly enough to realize what would happen if we released the seat belts. Under the stress of the situation, all I remembered was "don’t move the victim" but that was good enough. Boy was I glad when the paramedics arrived to take over!

  • My daughter had a seizure for the first time right after her first birthday. She had never gone through this before and it was the first time for me too. All of a sudden, during the seizure she stopped breathing. Within two minutes her lips were blue then her whole face was blue. I knew CPR and checked her for any foreign objects in her mouth. Nothing, not even a trace of food. So I did mouth to mouth resuscitation and she started breathing. At that moment the paramedics arrived and was in transport to the hospital when her breathing became raspy. When she was checked out at the hospital they said she had vomited during her seizure and it was lodged in her throat. I was totally unaware of this. If I had waited for the paramedics to arrive she would have gone ten minutes without oxygen. I still think I made the right decision. Later we found out that she had breath holding spells, which was the cause of the seizure because all of the oxygen was expanded out of her lungs. The vomiting was an unusual case and never happened again to her. She is now 32 years old and shows no signs if injury from the trauma. I will always be prepared for emergencies!

    • Kim,
      Thanks for sharing that amazing story about how you acted fast to save your daughter’s life. I think the same message applies to moving an injured person–you have to think quickly and rationally to do what’s best for the injured person, even if that means not moving them until professional help arrives.


  • I work at a peanut roasting plant and there are bags storing raw peanuts that weigh 2000# – 2200#. Double stacked (one on top of another) in rows on the “Raw Production” area floor. The emergency came when a lower bag sitting upon its pallet was punctured (assuming by forklift fork, {the common cause} when staging the bags) and started losing its contents. The (soon to be injured personnel) began trying to plug the hole and soon found himself trapped beneath the top bag that leaned over on him taking him quickly to the floor. I found him face down, his head and right arm barley seen from beneath the bag, trembling. We are in an isle created by the rows of staged, still upright bags of peanuts. The forklift was to his rear and other personnel at his rear like I was on the other side at his head. I immediately began by shouting let’s get this of him to the nearest employee who was allowing the forklift to inch in as we proceeded to lace 2 of the 4 lift loops on the right fork and the driver then lifting the bag of the victim. The victim, although uncovered is still in harm’s way because we don’t have the bag securely, one loop is inches from slipping off the tip end of the fork. So I then decided to slide the victim forward out from under the bag, rolled him over to his back, and while supporting his head watched as shallow breaths gradually began to deepen to what appeared and sounded like normal aspiration. Paramedics soon arrived taking him to the emergency room. All employees present attended a meeting where we were told the guidelines such as those given herein about not moving the injured. I struggle with this today in this incident because I feel that what I did was necessary to the victim’s well-being and current state. Which is nothing broken or fractured. But his hips where spread like that of a pregnant female as she nears labor and during but his spreading was in a very short amount of time..

  • I appreciate it when you said that there are times when it is not necessary to pick the person up or move them as it can exacerbate their injury. In case something like that happens, what am I supposed to do? Maybe it is important that I have contact with a medical transportation expert or something. I just want to be sure because I failed to help an injured person once, I do not want it to happen again.

    • If you’re in a situation where you cannot move the victim due to potential injuries, the best course of action is to stay with the individual until first responders arrive. While you’re waiting, ensure their airway isn’t constricted, they can breathe on their own, and any bleeding is addressed. Everyone should consider basic first aid training and perhaps CPR training as a part of their preparedness planning.

  • I had no idea that if you do move an injured person, that it’s best to drag them in a safe line. My brother was recently injured from an auto accident and I had no idea who to move him. He broke his legs and we are bringing him home soon. We will need some equipment like a wheelchair for him, so we plan on looking for a company that has medical equipment.

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