Patient Positioning



    Someone in the supine position is lying on his or her back.


    Someone in the prone position is lying face down.

Right Lateral Recumbent

    The Right lateral recumbent, or RLR, means that the patient is lying on their right side.

Left Lateral Recumbent

    The left lateral recumbent, or LLR, means that the patient is lying on their left side.

Fowler's Position

    A person in the Fowler's position is sitting straight up or leaning slightly back. Their legs may either be straight or bent.  A ‘high fowlers’ position is somewhat who is sitting upright.  A ‘low fowlers’ position is someone whose head is only slightly elevated.

Trendelenberg Position

    A person in the Trendelenberg position is lying supine with their head slightly lower than their feet.


    Abduction is movement away from the midline, or to abduct.


    Adduction is movement toward the midline, or to add.


    Flexion is to bend at a joint, or to reduce the angle.


    Extension is to straighten at a joint, or to increase the angle, for example, from 90 degrees to 180 degrees.

Medial Rotation

    Medial rotation is to turn inward.

Lateral Rotation

    Lateral rotation is to turn outward.


    Supination is to rotate the forearm so that the palm faces forward.


    Pronation is to rotate the forearm so that the palm faces backward.

Tripod Position

Child assuming tripod position. (Illustration by Jason M. McAlexander, MFA. Copyright © 2007 Wild Iris Medical Education.)

One position that the (quite wonderful) site does not mention is the ‘tripod’ position.

When people sit like this - with their hands on their knees and their elbows out, leaning forward - it's because they are very short of breath and struggling to get enough air. 

There's a big difference between someone who is just 'sitting', which we will often describe as 'sitting comfortably', and someone who is 'tripoding'.

Any patient who is tripoding is struggling to breath, and that should worry you.

Incidentally, here's a clinical pearl for you.  If you find a patient sitting high fowlers with their legs crossed it's a pretty good sign that they are not in any distress.  Don't take that as an unbreakable law or anything - but many clinicians have noticed over the years that folks who are really in trouble don't lie back with their legs crossed.  Usually, only people who are relaxed do that.


The images and most of the text on this page were taken from in April 2008.