The Heimlich maneuver is an emergency first-aid technique to dislodge a foreign object, such as food, from a person’s airway to prevent choking and suffocation, MedlinePlus states. As of 2015, the technique is considered safe for most adults and children over the age of 1.
Individuals can perform the Heimlich maneuver on themselves, but the technique is primarily designed for one person to assist another, according to MedlinePlus. The helper wraps her arms around the first-aid recipient from behind, positions one fist above the person’s navel, and uses the opposite hand to hold the fist in place. Still maintaining her embrace-like position, the helper pushes her fist upward and inward against the recipient’s body to build pressure behind the object blocking the windpipe. When performed correctly, the Heimlich maneuver increases pressure until the object is dislodged from the windpipe. If the recipient cannot stand, the helper straddles the person to perform a slightly modified maneuver.
Henry J. Heimlich introduced this life-saving technique in June 1974 in the medical essay “Pop Goes the Cafe Coronary,” PBS states. Following a 1972 New York Times report, Heimlich developed the maneuver in response to the high rate of choking-related deaths, which was the sixth-most common cause of accidental fatalities at the time. Many doctors advised against hitting a choking person on the back, which could force a foreign object further down the windpipe.