Hands-Only CPR: What Is It and When Should You Use It?

Generally speaking, it is hard to know or predict when a health emergency could happen. However, if the situation occurs, bystanders in the immediate vicinity should know how to help and provide basic life support to the victim before health professionals arrive.

Life-saving skills, such as first aid and CPR, can help prevent fatal outcomes while increasing the victim’s survival and recovery rate, regardless of the location of the emergency. When a bystander’s intervention is required, knowing about hands-only CPR, its benefits, and how to perform it is cardinal.

So, hands-only CPR: what is it and when should you use It? Below, we’ll go over the ins and outs of this life-saving method during a sudden cardiac arrest response.

Understanding Hands-only CPR

Also known as compressions-only CPR, this is a simplified CPR method that involves chest compressions only during resuscitation, meaning no rescue breaths.

CPR trainers advise students to mainly give hands-only CPR to adults since children and infants have better results with conventional CPR, meaning with rescue breaths. Still, studies in this department are very few, and if you find yourself in close proximity to a child or baby in cardiac arrest, it’s best to help any way you can, even by providing hands-only CPR.

Providing CPR without mouth-to-mouth can help maintain blood circulation, speed up blood flow to the brain, prevent brain damage, and help keep the victim alive until medical teams reach the scene. Performing rhythmic compressions on the chest creates the effect of an artificial pump that does the work of the heart manually.

Performing hands-only resuscitation with no rescue breathing to the victim is proven to be as effective as the traditional method in the first five minutes of the emergency. If emergency responders take longer to arrive at the scene, it is recommended that bystanders do a CPR technique update and use the standard form of CPR.

Chest Compressions Only First, Mouth-to-mouth Only if Necessary

According to the guidelines of the American Heart Association, in the event of an emergency or sudden cardiac arrest, bystanders should prioritize hands-only resuscitation. This can be especially useful if helpers don’t have previous experience in giving CPR and find it difficult to coordinate their movements and provide oxygenation in times of distress.

Additionally, in its instructions, the AHA outlines the importance of chest compressions over rescue breathing. That is why the previously known “ABCs” of CPR (airway, breathing, compression) have been reformulated to “CAB” (compression, airway, breathing).

Scientifically speaking, the explanation behind this is that chest compressions mimic the heart’s blood pumping. This can help maintain the right level of oxygen and nutrients, which is important for normal brain functioning. On the other hand, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation can interrupt compressions and weaken blood circulation.

A number of researchers also support AHA’s statements. A study from 2017 suggests that, in most cases, CPR for bystanders is proven much more effective with chest compressions only.

Why Should We Perform Hands-only CPR?

The most notable benefit of giving hands-only resuscitation is the high possibility of bystander intervention. Nowadays, more people will perform compression-only CPR due to a lack of proper training and fear of viral infections spread through mouth-to-mouth.

In times of urgency, even people who want to help can become nervous about doing something that could potentially harm them. That is also why when attending CPR classes, you immediately get instructed on how to use a mask for rescue breaths to prevent the potential spreading of infections.

With hands-only CPR, however, you don’t have to worry whether a mask will be available or whether you’d be putting yourself in danger.

How to Perform Hands-Only CPR

Before you decide to help in an emergency, you should go over a few steps. First, estimate the situation to ensure it is safe to offer help to the victim. If yes, check for consciousness, breathing, heart rate, and bleeding. If the victim is without a pulse or has an evident injury that halts their breathing or heart beat, they will need CPR.

It is important to note that before you begin with CPR, you should call 911 or have an onlooker do it.

Begin the CPR:


      • Step 1: The victim should be lying on their back on a firm, flat surface.

      • Step 2: Kneel next to the victim’s chest for comfortable hand and body placement.

      • Step 3: Place both of your hands on the person’s chest, one on top of the other. Make sure they are right in the center.

      • Step 4: Position your body over the victim with straight arms to be able to deliver enough pressure with each compression.

      • Step 5: Start compressions. Aim for 100-120 compressions each minute, making sure to reduce any interruptions to less than 10 seconds. You should be applying enough pressure to press down on the chest by 2 inches.

      • Step 6: Naturally, the chest should return to its neutral position between each compression.

      • Step 7: Make sure to keep up the pace until professional help arrives. This step is of great importance. Even if the victim is unresponsive during the aid, they have an increased survival chance with prolonged CPR.

    Note: This is the appropriate procedure for an adult that has entered cardiac arrest—the CPR methods for infants and children differ.

    Hands-only Resuscitation: Risks, Limits, and Recommendations

    It is crucial to remember that compressions-only CPR treatment is primarily recommended for adolescents and adults. Infants and children should receive traditional CPR, including rescue breaths.

    Another exception is a victim who has collapsed due to breathing issues—in this case, mouth-to-mouth is mandatory. Life-saving breaths are also necessary for victims who have been saved from drowning.

    Mind that repeated compressions can cause bruising or result in broken or damaged ribs due to the pressure on the chest. They are rarely fatal but can be an obstacle in the recovery process; therefore, they should be performed with the victim’s fragility in mind.

    Finally, if you have trouble keeping up the same rate of chest compressions, you should work on your muscle memory. To put it simply, right and repetitive execution can lead to a correct performance in moments of urgency. That is why it is recommended to take a CPR course and get your certification.

    Additional Benefits Of CPR Without Mouth-To-Mouth

    We already mentioned the main reason why hands-only CPR is sometimes more effective than when combined with rescue breaths. Let’s look at a few more reasons:

    Anyone Can Give Hands-only CPR

    It is very assuring to know that you can easily help someone in the case of cardiac arrest or other traumatic events. Hands-only CPR is not only effective but also simpler for people who do not have proper CPR training, as it involves chest compressions only.

    Better Survival Chances in Some Cases

    When giving hands-only CPR, rescuers do not stop for mouth-to-mouth, thus interrupting the whole process. No pauses between compressions leads to increased survival chances.

    Compressions-only CPR Is as Effective as Traditional CPR

    If done correctly, compressions-only CPR can be as effective as the traditional method. In a study done between 2000-2017, the survival rate of hands-only CPR recipients was 13.5%, while the traditional method marked a survival rate of 13.8%, following a month after the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

    To Conclude

    Even the healthiest person may suffer an injury or trauma that might need bystander help. This is why you should know the basics of CPR and enroll in a training course that will allow you to perform CPR calmly, confidently, and with care.

    So, hands-only CPR: what is it and when should you use It? Compressions-only CPR involves the standard CPR steps but without rescue breaths. Before giving CPR, check for any signs of life from the victim. If there’s no response, call 911 and get right to the procedure.

    The CPR procedure changes from one age group to another. Below, we went over the hands-only CPR method for adults. However, if helping a child or infant, you should be more gentle and apply less pressure.

    Finally, even if you don’t have CPR training, you should still try to help. The chances of survival to hospital discharge are significantly higher when the victim receives bystander CPR before reaching the hospital.