If asked to picture a CPR class in your mind, chances are you will picture a group of students practicing on a manikin.

These admittedly slightly creepy-looking devices (more on that later!) are nonetheless synonymous with the teaching of CPR and other advanced resuscitation and lifesaving techniques.

But why is that? Why have these manikins come to be such important tools in the teaching of these vital skills that it almost seems impossible a CPR class could be held without them?

Well the number 1 reason is, quite simply, they are extremely effective teaching aids.

Why Is a Manikin So Effective?

They are so effective because they allow for hands-on, physical practice. Whilst it is fine to learn the theory behind CPR, especially in the early stages of learning this vital medical technique, it is also important to gain practical experience.

If you have ever performed CPR, even on a manikin, then you will understand why there may not be many living volunteers to practice on! Ask any ER doctor or EMT and they will explain just how violent CPR actually is. The chest compression phase can often lead to the patient receiving several broken ribs – though that is a small price to pay for saving your life!

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Manikins allow for the full range of movement during practice chest compressions. They allow the student to practice forming a complete seal around the mouth during the breathing practice stage. This is both vital knowledge and also excellent practical experience.

The student receives the knowledge of exactly where to place the hands and exactly what to do during all stages of CPR. Not only do they receive this knowledge, they can also practice it. Hands-on training creates the kind of muscle memory that can make actions almost instinctive. During a cardiac arrest, this knowledge and those quick reactions can combine to be lifesavers.

Not bad for a plastic manikin!

How Is a Manikin Used in CPR Training?

Whilst CPR is an extremely useful skill to learn and we highly recommend that as many people learn it as possible, this article is not the place for that. We don’t have the room here for even a crash course and besides, we’re here to talk manikins.

Even so, if you have two minutes to spare please watch this video from the American Heart Association to learn the very basics of CPR, and visit their website for more information.

Broadly speaking, there are a number of practical features on a CPR training manikin that help it to perform its function.

These devices include:

A Flexible Neck with Pivot Point – This helps students to practice opening the airway by tilting the head. This is a key part of CPR training, as artificial breathing will not be as effective if the airway are in any way constricted.

Flexible Torso – The torso section of the manikin is not a single, solid piece. Instead, it is constructed from separate pieces and is attached to give several degrees of movement. This replicates the movement of a human torso during chest compressions. Remember we said up top how violent chest compressions need to be in order to be effective? The torso construction allows CPR students to practice the exact level of force required whilst providing realistic feedback.

Anatomically Correct Mouth & Nose – Another key part of CPR training is that when breathing for the patient, a tight seal must be made around the mouth during breath stages. Again, like with the torso above, by mirroring the human body as accurately as possible it allows the student to practice and perfect their technique so they are ready to apply it successfully in the real world.

All of these features combine to help make a manikin such an effective teaching tool.

Why Does a Manikin Look as it Does?

Hopefully we’ve given a good account of just what exactly manikins do and how they do it so well. However, whilst it cannot be denied that the training they have helped to provide over the years has allowed countless lives to be saved, at the same time no one can deny that they are a little creepy.

Well, CPR Annie (also known as Rescusci Annie) is by the most popular manikin style in use around the world and her back-story is as creepy, and also a little sad, as you might expect.

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It starts in 19th-century Paris, when the body of beautiful young woman was pulled from the River Seine. The police investigated her death but were never able to identify her or discover how she managed to die so tragically in the river.

The pathologist who performed the autopsy was so stricken by her beauty that he made a plaster cast of her face, in those days a quite normal process called creating a death mask. The story of the pathologist made the newspapers, and soon people all over Europe were buying copies of the death mask of their own, making a celebrity of the tragic mystery girl.

Fast forward to 1955 and a toy maker in Norway started making the prototype CPR manikin. The designer needed a face for his design and remembered seeing a plaster copy of the death mask of the beautiful girl on his grandparents' fireplace when he was a child.

He gets the death mask, bases the manikins face on it, and the beautiful girl from the Seine is brought to life again, helping equip thousands of people worldwide with the skills to save lives.