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What is chest physiotherapy?

Chest Physiotherapy

Chest physiotherapy is a group of physical techniques that improve lung function and help you breathe better. Chest physiotherapy expands the lungs, strengthens breathing muscles, and loosens and improves drainage of thick lung secretions. Chest physiotherapy helps treat such diseases as cystic fibrosis and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). It also keeps the lungs clear to prevent pneumonia after surgery and during periods of immobility.  

Chest physiotherapy is only one method used to treat respiratory diseases.  Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having chest physiotherapy.

Types of chest physiotherapy

Healthcare providers often use different types of chest physiotherapy together including:

  • Chest percussion to help loosen lung secretions
  • Controlled coughing techniques to help break up lung secretions so your caregiver can suction them out or you can expectorate them
  • Deep breathing exercises to help expand the lungs and draw more air into all areas of the lungs
  • Incentive spirometry to help improve lung function by inhaling strongly using a special device. You may use it after surgery to re-expand your lungs and prevent pneumonia.
  • Positioning and turning from side to side to help improve lung expansion and drainage of secretions. This is important for patients who are bedridden or hospitalized.
  • Postural drainage to help drain lung secretions
  • Vibration to help break up lung secretions

Other procedures that may be performed

Doctors generally recommend one or more other treatments to manage respiratory disease and breathing problems. Treatments vary depending on the specific disease, the severity of the disease, your medical history, your age, and other factors. Treatments and procedures may include:

  • Expectorant medications to help loosen lung secretions and make them easier to cough up
  • Nebulizer treatments to help moisten secretions and open the airways
  • Suctioning to remove secretions that you can’t cough out
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 11, 2013

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Medical References

Chest physical therapy. Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health. http://www.enotes.com/chest-physical-therapy-reference/chest-physical-therapy-171826. Accessed April 23, 2013.
Chest physiotherapy (CPT). Nursing Reviews. http://currentnursing.com/reviews/chest_physiotherapy.html. Accessed April 23, 2013.
Chest physiotherapy using trendelenberg. Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. http://www.childrensmn.org/Manuals/PFS/ChildDev/187864.pdf. Accessed April 23, 2013.
Recruitment Maneuvers Compared to Chest Physiotherapy for the Mechanically Ventilated Patient. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:NfOzqwSGldwJ:www.cincinnatichildrens.org/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier%3Did%26ItemID%3D88042%26libID%3D87730+chest+physiotherapy,+arrhythmias&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEEShtwRRjZy21xy9e9labSQuJhrF-md-LRqxMgRzvR9Qw1rFyP5yHPk2Rzg0_H2pJzzOT5fFUcCLHwUv7n89sfIb2ZGa6uKQYXoNLVow6eHPu99YRLT24volJDE0Jc-fBnOLh9wS5&sig=AHIEtbRqA3n9Wlfcrr1GX7jQ3u07bDu00Q. Accessed April 23, 2013.

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