What are the Different Types of Physiotherapy for Cystic Fibrosis?

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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 August 2018
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Physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis is a broad term that describes different methods used to treat symptoms of the disorder and prevent problems from occurring. Active cycle of breathing techniques, conventional chest physiotherapy, and flutter are all effective methods of helping the lungs function properly by clearing the thick mucous buildup that is symptomatic of cystic fibrosis. Autogenic drainage, high-frequency chest wall oscillation, and physical exercise are also commonly used and effective physical therapies.

Active cycle of breathing techniques are one type of physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis. This type of physical therapy involves working with the patient to increase lung capacity. It involves chest expansion exercises, which increase lung capacity, allowing air to get behind the thick mucous secretions blocking airways. The air is then forced out of the lungs with some pressure, mobilizing the mucous and clearing the airways. These techniques have proved to be a very effective type of physiotherapy and improve overall lung function.

Conventional chest physiotherapy is another type of physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis. This type of physiotherapy is at the core of newer methods of chest therapy. It involves breathing exercises with forced exhalation to clear the airways and is performed in different gravity-assisted positions. This therapy used to require medical assistance, but can now be taught to patients so they can do the exercises in their own home, when they most need it.


Flutter is a commonly used type of physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis. The flutter is a small, curved, pipe-shaped device that generates positive pressure when exhaling. This positive pressure creates a sort of fluttering, or vibrating effect, in the lungs, which helps clear mucous from the lungs.

Autogenic drainage is also a commonly used type of physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis. This type of physiotherapy involves a three-phase breathing exercise in order to clear the most mucous with the least amount of effort. The lungs are expanded to low-, moderate-, and high-volume capacity, depending on the location of the mucous buildup. The air is exhaled with force to move the mucous out of the airways. This method has proved to be as effective as conventional chest physiotherapy and flutter techniques. It is also effective in treating airway hyper-activity.

High-frequency chest wall oscillation is a type of physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis. This is a very helpful treatment when manual breathing has become very labored. It involves a machine attached to a vest, which is worn by the patient. Air is pumped into the vest to rapidly inflate and deflate the chest, creating chest expansion and contraction. The way this therapy works is similar to unclogging a toilet, where pressure is applied in and out of the lungs, clearing the blockage and improving lung function.

Physical exercise is also a type of physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis. When lung dysfunction is present for any reason, including cystic fibrosis, exercise can be dangerous, so always consult a doctor about the specifics of an exercise regimen before beginning. Regular exercise, combined with other physiotherapy techniques, can improve lung function.


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