What is Chest Physiotherapy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Chest physiotherapy is a form of medical treatment that is designed to help patients clear excess secretions from their lungs so they can breathe more easily. The goal of this treatment is to help a patient breathe comfortably, ensuring that the patient gets enough air with each breath, and to reduce the risk of infections and other complications associated with buildups of secretions in the lungs. This therapy may be offered in a clinical or home setting.

Chest physiotherapy helps patients clear excess secretions from their lungs.
Chest physiotherapy helps patients clear excess secretions from their lungs.

There are a variety of reasons why people might need chest physiotherapy. In the wake of surgery or an injury to the lungs, patients may need a little help clearing out their lungs until they fully recover. Chronic conditions like asthma, spinal muscular atrophy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), and cystic fibrosis can be accompanied with increased secretions in the lungs that the patient cannot clear independently, requiring chest physiotherapy during flareups or for life.

Chest physiotherapy helps patients to breathe more comfortably.
Chest physiotherapy helps patients to breathe more comfortably.

Several different techniques can be used in chest physiotherapy. In postural physiotherapy, the patient is positioned to promote lung drainage. Practitioners can also engage in percussion or tapping, loosening secretions with carefully placed taps to the chest and back. Breathing exercises can help, and sometimes patients may be put on a ventilator or asked to wear a therapy vest to help them breathe deeply and expel secretions. If the patient has trouble coughing or spitting out the secretions, a suction device may be used during chest physiotherapy sessions.

In clinical settings, someone trained in respiratory therapy or physiotherapy performs chest physiotherapy. If patients are going to need this treatment in the long term, training is provided to the patient and to caregivers so that they can do it at home. Patients with conditions like cystic fibrosis may need to do chest physiotherapy several times a day, making it far more feasible to stick with the prescribed treatment if the patient can do it at home.

Patients who require chest physiotherapy will also need regular appointments with their physicians to confirm that the treatment is working well. Medication adjustments may be needed and a doctor may recommend increased physiotherapy sessions or a new approach to physiotherapy if the patient is not responding to treatment. Constant adjustments are needed over the course of management and treatment of chronic diseases involving the lungs as the patient's condition evolves. Patient compliance is a critical part of therapeutic success, as inconsistent applications of treatments will not be nearly as effective.

Sometimes chest physiotherapy patients may be put on a ventilator or asked to wear a therapy vest to help them breathe deeply and expel secretions.
Sometimes chest physiotherapy patients may be put on a ventilator or asked to wear a therapy vest to help them breathe deeply and expel secretions.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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