Chest physiotherapy is a type of physio treatment which targets problems related to the lungs. The causes which relate to this can be conditions like respiratory infections, post-surgery complications such as decreased lung volume or pain with breathing, chronic respiratory diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis and acute trauma such as rib fractures.
Respiratory physiotherapy enhances the overall functioning of the respiratory system through education, airway clearance techniques and exercises aimed to reduce the effort required to restore normal lung function. This is especially significant in the presence of disorders that compromise the lungs.
Conditions which may benefit from respiratory physiotherapy include:
Pulmonary physiotherapy can benefit the elderly or those who have a compromised immune system. Physiotherapy treatment can help prevent symptoms deteriorating, avoiding a hospital admission. Chest physio can be very useful in conditions such as cystic fibrosis, pneumonia and bronchitis as it assists with the clearing of sputum (secretions) from the lungs.
A trained physiotherapist will assist to improve lung function through a variety of techniques. Depending on the condition, some of these techniques may include; percussion, vibrations, breathing exercises, learning to expand less active sections of the lungs, nasal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and relaxed breathing exercises.
Chest physiotherapy may be necessary in certain serious conditions, and your doctor might refer you to a respiratory physiotherapist. As physiotherapists are first line practitioners, skilled in assessment and diagnosis, a doctor’s referral is not essential prior to your first appointment. As such, you may choose to see a respiratory physio directly and they can liaise with your GP following your initial assessment.
Chest physiotherapy can help both acute and chronic respiratory conditions in many ways. It is often used as an adjunct to medical management if required.
Pulmonary physiotherapy can assist by:
Breathing techniques: These techniques involve a program of exercises, education and support to teach the patient about proper breathing technique, assisting with lung function. It aims to decrease symptoms and increase participation in physical and social activities, as a result, improving quality of life. Breathing techniques are particularly helpful for those who have trouble inflating their lungs. This can help to increase oxygen transport within the lungs and also assist with clearing mucus build up in the airways.
Airway Clearance: The cilia, which line the airways, help to keep the respiratory system clear and free from infection. When they are not working correctly, it can lead to a build-up of mucus, infections and possible airway damage. Airway clearance techniques help to move mucus from the small airways to the larger airways where it can be coughed out.
Selective positioning: This technique helps to improve inflation of specific areas in the lungs. It also assists with mucus drainage in certain areas of the lungs.
Exercises: Expansion of the lungs can be enhanced with gentle exercises. These may include purse-lipped breathing, nasal breathing, diaphragm and rib expansion, using devices such as a “flutter”, relaxed breathing, positioning and learning to breathe into specific areas of the lungs.
Physiotherapy incorporates a variety of techniques and strategies which aim to improve ventilation, increase lung function, reduce the workload of breathing and provide relief from breathing difficulties. Physiotherapy can play an important role in the management and treatment of acute and chronic respiratory disease, improving your quality of life.