Respiratory Problems and Physiotherapy

While many people may assume that physiotherapy is the last thing that a person with respiratory issues should be doing, the opposite is in fact true. Correct breathing techniques are a major part of most physio-therapies, and physical training in general. Because of this, most physiotherapists will be experts in breathing techniques, and can be extremely helpful to people who are suffering from respiratory issues.

Physiotherapists can be used to help people who have respiratory problems as a result of an underlying medical condition, or for someone who may be recovering from surgery or lung trauma.

Photo Courtesy of Freepik

There are a number of ways that physiotherapy can be used to treat respiratory problems, depending on what the root cause is. Typically a person with such issues will have visited the doctor and found the underlying cause of their breathing trouble before visiting a physiotherapist, as the problem could be caused from a direct problem with the lungs to something far less obvious, such as neurological issues. If the underlying cause has been identified and physiotherapy has been deemed suitable, the physiotherapist may conduct their own examination to identify what techniques should be used.

Many respiratory diseases are characterised by the buildup of fluid (known as sputum) in the lungs. In cases like these, postural drainage is a very common technique. This is where the physiotherapist will teach a patient to lie at certain angles or get into certain positions in order to help drain the lungs of fluid. This can be helped along by the use of patting or medical apparatus in many cases.

In most cases, the physiotherapist will assess how the patient breathes, and how this can be improved. This could range from assigning breathing exercises, to completely retraining how a person breathes. As each case is different, the exact advice given will vary.

Having respiratory conditions makes it harder to breathe. And when it’s hard to breathe, it’s normal to get anxious, making you feel even more short of breath.

Aims off respiratory physiotherapy:


To maintain or improve exercise tolerance.     

Improve functional abilities (i.e. carrying out daily tasks). 

Maintain and improve physical activity. 

Coaching patients toward improving healthy behaviour.

Reduce breathlessness and the work of breathing.

Improve the efficiency of ventilation. 

Support weaning from mechanical ventilation.

Mobilize and aid the expectoration of secretions(coughing up & spitting out of mucus).

Improve knowledge and understanding.

Reduce (thoracic) pain.  

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