Chest Physiotherapy

Chest physiotherapy is the term for a group of treatments designed to improve respiratory efficiency, promote expansion of the lungs, strengthen respiratory muscles, and eliminate secretions from the respiratory system.


The purpose of chest physiotherapy is to help patients to breathe more freely and to get more oxygen into the body.

Chest physiotherapy includes postural drainage, chest percussion, and chest vibration, turning, deep breathing exercises, and coughing. It is usually done in conjunction with other treatments to rid the airways of secretions.

These other treatments include suctioning, nebulizer treatments, and the administration of expectorant drugs.

Chest physiotherapy can be used with newborns, infants, children, and adults.

People who benefit from chest physiotherapy exhibit a wide range of problems that make it difficult to clear secretions from their lungs.

Some people who may receive chest physiotherapy include people with cystic fibrosis or neuromuscular diseases like Guillain‐Barré syndrome, progressive muscle weakness (myasthenia gravis), or tetanus.

People with lung diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also benefit from chest physiotherapy.

People who are likely to aspirate their mucous secretions because of diseases such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy also receive chest physiotherapy, as do some people who are bedridden, confined to a wheelchair, or who cannot breathe deeply because of postoperative pain.



Chest physiotherapy should not be performed on people with

Bleeding from the lungs

Neck or head injuries

Fractured ribs

Collapsed lungs

Damaged chest walls


Acute asthma

Recent heart attack

Pulmonary embolism

Lung abscess

Active hemorrhage

Some spine injuries

Recent surgery, open wounds, or burns



Chest physiotherapy can be performed in a variety of settings including critical care units, hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, and at the patient's home.

Depending on the circumstances, chest physiotherapy may be performed by anyone from a respiratory care therapist to a trained member of the patient's family.

Different patient conditions warrant different levels of training. Chest physiotherapy consists of a variety of procedures that are applied depending on the patient's health and condition. Hospitalized patients are reevaluated frequently to establish which procedures are most effective and best tolerated.

Patients receiving long‐term chest physiotherapy are reevaluated about every three months.


Turning from side to side permits lung expansion. Patients may turn themselves or be turned by a caregiver. The head of the bed is also elevated to promote drainage if the patient can tolerate this position

Critically ill patients and those dependent on mechanical respiration are turned once every one to two hours around the clock.


Coughing helps break up secretions in the lungs so that the mucus can be suctioned out or expectorated. Patients sit upright and inhale deeply through the nose. They then exhale in short puffs or coughs. Coughing is repeated several times a day.

Deep breathing

Deep breathing helps expand the lungs and forces better distribution of the air into all sections of the lung. The patient either sits in a chair or sits upright in bed and inhales, pushing the abdomen out to force maximum amounts of air into the lung. The abdomen is then contracted, and the patient exhales. Deep breathing exercises are done several times each day for short periods.

Postural drainage

Postural drainage uses the force of gravity to assist in effectively draining secretions from the lungs and into the central airway where they can either be coughed up or suctioned out. The patient is placed in a head or chest down position and is kept in this position for up to 15 minutes.

Critical care patients and those depending on mechanical ventilation receive postural drainage therapy four to six times daily. Percussion and vibration may be performed in conjunction with postural drainage.


Percussion is rhythmically striking the chest wall with cupped hands. It is also called cupping, clapping, or tapotement. The purpose of percussion is to break up thick secretions in the lungs so that they can be more easily removed. Percussion is performed on each lung segment for one to two minutes at a time.


As with percussion, the purpose of vibration is to help break up lung secretions. Vibration can be either mechanical or manual. It is performed as the patient breathes deeply. When done manually, the person performing the vibration places his or her hands against the patient's chest and creates vibrations by quickly contracting and relaxing arm and shoulder muscles while the patient exhales. The procedure is repeated several times each day for about five exhalations.


The only preparation needed for chest physiotherapy is an evaluation of the patient's condition and determination of which chest physiotherapy techniques would be most beneficial.


Patients practice oral hygiene procedures to lessen the bad taste or odor of the secretions they spit out.

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