What is Chest Physiotherapy?
Chest physiotherapy is a term used for physiotherapy treatments targeted towards issues in the lungs. The cause of this can be from many different things, including chronic respiratory diseases, respiratory infections, e.g. pneumonia, post-surgery and acute trauma such as rib fractures.
Your respiratory physiotherapist training includes several chest physiotherapy techniques to improve your lung function. These techniques may include breathing techniques, percussion, specific positioning for airway inflation or postural drainage, airway clearance techniques, and use of assistive devices to assist your breathing pattern or secretion removal.
When Do You Need Chest Physiotherapy?
Some lung conditions can be life-threatening if left untreated. Chest physiotherapy is useful for those conditions that increase sputum (secretions) in the lungs. Medical conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis and cystic fibrosis benefit from chest physiotherapy. Your doctor may refer you for chest physiotherapy.
You can also get mucous plugs that can stop an area of your lung from inflating properly as this blocks air from passing through. This airways restriction can also include conditions such as asthma and emphysema. Sputum can vary in thickness which can also make it difficult to clear. Respiratory physio helps patients who have issues with inflating the lungs, i.e. post-surgery or acute injury.
Why are Clear Lungs Important?
A build-up of sputum in your lungs affects the efficient transfer of oxygen from the air you breath, through your lung tissue, and ultimately to oxygenate your bloodstream. Clearing your lungs enable sufficient oxygenation which can be life-saving!
Signs & Symptoms of a Respiratory Issue
People who suffer from respiratory diseases or are having difficulty breathing may experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- A feeling of inability to get enough air into your lungs
- Wet cough
- Difficulty clearing airways
- Minimal to no expansion of the lower ribs.
What Do Respiratory Physiotherapy Treatments Involve?
Each respiratory technique has a different use, and your condition will influence what the appropriate method for you is. A highly skilled physiotherapist will be listening to your breathing and the airflow into your lungs. This auscultation assesses where your lungs are affected. They will then tailor your treatment to assist your breathing and lung function back on track. In certain chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, you may have a well-developed treatment plan devised in conjunction with a doctor or specialist; however, at times, need assistance if lung infections occur.
How Do Chest Physiotherapy Techniques Help?
Your respiratory physiotherapist has a range of chest physiotherapy techniques available to use.
Breathing techniques may assist those who have difficulty inflating their lungs, particularly the lower aspects. Although breathing is second nature and something people usually don’t have to think about, at times people can be breathing inefficiently and affecting their ability to inhale or expire air. This underutilisation, in turn, affects your ability to utilise oxygen transport in the lungs.
Breathing can also target the assistance in clearing the airways and mobilising mucous build-up. Your breath can affect whether you move lung secretions in the lower airways to your upper airways.
Specific positioning can help to target better inflation of lung areas. It can also assist with the draining of mucous from targeted areas of the lungs. Your physiotherapist will advise you which positions are best for you.
Percussion techniques assist the break-up of thick and sticky mucous as well as clearing any mucous plugs that might be causing issues with lung inflation. These can also combine with specific positioning to better target areas. Your physio will advise if this technique is warranted or contraindicated.
Airway clearance is the ability to effectively clear sputum from the lungs. You have tiny hairs in your lungs called cilia that assist in mobilising secretions towards your mouth for clearance. Breathing and huff techniques can target either the lower or upper airways to aid in the removal of unwanted mucous or particles. Coughing then assists in clearing the upper airways.
There is a range of assistive devices that can assist in the treatment of different chest conditions. Specific tools help with lung inflation and breathing techniques such as an incentive spirometer. Other methods can assist to loosen secretions making it easier to clear the airways and removed unwanted mucous. These can include Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) therapy devices to mobilise secretions. Breathing products, e.g. a flutter device, may assist you.
Devices can also assist with the dispersion of your respiratory medication use, as is seen in asthmatics. Your physiotherapist can recommend a method that is best suited to your specific condition.
Your physiotherapist is skilled in assessing your respiratory function and the quality of your breathing. They will then tailor your treatment to suit your condition. If you have any further questions or concerns regarding your situation, please ask your physiotherapist.