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Chest Physiotherapy


Chest physiotherapy is a group of physical techniques that improve lung function and help you breathe better. Chest PT, or CPT expands the lungs, strengthens breathing muscles, and loosens and improves drainage of thick lung secretions. Chest PT helps treat such diseases as cystic fibrosis and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). It also keeps the lungs clear to prevent pneumonia after surgery and during periods of immobility. 



Healthcare providers often use different types of chest physiotherapy together, including: 

  • Chest percussion and vibration to help loosen lung secretions. Some patients wear a special CPT vest hooked up to a machine. The machine makes the vest vibrate at high frequency to break up the secretions.

  • Controlled coughing techniques to help break up lung secretions so your caregiver can suction them out or you can cough them up.

  • Deep breathing exercises to help expand the lungs and draw more air into all areas of the lungs.

  • Incentive spirometry to help improve lung function by inhaling strongly using a special device. You may use it after surgery to re-expand your lungs and prevent pneumonia.

  • Positioning and turning from side to side to help improve lung expansion and drainage of secretions. This is important for patients who are bedridden or hospitalized.



A respiratory therapist or registered nurse performs chest PT. Respiratory therapists are healthcare professionals who assess, treat and care for patients with breathing disorders. Depending on your condition, the respiratory therapist or nurse may also teach you and your family to perform the techniques at home.

The following specialists often prescribe chest PT:

  • Hospitalists specialize in caring for hospitalized patients. Hospitalists are usually doctors, but can also be a physician assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP).

  • Primary care providers including internists, family practitioners (family medicine doctors), pediatricians, geriatricians, PAs, and nurse practitioners (NPs). Primary care providers offer comprehensive healthcare services and treat a wide range of illnesses and conditions.

  • Pulmonologists are internists or pediatricians with specialized training in treating diseases and conditions of the chest, such as pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, or complicated chest infections.


Your chest PT will be performed in a hospital, clinic, long-term care facility, or in your home. It is usually done several times a day. Techniques vary depending on age, diagnosis, and general health.

Some chest PT techniques require you to sit up. Others allow you to lie on your back, side or stomach depending on the area of the lungs that need drainage. In some cases, your head will be lower than the chest. Gravity will encourage drainage.

Nebulizer breathing treatments are often useful to open the airways or moisten, thin, or break up mucus. If your healthcare provider recommends this, you will inhale a mist containing saline (salt water solution) or medications before your chest PT session.

Healthcare providers often perform these different chest PT techniques together:

  • Chest percussion involves striking the chest wall with cupped hands, often in combination with postural drainage.

  • Controlled coughing techniques involve coughing gently, making short grunting noises, or making two to three sharp staccato coughs with the mouth slightly open. Controlled coughing techniques are done with postural drainage and throughout the day.

  • Deep breathing exercises involve inhaling deeply through the nose and breathing out very slowly through pursed lips.

  • Incentive spirometry involves inhaling through a tube to raise a ball in a sealed chamber. You will need to keep the ball raised for as long as possible.

  • Positioning and turning from side to side involves elevating the head of the bed and turning every one to two hours in bed. This promotes drainage of secretions. Caregivers turn patients who cannot turn themselves.

  • Postural drainage involves taking positions that allow gravity to help drain secretions. Postural drainage is often useful with chest percussion and coughing techniques.

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