Chest physiotherapy, or physical therapy, is a system of treatments and exercise used to aid patients with problems in the chest, lungs and respiratory system. This is mainly for patients who are unable to breathe freely on their own.

The primary purpose of chest physiotherapy is to clear the lungs of secretions and bring oxygen back into them to help the patient breathe easier. There are different ways to do this. All of which depend on what disease, illness, or injury the patient faces.

Some people need chest physiotherapy due to certain illnesses and behaviors that can make it near impossible to clear their lungs simply by coughing. Normal people breathe in bacteria, but with healthy lungs are able to pass it through without problems. Those with lung illnesses build an excess of mucus. The mucus blocks bacteria and allows it to grow in the moist dark environment causing respiratory problems.

Some conditions requiring chest physiotherapy include, but are not limited to, problems with chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, acute atelectasis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, progressive muscle weakness and chronic lung disease. Some tests using chest physical therapy in infants with bronchitis showed no difference between them and infants who didn’t undergo therapy.

An inhaled foreign body is a condition among a list where chest physiotherapy provides no relief and may in fact be more dangerous to the patient than other means. Other conditions where chest physical therapy should be avoided are acute asthma, respiratory hemorrhages, a current heart attack, head and neck injuries, and some spinal injuries. Doctors and specialists will tell the patient when chest physical therapy is and is not recommended.

Methods used may include the use of antibiotics to help clear bacteria in the lungs. This is only helpful if the lungs have been cleared by other means as well. Coughing is the best way to clear the lungs. Patting the back with a cupped hand helps trigger movement in the mucus and prompts the patient to cough. Certain herbal scents and preparations may be used on the patient’s request.

Turning from side to side while lying down sometimes helps. Either the patient does this him or herself, or is helped. In cases like bronchitis and asthma, patients are taught techniques in deep breathing. Chest physical therapists may make use of machinery that produces vibrations to loosen the mucus. This is used as a last resort if the other methods aren’t successful.
Newborns, infants, toddlers, teenagers, adults and elderly all can use chest physiotherapy provided they do not have another condition in which a patient is cautioned against it.