Respiratory Physiotherapy: Techniques and Benefits

Respiratory physiotherapy offers several techniques that help us to breathe better and in a more efficient way. Find out more about these techniques in today's article.
Respiratory Physiotherapy: Techniques and Benefits

Last update: 11 April, 2020

Although the scope of physiotherapy is something most people are unaware of, the truth is that it’s about much more than just massaging sore parts of the body. A clear example of this is respiratory physiotherapy, which we’ll tell you all about in the following article.

What is respiratory physiotherapy?

Respiratory physiotherapy encompasses a specific set of techniques. Their purpose is to prevent, stabilize, or treat problems to do with the breathing apparatus and the structures that affect it.

So, the main issues that respiratory physiotherapy overcomes are the lungs and the respiratory muscles–those that assist in inhalation as well as those that help with exhalation.

A little about physiology

Among the respiratory muscles, the most important is the thoracic diaphragm. This muscle begins in the costal margin and inserts into the ribs and has a sort of parachute shape. When it contracts, it makes room for the lungs so they can expand. And, unless we avoid it on purpose, the negative pressure of the lungs will cause them to fill with air.

The external intercostal muscles also help with this function. They raise the ribs and in order to expand the chest cavity and make even more room for the lungs.

As for exhalation, it’s important to point out that it takes place passively in an idle state. After the inspiratory muscles contract, they return to their original position. And in doing so, they reduce the space that the lungs can occupy.

A respiratory physiotherapy appointment.

The lungs can no longer contain the air they have inside, which exits from positive pressure. However, when we want to force exhalation, the abdominal muscles and the internal intercostal muscles can exercise forces on the thoracic cavity in order to close it. This occurs, for example, when we cough, vomit or have a bowel movement.

Objectives and techniques

Now that we know the structures that we’re going to be dealing with, it’s important to clarify the objective of respiratory physiotherapy. Its main goal is to guarantee the correct ventilation and perfusion or absorption of air.

In other words, it helps make sure we get enough oxygen and that the lungs can transport it to our blood effectively. At the same time, the secondary objective is to eliminate respiratory secretions in order to guarantee that the alveoli are open and free from obstruction.

Respiratory physiotherapy techniques

  • Diaphragmatic breathingThe first step will be to make sure that breathing takes place properly. As we’ve seen, the diaphragm is the main muscle involved during breathing. Therefore, it needs to be in good shape. So, we need to get used to expanding our bellies when we breathe, rather than expanding our chests.
  • Muscle training. This point refers to all of the muscles involved in breathing. Exercises such as taking in all the air we can and holding it for five seconds and then slowly releasing it helps our bodies prepare for future needs. Going out for a run or performing intense exercise sessions also help train our respiratory muscles. This is because they force these muscles to work.
Take a deep breath.
  • Declination. Here, physiotherapist seeks to encourage respiratory secretions, using gravity as an aid. The professional will place you in the most effective positions on an inclined plane. You may have to lie face up, face down, or on your side, with cushions under different parts of your body. The purpose is for the mucus to exit the lungs as you breathe correctly.
  • Percussion. Knowing where the respiratory secretions are, the physiotherapist will choose the best position from those we mentioned above. Then, he or she will lightly tap your thoracic cavity in a cranial direction. Again, the purpose of this technique is to encourage the expulsion of respiratory secretions.

Final considerations

To summarize, these will be the basic techniques to educate breathing and obtain the proper oxidation of blood. However, when patients suffered from a more complex issue, there may be times when a physiotherapist is unable to improve a patient’s breathing.

In these cases, patients should opt for more invasive medical techniques. For example, the vacuuming of secretions or bronchoalveolar lavage. These options require a medical referral and strict professional supervision.

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