What is Chest Physiotherapy?

What is Chest Physiotherapy (CPT)?

Chest physiotherapy is one of those very weird techniques that people are either scared of or think that it is the biggest scam out there. Not to mention that the physiotherapists that are trained in administering this technique already go by names such as “Physical Terrorist”, or “Sadist”.

Chest physio treatments mostly consist of nebulising with prescription solutions or saline, percussions and vibrations and, to end off, breathing exercises. The percussions are the most notorious technique in this treatment protocol. 

What are percussions?

Percussions are what you hear on the other side of the hospital curtain when it sounds like your neighbour is being brutally beaten, or the physiotherapist is training to become the drummer for the next big neighbourhood band. 

Believe it or not, the noise is the worst of it. The treatment, if done by a trained physiotherapist, is not painful. The sound one hears is because the therapist uses cupped hands to perform the percussions, so the trapped air is creating the noise, not the impact on the patient. 

The vibrations that go through the lungs during the percussions loosen the trapped secretions inside the air sacs (alveoli). This allows the fluid, through deep breathing and coughing, to be moved along the little tubes in the lung (bronchi) to the main exit of the lung to be coughed out. The percussions also stimulate the muscles over the chest area and in between the ribs to allow for deeper and more effective breathing.

When do you go for chest physiotherapy?

It happens so often that patients only get to me for chest physiotherapy when they are on their third course of antibiotics. When you are finding that the medication is not having the desired effect within a few days, start with chest physio treatments, or even as soon as you are diagnosed. 

You can benefit from chest physio when you have almost any lung condition, are battling to breathe and are coughing without accomplishing anything. Examples of lung conditions are bronchitis, bronchiolitis (in toddlers and babies), pneumonia, a collapsed lung (pneumothorax or atelectasis), pulmonary oedema, pleural effusion, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, and asthma.

Does chest physio really help?

I am a trained, registered and very experienced physiotherapist and asked myself this question. Yes, I have seen the research, I have the testimony of many happy patients, but can such a simple treatment protocol really help someone? Is it not just mind-over-matter, or was it not maybe the antibiotics that finally kicked in?

I got pneumonia one year. I took my antibiotics, cough mixture and nebulised religiously, but I was really battling. Finally, out of desperation, I taught my husband how to do the percussions. He was pretty rough about it and his arms got tired after not even 5 minutes of treatment, but I could feel the difference immediately after getting up off the bed. My chest felt lighter, I breathed easier and, low and behold, that night I actually managed to cough out some phlegm. I slept better and with a few more of his not-so-expert sessions, I was on the move again. I believe the research and the patients' report wholeheartedly.

In closing – you do not have to choose between chest physiotherapy and your medication. The two complement each other and tackle the problem from two different angles. 

My name is Monique de Beer, a registered Physiotherapist that practice at the Timron Health and Wellness Centre in Randburg and Greater Fourways area, Johannesburg, South Africa.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME if you have any questions or need to book an appointment.