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5 Ways Physiotherapy Can Help Breathing Issues

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Physiotherapists train in a number of disciplines throughout their careers, not just focusing on muscles and bones but also in respiratory management. Some therapists go on to specialise in this area, and whether you are managing a chronic disease, such as asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), or want to improve your breathing techniques whilst exercising, physiotherapy can help.

Managing Asthma

Physiotherapists are trained in the management of asthma, including the correct usage of different medications.  Their training is similar to that of the asthma-specialist nurses you may see at your GP surgery. With the use of different tools, your therapist can analyse your current breathing technique and medicine administration in order to improve your breathing to an optimum level. They may even suggest different ways to manage your breathing if you have identified certain patterns or ‘triggers’, which bring on an attack.

Managing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD) is an umbrella term used to combine the joint diagnoses of emphysema, bronchitis and (occasionally) asthma.  COPD is considered as a diagnosis if you have had a productive cough for 3 consecutive months over the space of 2 years. An x-ray of your chest may also confirm this diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no current cure for COPD, but your physiotherapist can help with the management of symptoms. This can include advice for pacing your activities to prevent you from getting too tired or ‘out-of-breath’, effective ways of clearing any mucus or secretions you have, relaxation techniques for those having difficulty breathing, monitoring the volumes of air in your lungs and looking at the amount of oxygen in your blood to determine progression of the disease.

Exercise Tolerance

With exercise, individuals become able to do more without becoming out of breath. If you were to walk up 12 flights of stairs daily, you would be pretty puffed on the first few attempts, but gradually your body will become accustomed to the demands your body is exerting, making your lungs and heart more adapted to exercising. This can be useful to a huge span of individuals, from those who are becoming increasingly out of breath with tasks, or those who are considering a big challenge such as their first marathon.  Physiotherapists can provide you with correct breathing techniques, e.g. “in through the nose, out through the mouth” and diaphragmatic breathing to increase the amount of oxygen deep in your lungs, as well as providing an aerobic personal training program.


When people become anxious, their normal response is to increase the rate of their breathing. This is a normal response, and relates to the innate ‘fight or flight’ response, which is engrained in our behaviour. Those who suffer from severe anxiety, can be particularly nervous after even the smallest changes in their lives, causing this exaggerated response. Physiotherapists can teach you methods of relaxing your breathing, calming your reaction to these issues, and relieving the anxiety you may be experiencing.

Oxygen Saturation Management for the Acutely Ill

Physiotherapists are also educated in the physiology of how the oxygen in the lungs interacts with the rest of the body, and what can be done to optimise this relationship.  Usually, this is more applicable for acutely ill individuals within a hospital setting, however, it may be useful for those recently discharged from hospital who still require input. This can consist of special positioning techniques, manual/assisted techniques for removing secretions from deep in the lungs, as well as manipulation of ventilation apparatus to optimise airflow and saturation. The physiotherapist can assist and educate the individual and their family members or carers to the reasoning behind their techniques, in order to increase understanding and ability to manage the client’s needs.

Management of Cystic Fibrosis

Children who have been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis will need breathing management throughout their lifetime.  Exercises can become boring, leading the child to become non-compliant.  Physiotherapists can devise games for children in order to supply them with the breathing exercise they require. This can be tailored for different age ranges, incorporating involvement with the parents if appropriate.

If you have had any help with your breathing techniques or disease management, let us know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter!