Chest Physical Therapy and Postural Drainage

April 24th, 2020
Chest Physical Therapy and Postural Drainage

Chest Physical Therapy and Postural Drainage: clearing airway and lung pathways

by Jennifer Norton Graham, MPT

By accessing and reading this blog’s reference to exercises and content, you acknowledge and agree that these exercises and blog posts are intended as examples for general fitness and educational purposes and are not intended for treatment of a medical problem or disorder.  You should not perform these exercises/techniques unless you are in good health and not currently under medical care for any condition that would potentially prevent you from exercising.  You acknowledge that you should consult with a physician prior to starting any exercise program and should follow any restrictions placed on your activity by your physician or other healthcare providers.

When you have a ketchup bottle with only a little bit left in the bottom of it, what do you do to get the ketchup out? You turn the bottle upside down, or on an angle, and tap the bottom of the bottle to release the ketchup and……..it works! 

Chest Physical Therapy and Postural Drainage

The example above demonstrates how gravity and positions can help to get ketchup out of a bottle.  Add the combined effort of vibration or percussion, and magically release more ketchup stuck inside the bottle.  Chest physical therapy or airway clearance techniques can help remove secretions in the lungs, when the ability to cough has become impaired or weak. Chest physical therapy or airway clearance techniques are completed under the guidance and expertise of a medical team including, but not limited to doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and physical therapists.

Airway clearance techniques help to loosen mucus or secretions, making it easier to cough up, and out of the lungs. These are specialized techniques and are often completed in a hospital setting and under the supervision of a licensed health care provider. 

Airway clearance techniques may include vibration, percussion, or clapping hands on the chest wall, deep breathing, huffing or coughing techniques.  There are also mechanical devices such as vibrating vests which can also contribute to loosening mucus, with the end goal of coughing it out.  

Exercise is yet another airway clearance technique.

Chest Physical Therapy and Postural Drainage

Why is it important to loosen mucus and remove out of the lungs?

By loosening and removing mucus and getting it out of the lungs, a pathway is restored inside the lungs, which then allows oxygen to be processed in the lungs, as a breath is taken in. 

Chest physical therapy is utilized for several purposes, for example for patients with cystic fibrosis and for patients in the intensive care unit. 

Chest Physical Therapy and Postural Drainage

Remember the ketchup bottle example of how we tilted the bottle in addition to tapping it?

Through positioning, gravity may be used to the advantage of loosening the mucus inside the lungs and is usually combined with other airway clearance techniques (e.g.percussion) for additional mucus clearance.  The positioning techniques assist with draining the mucus out of the lungs this is called postural drainage. 

What can physical therapy do for you related to airway clearance techniques?

Physical therapy in an outpatient setting can assist in promoting improved strength, flexibility and posture to assist in promoting optimal breathing mechanics, strengthen cough power, and to develop a home exercise program. Physical therapy can assist you in learning how to maximize your own airway clearance techniques through cough efficient exercises. Physical therapy in the hospital setting can be evaluated by the medical team to determine if airway clearance techniques are indicated or not, and would be dependent on medical evaluation by a physician and medical team trained in critical care.  

Our physical therapist has a specialized understanding of breathing mechanics in the outpatient setting and the effects on overall health and function. At Graham Therapy and Fitness, P.A. traditional physical therapy exercises and techniques are utilized to help promote breathing optimization.  Consider a visit to your physical therapist for an evaluation.  Physical therapists have the ability to devise a plan to help strengthen and mobilize our bodies to breathe and cough more efficiently.  Optimize your breathing mechanics Contact Us today!