Chest physiotherapy is a common treatment for cystic fibrosis that involves breathing exercises and specialized devices. Often, people with cystic fibrosis are taught how to do chest physiotherapy on their own in the comfort of their homes.

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Cystic fibrosis is a rare and chronic condition that affects organs in the body, especially the lungs. It causes thick mucus to build up in your airways. This mucus can trap bacteria, leading to infection.

Treatments for cystic fibrosis often focus on moving and removing this mucus. One of these treatments is chest physiotherapy. This common treatment involves techniques such as breathing exercises, moving to specific positions, and using specialized devices.

Chest physiotherapy is often done at home. Healthcare professionals commonly teach people how to perform treatments independently.

Learn more about cystic fibrosis.

Chest physiotherapy is an airway clearance technique for people with cystic fibrosis. The therapy is used to clear mucus from the lungs. It’s sometimes called chest physical therapy, chest PT, or simply CPT.

There are a few different types of chest physiotherapy. The right type for you depends on your age, symptoms, and the program designed by your physiotherapist.

Often, a person’s chest physiotherapy treatment changes throughout their life. For instance, there are some techniques most often done on infants and young children.

As people with cystic fibrosis get older, their physiotherapist might focus more on teaching chest physiotherapy techniques that they can do on their own at home.

Chest physiotherapy is an important part of cystic fibrosis management. It helps prevent thick mucus buildup in your lungs.

Mucus buildup can trap bacteria, leading to infections. These infections can result in swelling that tightens your airways and causes more mucus production and lung damage. Chest physiotherapy can help prevent this damage.

There are several types of chest physiotherapy. What happens during a chest physiotherapy session can depend on the type or types of physiotherapy you receive.

In many cases, you can be taught to do these treatments yourself. Common types of chest physiotherapy include:

  • Active cycle breath techniques (ACBT): This treatment uses a cycle of deep breathing, huffing, coughing, and standard breathing to move mucus. Often, ACBT is combined with other therapies or with chest physiotherapy devices. It’s common for children to be taught to do ACBT on their own.
  • Autogenic drainage (AD): The technique involves taking breaths at different speeds and frequencies. The high airflow this creates moves mucus out of smaller airways and into bigger airways. This makes it easier to clear the mucus.
  • Postural drainage: Postural drainage is a treatment that combines breathing exercises, such as ACBT or AD, with positions that use gravity to drain mucus from the lungs.
  • Percussions and vibrations: This treatment is done by clapping a cupped hand along the chest in a steady rhythm. This helps loosen mucus and can be done with breathing exercises or on its own.
  • Positive expiratory pressure (PEP): This treatment uses a mask or mouthpiece with resistance behind it. You breathe against the mouthpiece to build up pressure and move mucus.
  • Oscillation positive expiratory pressure: This treatment is a specialized type of PEP that also creates vibrations in your airways.
  • Bubble PEP: This treatment is the same idea as standard PEP, but it’s aimed at young children. Instead of a mask, children blow into a plastic tube that is placed in soapy water to create bubbles.
  • High frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWHO): HFCWO uses an electric pulse air generator that connects to an inflatable jacket and vibrates the chest to break up mucus.

You can often do chest physiotherapy in your own home. You don’t typically have to make an appointment or travel for treatment.

However, there are still a few things that can be a good idea to keep in mind before a treatment. These include:

  • wearing comfortable and soft clothing
  • removing jewelry that’s in contact with the neck, chest, or waist
  • blowing your nose before treatment begins
  • keeping a supply of tissues near the treatment area
  • making the treatment area a comfortable area with pillows and blankets

Chest physiotherapy is an important part of managing cystic fibrosis. It’s not used on its own, and it won’t cure or resolve cystic fibrosis. But it is an effective way to break up mucus and prevent infections.

You can find out more about cystic fibrosis by reading the answers to some common questions.

Does everyone with cystic fibrosis need to do chest physiotherapy?

No. Although most people with cystic fibrosis do need chest physiotherapy, people with very mild symptoms and infants might not.

How long does chest physiotherapy take?

Sessions typically take between 20 and 40 minutes.

Will insurance pay for chest physiotherapy equipment?

Not always. It’s important to check with your insurance provider to see what they cover. You might be able to use other options, such as the funds in a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA) instead.

Chest physiotherapy is an important part of cystic fibrosis management. There are a few types of chest physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist will recommend a treatment for you based on factors such as your age and the severity of your symptoms.

Often, your treatment routine changes throughout life. Chest physiotherapy techniques are typically done at home, and people commonly learn to perform them independently when they are old enough.