the role of physiotherapists in helping people with lung conditions
– by Luke Zubiena, student Physiotherapist at University of Brighton
Respiratory physiotherapy describes the work of a specialist physiotherapist who helps in treating and educating patients who have lung or breathing problems. They can either be working a set shift pattern or be on call waiting for emergencies.
Respiratory physiotherapists can work on almost any ward in a hospital, including surgical, oncology, critical care, neurosurgical, and paediatrics. They can also be active in the community visiting patients in their home environments.
They can see patients of any age who are chronically or acutely unwell, and can help manage and educate on a whole range of respiratory conditions. The most common conditions include Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Bronchiectasis, Cystic Fibrosis, Interstitial Lung Disease, Asthma, Pneumonia, and COVID-19.
Respiratory physiotherapists specialise in a wide range of assessment and management techniques. In terms of assessment, they can gather information from subjective and objective assessments, interpret chest x rays, assess for normal and abnormal breathing sounds, interpret arterial blood gas results, and then use this gathered information to inform evidence-based treatments. When treating patients they can help with techniques that can improve lung volumes, gas exchange, shortness of breath, and dysfunctional breathing. They can also refer to and run pulmonary rehabilitation classes for those with certain respiratory conditions. These supervised programmes include exercise training, health education, and breathing techniques.
When educating patients, respiratory physiotherapists apply a self-management approach to encourage and teach skills to help patients manage their health conditions. This can help guide patients towards being able to set goals, problem solve, and make decisions regarding their own health. In terms of specific techniques that can be taught to patients, these include chest clearance and breathing strategies that aid with shortness of breath. Smoking cessation can also be discussed if appropriate.