Postural drainage and chest percussion for cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis causes mucus to become thick and sticky, which can cause it to build up in the respiratory system. Postural drainage clears mucus from the lungs and helps prevent infection, inflammation, and related problems. The technique uses gravity to help drain mucus into the mouth by placing the body in specific positions. Each position drains different areas (lobes) of the lung. The mucus can then be spit or coughed out.

A doctor or respiratory therapist will recommend how often postural drainage should be done. Usually it's done at least once a day. It is important to do these exercises exactly as instructed.

Chest percussion is a vigorous clapping of the chest with a cupped hand to vibrate the airways in the lungs. This vibration moves the mucus from smaller airways into larger ones where it can be coughed up. Chest percussion is done with the help of a partner, special electronic devices designed to vibrate the chest, or other instruments that a person can use to vibrate the chest safely.

Manual chest percussion is time-consuming. It often takes 20 to 30 minutes, sometimes several times a day. Some positions may take only 1 to 2 minutes, and others take 10. Your specific routine depends on your age and the severity of your disease. Your doctor, along with your respiratory therapist, will help you determine how much time to spend in each position.

Postural drainage and chest percussion are generally considered very important for the successful treatment of cystic fibrosis. Studies show that older children with mild to moderate lung problems who stop these treatments will have decreased lung function after 3 weeks of not doing them.1


  1. Boat TF, Acton JD (2007). Cystic fibrosis. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., pp. 1803–1817. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Last Updated: June 23, 2009

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