Chest physiotherapy and postural drainage

Chest physiotherapy is gently "clapping" parts of the body to remove mucus from the lungs. Postural drainage is getting in positions that make it easier for mucus to drain. They are often used together in conditions such as cystic fibrosis or a spinal cord injury (SCI) to help loosen and remove mucus from the lungs. When mucus collects in your lungs, it increases your risk for lung infections, such as pneumonia.

Following are general instructions for chest physiotherapy and postural drainage. Talk to your health professional about the positions you should use and how long to do it.

  • Be sure your back is covered. Wear a shirt or blouse, or cover your back with a towel.
  • Hold each position for 5 minutes to help the mucus drain from your lungs.
  • For each position, your caregiver claps your back quickly and rhythmically. Your caregiver bends his or her hand at the knuckles to form a cup. See an illustration of where to clap.
  • When your caregiver claps, you should hear a hollow sound. If you hear a slapping, the hand is not cupped enough.
  • Do not clap over the spine.

Morning is the best time to do postural drainage, because it helps clear mucus that has built up during the night. It may also be done just before bed to decrease nighttime coughing. Do not do it soon after a meal; this may increase the chance of vomiting.

Last Updated: February 18, 2009

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