Can Chest Physiotherapy Cure Shortness of Breath?

(Last Updated On: November 14, 2018)

Shortness of Breath – Causes & Treatment

The causes for shortness of breath are different and not all of them require an emergency action. Only the shortness of breath that starts suddenly (called acute dyspnea) needs prompt medical action and in case of shortness of breath that lasts for a week (called sub-acute dyspnea) or which lasts since many years (called chronic dyspnea) doesn’t need emergency action and can be helped with exercises that one may call as chest physiotherapy.

This article will discuss about the causes, symptoms and what can be done at the time of acute, sub-acute and chronic shortness of breath.

Shortness of breath commonly occurs when bodily requirement of oxygen exceeds the body’s capacity to supply. People often co-relate shortness of breath with lung problems, which is a not completely true. It can be due to:

  • Cardiac (For e.g. Congestive Heart Failure, Cardiomyopathy, Pericarditis etc)
  • Lung (For e.g. Asthma, Tuberculosis, COPD, Pulmonary fibrosis etc)
  • Chest wall deformity (For e.g. Kyphosis, Scoliosis, Broken rib etc)
  • De-conditioning (For e.g. Prolong bed rest, comatose etc)
  • Blood (For e.g. Low blood count, Low blood pressure, poisoning)
  • Obesity
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Psychogenic

Luckily, most of the causes of shortness of breath can be treated quickly once the cause is identified.

Symptoms of Shortness of Breath

  • Irregular breathing patterns
  • Nasal flaring
  • Frequent sighs
  • Shivering of hands and feet
  • Overall numbness
  • Light headedness

How to Prevent Shortness of Breath?

  • Avoid smoking
  • Avoid unnecessary contact with dust, pollens, furred animals, sprays and cold environment.

How a Cardiopulmonary Therapist can help?

People are not aware of chest physiotherapy or physiotherapy in cardiac or respiratory problems but it plays an important role in management of the cardiac or respiratory diseases from childhood to old age population.

Apart from clearing lungs filled with different techniques a physiotherapist helps in encouraging and advising regarding the exercise, posture, mobility, various inhalation therapies and in later stages of disease.

Assessment before Chest Physiotherapy

Your physiotherapist may perform various tests to assess the severity of your problem. These tests may include 6-minute walk test, treadmill test, modified Borg Scale etc. based on condition and availability.

Treating Shortness of Breath


Shortness of breath could be due to accumulation of secretions in the lung fields. Cough out the secretions so that better exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide can take place.

Secretions which are less viscous can be easily removed out with coughing but for more viscous secretions you can either take nebulizer (as prescribed by your pulmonologist) orsteam inhalation.

Relaxed Breathing

Place one hand over the abdomen so that you can feel the rise, Breath in and hold the breath for 1-2 seconds and then exhale out with mouth. This can help in reducing fatigue of respiratory muscles.

Building up Respiratory Muscles

As we do dumbbells to make our biceps and other muscles, Respiratory muscle training is required to make up our inspiratory/expiratory muscle. It is important because these muscles help you in drawing air in and out.

This is a basic overview on how chest physiotherapy plays a role in treating shortness of breath. You can consult a cardiovascular and respiratory physical therapist for more information. You can also download Portea’s mobile app and chat with a doctor for free.

Looking for physiotherapy at home, get it from Portea.


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Dr. Poonam Negi holds a Master’s degree in Physiotherapy from Indraprastha University, New Delhi. She specializes in cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. She loves painting and listening to songs and feels that songs are the best healers. She quotes, “A positive mind will always give you a positive life.”


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