Updated 17 November 2017

Medication isn't the only option for managing your asthma

There may be another option to help manage your asthma – one which doesn't involve popping pills and inhaling gases.

A steroid prescription, an asthma pump and perhaps a nebuliser are generally regarded as the basic tools to manage asthma.

Many asthma sufferers think they need stronger medication if they don't have sufficient control over their condition.

While this may be the most effective solution for some people, physiotherapy might be another, less chemically intensive option to consider.

3 physiotherapy options

Depending on the severity of your asthma, your healthcare professional may recommend any of the following physiotherapy techniques to help manage your asthma:

1. Breathing therapy to rectify breathing disorders

Many people don't breathe properly, which may lead to shortness of breath and insufficient oxygen in the blood. 

The European Respiratory Society (ERS) says breathing exercises can be broadly divided into three groups: breathing retraining, respiratory muscle training and musculoskeletal training.

Breathing retraining looks at manipulating and controlling breathing patterns; respiratory muscle training explores resistance training for increased strength and endurance; and musculoskeletal training aims to improve posture, along with increasing flexibility of the thoracic cavity.

Therapists could also teach the Buteyko method of breathing exercises, which was developed by Ukraine-born Dr Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko, whose aim was to develop the correct oxygen and carbon dioxide ratio in the bloodstream.

2. Physical Training

Even though some people suffer from exercise-induced asthma, physiotherapists may be able to help by using a training regime which doesn't trigger asthma as severely. Correct breathing techniques may also help.

While asthma sufferers may battle with exercise, it is still a critical component to help manage the condition. A study done in the Netherlands and published in the Respiratory Medicine Journal advises adults to do approximately 30 minutes of exercise daily to increase cardiorespiratory endurance and fitness.

3. Secretion removal

Some asthma patients may produce excessive amounts of mucus, which they may not be able to get rid of without help.

Physiotherapists may use three methods to help loosen mucus in your lungs, which your family and friends can learn in order to be able to also help you:

1. Percussion is when they used cupped hands and pat the areas where your lungs are located. Even though these methods are considered a "mellow" way to loosen mucus, physiotherapists find it effective. They can perform up to 480 cups per minute and usually carry on for two to three minutes before changing to a different technique.

2. Physiotherapists also use vibration, where one hand is placed on top of the other and the hand on top is gently manoeuvred to create a vibration-like motion.

3. Another method is shaking, where the hands are placed in a similar position to vibration; the movement of the hands are however slightly more abrupt and the motion resembles gentle shaking.

These methods are seldom performed on bare skin. Many therapists use a thin blanket or sheet for a little padding and always check if the force they are using is comfortable and not painful.

A few things to consider beforehand

Before considering these methods of physiotherapy, you need to get clearance from your healthcare professional and your physiotherapist. If you have any conditions or injuries, such as osteoporosis, rib fractures, anxiety or a pacemaker, you should disclose this information from the start.

Some of these techniques may be an option for your children, even infants and toddlers.

Ask your healthcare professional for more information and advice if you consider physiotherapy for asthma management. They should be able to give you more direction and would also be able to refer you to an experienced physiotherapist.

Image credit: iStock


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Asthma Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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