The Value of Physiotherapy: Chronic Lung Disease


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease including emphysema, asthma and bronchitis.In Canada there is an increasing prevalence of chronic lung disease. It is one of the leading causes of death in Canada. One in four individuals will be diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and receive treatment for the disease during their lifetime. Exercise and physical activity training, prescribed by a physiotherapist, is an important component of pulmonary rehabilitation programs for improving functional performance and quality of life. Bronchitis is a respiratory condition where air passages in the lungs, called the bronchial tubes, become inflamed. When this happens, you may cough extra mucus and have difficulty breathing.



Symptoms of the disease include coughing and shortness of breath. In 80-90% of COPD cases, the leading cause is cigarette smoking and affects 1.5 million Canadians.



Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR), including physiotherapy, is the standard of care for patients with COPD. These programs include exercise training and self-management education, and psychosocial and nutritional interventions. Physiotherapists prescribe high-intensity lower limb aerobic training and upper and lower limb strengthening exercises while also recommending appropriate self-management techniques. PR programs are provided as outpatient hospital-based programs, outpatient community-based programs and in the community. Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs range from six to 12 weeks in duration. All delivery models are equally cost effective and result in positive health outcomes for patients with COPD.

Physiotherapists are trained in proper breathing techniques, mucus-clearing techniques and can prescribe safe and effective exercise to help you manage your condition.



Participation in a Pulmonary rehabilitation program leads to a greater sense of achievement of desired health outcomes. This can also reduce anxiety about the negative consequences of COPD, while contributing to a better understanding of the variability of symptoms and personal control.

PR Programs:

  • including exercise training and self-management strategies
  • decreases respiratory symptoms and disability
  • increases participation in physical and social activities
  • reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with COPD
  • enable COPD patients to remain in their homes longer



Exercise and self-management strategies positively impact self-management, exercise tolerance and health-related quality of life in individuals with COPD

  • Multidisciplinary outpatient PR programs significantly improve exercise capacity, and quality of life in people with COPD
  • PR significantly reduces exacerbations, hospitalizations, and days of hospitalizations in the year following participation in PR
  • PR for COPD reduces an individual’s anxiety and shortness of breath and improves perceived health



Pulmonary Rehabilitation, including physiotherapy is recommended in several international guidelines as a component in the management of COPD. It is a clinically effective tool for the management of individuals with COPD in hospitals and in the community. Physiotherapy is a cost effective intervention that contributes to the individual’s quality of life and reduces demand on the health care system.


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The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) represents physiotherapists, physiotherapist assistants and physiotherapist students across Canada. CPA members are rehabilitation professionals dedicated to the health, mobility and fitness of Canadians.

Physiotherapists are primary health care professionals who combine their in-depth knowledge of the body and how it works with specialized hands-on clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat symptoms of illness, injury or disability.

More than 20,000 registered physiotherapists work in Canada, in private clinics, general and rehabilitation hospitals, community health centres, residential care and assisted-living facilities, home visit agencies, workplaces, and schools.

The CPA presents its educational references as a public service and for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CPA membership.