Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy: What It Is and What to Expect

Shot of a senior woman being treated by a physiotherapist

If you have just recently undergone surgery on your heart or lungs, have a chronic condition related to breathing or circulation, or are currently experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, and/or a rapid heart rate, you may be referred to cardiopulmonary physical therapy (CPT). This type of therapy is designed to help improve your overall cardiac and pulmonary health. In this post, we will outline what cardiopulmonary PT is, what you can expect, and tips for success.

What Cardiopulmonary PT Is

Cardiopulmonary PT is a specialized form of physical therapy that focuses on the treatment and rehabilitation of patients with heart and lung conditions. This type of therapy can help improve your breathing, circulation, heart health, and overall quality of life. Typically, it involves a series of exercises and techniques that are primarily focused on the heart, lungs, diaphragm, chest wall muscles (such as those in your ribs), abdomen, back, arms, or legs.

Some popular exercises include:

  • Gentle, low-impact aerobic conditioning.
  • Breathing exercises and techniques to help improve lung capacity and/or function. These can include pursed-lip breathing, counting breath cycles, etc.
  • Stretches for the chest wall muscles (such as those in your ribs) or diaphragm. Stretching can help improve your range of motion and lung function.
  • Exercises to improve overall strength and cardiovascular health. This may include exercises such as walking, biking, or using an elliptical machine.
  • Balance and coordination exercises.

What to Expect During Cardiopulmonary PT

When you first begin cardiopulmonary physical therapy, you will likely undergo a comprehensive evaluation by your therapist. This evaluation will help identify any areas of concern and/or weakness, as well as set goals for treatment. During your sessions, you will work with a physical therapist who will assess your current condition and develop a treatment plan tailored specifically for you. This may include exercises that improve the strength and function of your heart and lungs, breathing techniques, strategies to help you manage any shortness of breath, and tips for continuing the process at home.

Your therapist will then finalize a personalized treatment plan that may include a combination of exercises, techniques, and education as well as diet plans to aid in the healing process. The goal of your therapy will be to improve your breathing, circulation, heart health, and overall quality of life. In general, you can expect to attend CPT sessions once or twice a week for several weeks or months. However, the length and frequency of treatment will vary depending on your individual needs.

Tips for Successful Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy Sessions

There are a few things that you can do to make sure that you are getting the most out of your CPT sessions and improving your cardiac and pulmonary health:

  • Be sure to arrive on time and dress in comfortable clothes that allow you to move freely. If you wear restrictive clothing to your therapy sessions, you may find it more difficult to complete your exercises.
  • Be sure to discuss any prescription medications with your therapist before beginning therapy sessions. Some drugs, such as beta-blockers or nitroglycerin, can cause blood pressure changes that may affect the outcomes of certain cardiopulmonary PT techniques and/or exercises. If you are on these types of medication, your therapist may need to modify your treatment plan.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after therapy sessions. This will help keep you hydrated and allow you to perform the exercises more effectively.
  • Follow all of your therapist’s instructions carefully. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to ask your therapist for clarification.
  • Be sure to ask your therapist if there are any activities you should avoid before, during, and/or after therapy sessions (e.g., lifting heavy objects or participating in strenuous physical activity). You may also want to inquire about how soon it is safe for you to engage in sexual intercourse again following certain types of cardiopulmonary PT.
  • Inform your therapist of any changes or concerns you are experiencing, both during and between sessions. This will help them make necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.

If you are consistent with your therapy sessions and follow all of your therapist’s instructions, you should see a noticeable improvement in your cardiac and pulmonary health. Remember to be patient, as it may take several weeks or months for significant changes to occur. And above all, enjoy the improved quality of life that comes with better heart and lung function!

Now that you have a better understanding of what to expect during cardiopulmonary physical therapy, be sure to talk to your doctor about whether this type of therapy may benefit you.



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