Conventional chest physiotherapy compared to other airway clearance techniques for cystic fibrosis

E Main, A Prasad, Cees van der Schans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Cystic fibrosis is an inherited life-limiting disorder, characterised by pulmonary infections and thick airway secretions. Chest physiotherapy has been integral to clinical management in facilitating removal of airway secretions. Conventional chest physiotherapy techniques (CCPT) have depended upon assistance during treatments, while more contemporary airway clearance techniques are self-administered, facilitating independence and flexibility.

OBJECTIVES: To compare CCPT with other airway clearance techniques in terms of their effects on respiratory function, individual preference, adherence, quality of life and other outcomes.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group trials register which comprises references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches and handsearching of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings. We also searched CINAHL from 1982 to 2002 and AMED from 1985 to 2002. Date of most recent search: January 2004.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised or quasi-randomised clinical trials including those with a cross-over design where CCPT was compared with other airway clearance techniques. Studies of less than seven days duration were excluded.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers allocated quality scores to relevant studies and independently extracted data. If we were unable to extract data, we invited authors to submit their data. We excluded studies from meta-analysis when data were lost or study design precluded comparison. For some continuous outcomes, we used the generic inverse variance method for meta-analysis of data from cross-over trials and data from parallel-designed trials were incorporated for comparison. We also examined efficacy of specific techniques and effects of treatment duration.

MAIN RESULTS: Seventy-eight publications were identified by the searches. Twenty-nine of these were included, representing 15 data sets with 475 participants. There was no difference between CCPT and other airway clearance techniques in terms of respiratory function measured by standard lung function tests. Studies undertaken during acute exacerbations demonstrated relatively large gains in respiratory function irrespective of airway clearance technique. Longer-term studies demonstrated smaller improvements or deterioration over time. Ten studies reported individual preferences for technique, with participants tending to favour self-administered techniques. Heterogeneity in the measurement of preference precluded these data from meta-analysis.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: This review demonstrated no advantage of CCPT over other airway clearance techniques in terms of respiratory function. There was a trend for participants to prefer self-administered airway clearance techniques. Limitations of this review included a paucity of well-designed, adequately-powered, long-term trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-35
JournalThe Cochrane database of systematic reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2005


  • cystic fibrosis
  • humans
  • mucociliary clearance
  • randomized controlled trials as topic
  • respiratory therapy
  • meta-analysis


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