Respiratory management

Our physiotherapists aim to make the best of a patient’s respiratory function in several ways. 

They assess ventilated (when connected to a ventilator or breathing machine) and self-ventilating patients, as well as chest and breathing function.

They provide treatments to improve and prevent deterioration of lung volumes,  which helps patients with chest infections clear their sputum and prevent further infection.

This can include positioning, manual techniques, suction, manipulation of ventilation, manual hyperinflation, assistance with coughing, and mobility and strengthening exercises. 

Our physiotherapists help patients get the best from mechanical ventilation and assist with weaning off this. Weaning is where a patient’s ventilator support is gradually reduced and reliance on the tube for breathing is lessened. 

Physiotherapists also help care for tracheotomised patients. A tracheostomy is a procedure to make a hole in the throat for a tube to be inserted. This tube is then connected to a ventilator.


Physiotherapists work closely with occupational therapists and the rest of the intensive care unit team to restore and maintain patients’ physical strength and function after prolonged ventilation, illness, surgery and/or bed rest.

Early rehabilitation has been shown to be safe and effective, and may include:

  • stretching and mobilising the limbs to maintain range of movement
  • early mobilisation, where a patient's readiness to move is assessed as early as the day after surgery or while they are still on a ventilator
  • transfer practice to get the patient out of bed as soon as possible
  • patient-centred exercise programmes, including cardiovascular fitness, strength training and balance exercise
  • helping with personal care and restoring the activities of daily living

Rehabilitation, alongside respiratory management, aims to improve patients’ physical abilities and work towards regaining their independence.