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Cardio-Respiratory physiotherapy: From hospital admission to rehabilitation at home.

Physiotherapy can help you recover from an illness and support you as you improve and return to a more active life.

Physiotherapists work throughout the hospital system providing cares from the emergency department, the intensive care unit and on the ward.

Ward-based physiotherapists work during the day and provide emergency physiotherapy cares after hours including weekends and holidays. These emergency cares are usually for heart and lung problems

A cardio-respiratory physiotherapist focuses on the assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation of patients with new or long-standing heart or lung conditions.

If you have ever been admitted to hospital for an acute lung or heart illness, undergone major surgery chest or abdominal surgery or experienced physical trauma (such as a car accident) you are likely to have seen a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

In ICU, physiotherapists play a vital role in the management of a patient who is on a machine to help them breathe or a higher dependency patient, helping to keep the lungs clear of phlegm and helping areas of the lung to open up so breathing can be as normal as possible. They work as part of a large team of health care workers to wean off ventilation, keeping the muscles and joints active until patients are able to breath on their own and move. Physiotherapists begin this rehabilitation early in order to maintain crucial function and mobility. The treatments in this area are overseen and mainly provided by cardio-respiratory physiotherapists.

What to expect?

  • A full assessment and individually based treatment program depending on your individual need.
  • Exercising and early mobility - sitting on the edge of a bed, hoisting or transferring to a chair even while ventilate.
  • Treatments include a variety of techniques to help with lung clearance, and mobility.
  • Exercises to maintain strength and range of movement.

Acute Wards

Physiotherapists assess and treat patients on the acute medical and surgical wards of all hospitals, this includes patients who are unwell with a pneumonia, following surgery or after an accident and those with exacerbations of chronic lung, heart and other conditions.

What to expect?

  • A physiotherapist will see patients in the wards to assess and treat them as required.
  • Cardio-respiratory physiotherapy treatment includes individually prescribed breathing, physical and functional exercises.
  • Physiotherapists support patients to take control and manage their own exercises and cares as part of the rehabilitation process.


Cardio-respiratory physiotherapists are able to follow patients up after they leave hospital to further assess and treat and assist their return to full function.

What to expect?

  • This follow up could be just via a phone call or via telehealth.
  • You may have had an exercise/management plan to continue with on discharge.
  • If required, the physiotherapist makes an appointment and can come to see you in your home if appropriate or you can attend an outpatient appointment.
  • Community cardio-respiratory physiotherapists continue the rehabilitative process until your health goals are met.

Optimising Breathing

A cardio-respiratory physiotherapist is able to review your breathing pattern and use techniques to effectively manage symptoms and reduce the effort of breathing where necessary.

If you have a chronic lung condition a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist will prescribe individual lung clearance techniques and a management plan .If you have a chronic lung condition such as bronchiectasis, COPD, asthma and have not seen a physiotherapist recently, ask your GP to refer you to a physiotherapist who works with people with heart and lung problems.

If you have symptoms of breathlessness or altered breathing pattern a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist can assess and offer treatment strategies.

What to expect?

  • Full assessments take time and you may learn a lot about your breathing problem from having a full assessment done.
  • Learning more about what has been a problem for a long time can relieve a lot of worry and anxiety.
  • Altered breathing patterns are complex and require individual assessments to ensure the right treatment is given.


A physiotherapist will work with you through your rehabilitation stage to achieve your goals. This may be at home, or you may be invited to attend some form of group exercise which is specific to your condition.

One treatment commonly available for people who have had chronic lung or heart problems is pulmonary or cardiac rehabilitation. These classes are run by a health care workers including a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist and currently available via telehealth.

Pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation is proven to;

  • Increase your sense of control.
  • Reduce the severity of your breathlessness.
  • Improve your mood and motivation.
  • Improve muscle strength, function and your exercise endurance.

Ask your doctor to refer you for pulmonary or cardiac rehabilitation. If there are no classes available in your area, then you can ask to be referred (or self-refer) to a DHB or local physio who is skilled in treating people with cardio-respiratory issues. Your physio can discuss your needs and put together an activity plan just for you.

What to expect?

  • An individually prescribed exercise plan which has been made for you based on your healthcare needs.
  • Individualised and specialised management of your respiratory or cardiac condition.
  • Personalised strengthening programmes including for breathing muscles.
  • Helping restore fitness levels and learning ways to manage fatigue.
  • A focus on functional activities.

Physiotherapy can help create an individualised management plan to help you to manage your symptoms and work with you towards achieving the level of activity you want to experience in your life.

Cardio-respiratory physiotherapists are trained to treat people across the lifespan, and with a diverse range of abilities.