The evidence for secretion clearance techniques

Respir Care. 2001 Nov;46(11):1276-93.


Many acute and chronic respiratory diseases are associated with increased respiratory secretions in the airways. Narrative reviews and a few systematic reviews of secretion clearance techniques have been published. These reviews raise concerns regarding the lack of evidence to support the various secretion clearance techniques. I conducted a comprehensive MEDLINE search of the following subjects: chest physical therapy, chest physiotherapy, postural drainage, forced expiratory technique, autogenic drainage, high-frequency chest wall compression, flutter device and secretions, positive expiratory pressure and secretions, intrapulmonary percussion, mechanical in-exsufflation and secretions. This was followed by a comprehensive search of cross-references to identify additional studies. The results of this review are reported herein. There are a number of methodological limitations of the literature reporting studies of the use of secretion clearance techniques. Most of the studies were small, most used crossover designs, and few used sham therapy. Many studies were limited to short-term outcomes such as sputum clearance with a single treatment session. Despite the clinical observation that retained secretions are detrimental to respiratory function and despite anecdotal associations between secretion clearance and improvements in respiratory function, there is a dearth of high-level evidence to support any secretion clearance technique.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drainage / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / therapy*
  • Mucus*
  • Respiration
  • Respiration, Artificial