The physiotherapy management of patients undergoing thoracic surgery: a survey of current practice in Australia and New Zealand

Physiother Res Int. 2007 Jun;12(2):59-71. doi: 10.1002/pri.354.


Background and purpose: Physiotherapy is considered an essential component of the management of patients after thoracotomy, yet the type of interventions utilized, and evidence for their efficacy, has not been established. The aim of the present study was to ascertain the current physiotherapy management of patients undergoing thoracotomy and the factors influencing practice among different providers.

Method: A purpose-designed postal questionnaire was distributed to senior physiotherapists in all thoracic surgical units throughout Australia and New Zealand (n=57).

Results: A response rate of 81% was obtained (n=46). Pre-operatively, 16 respondents (35%) reported assessing all thoracotomy patients. The majority of respondents (n=44; 96%) indicated that all patients were seen by physiotherapists after surgery, with 29 respondents (63%) performing prophylactic physiotherapy interventions to prevent post-operative pulmonary complications. Respondents reported that physiotherapy treatment was usually commenced on day one post-operatively (n=37; 80%) with the most commonly used treatment interventions being deep breathing exercises, the active cycle of breathing techniques, cough, forced expiration techniques and sustained maximal inspirations. Most respondents reported that patients first sat out of bed (n=41; 89%), commenced shoulder range of movement (n=23; 50%) and walking (n=32; 70%) on day one post-operatively. The majority of respondents reported that they offered no post-operative pulmonary rehabilitation (n=25; 54%), outpatient follow-up (n=43; 94%) orpost-thoracotomy pain management (n=40; 87%). Respondents indicated that personal experience, literature recommendations and established practice were the factors which most influenced physiotherapy practice. Conclusion. Most patients after thoracotomy receive physiotherapy assessment and/or treatment in the immediate post-operative period, but only one-third were routinely seen pre-operatively and relatively few were reviewed following discharge from hospital. Further studies are required to guide physiotherapists in determining the efficacy of their practices for patients undergoing thoracotomy.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Cough / physiopathology
  • Exhalation / physiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Inhalation / physiology
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • New Zealand
  • Pain, Postoperative / prevention & control
  • Patient Discharge
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Postoperative Care
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Preoperative Care
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Shoulder Joint / physiopathology
  • Thoracotomy* / rehabilitation
  • Time Factors
  • Walking / physiology