The aim of this work is to make a critical review about the different techniques of respiratory physiotherapy used following cardiac surgery and this effectiveness in reverting pulmonary dysfunction. It has been used as reference publications in English and Portuguese using as key words thoracic surgery, respiratory exercises, physical therapy modalities, postoperative complications and myocardial revascularization, contained in the following databases BIREME, SciELO Brazil, LILACS, PUBMED, from 1997 to 2007. A secondary search of the reference list of identified articles also was made. It has been selected eleven randomized trials (997 patients). For the articles included incentive spirometry was used in three; deep breathing exercises in six; deep breathing exercises added to positive expiratory pressure in four and positive airway pressure added to inspiratory resistance in two. Three trials used intermittent positive pressure breathing. Continuous positive airway pressure and bi-level positive airway pressure has been used in three and two trials. The protocols used in the studies were varied and the co interventions were present in a big part of these. The different analyzed varieties and the time of postoperatory follow up make a comparative analysis difficult. Pulmonary dysfunction is evident in the postoperatory period of cardiac surgery. The use of noninvasive ventilation has been associated with good results in the first postoperatory days. Despite the known importance of postoperatory respiratory physiotherapy, until now, there is no literary consensus about the superiority of one technique over the others.