Chest physiotherapy for acute bronchiolitis in paediatric patients between 0 and 24 months old

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 15:(2):CD004873. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004873.pub4.


Background: This is an update of the original Cochrane review published in 2005 and updated in 2007. Acute bronchiolitis is the leading cause of medical emergencies during winter in children younger than two years of age. Chest physiotherapy is thought to assist infants in the clearance of secretions and to decrease ventilatory effort.

Objectives: The main objective was to determine the efficacy of chest physiotherapy in infants aged less than 24 months old with acute bronchiolitis. A secondary objective was to determine the efficacy of different techniques of chest physiotherapy (for example, vibration and percussion and passive forced exhalation).

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 4) which contains the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group's Specialised Register, MEDLINE (1966 to November week 3, 2011), MEDLINE in-process and other non-indexed citations (8 December 2011), (1990 to December 2011), CINAHL (1982 to December 2011), LILACS (1985 to December 2011) and Web of Science (1985 to December 2011).

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in which chest physiotherapy was compared against no intervention or against another type of physiotherapy in bronchiolitis patients younger than 24 months of age.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently extracted data. Primary outcomes were respiratory parameters and improvement in severity of disease. Secondary outcomes were length of hospital stay, duration of oxygen supplementation and the use of bronchodilators and steroids. No pooling of data was possible.

Main results: Nine clinical trials including 891 participants were included comparing physiotherapy with no intervention. Five trials (246 participants) evaluated vibration and percussion techniques and four trials (645 participants) evaluated passive expiratory techniques. We observed no significant differences in the severity of disease (eight trials, 867 participants). Results were negative for both types of physiotherapy. We observed no differences between groups in respiratory parameters (two trials, 118 participants), oxygen requirements (one trial, 50 participants), length of stay (five trials, 222 participants) or severe side effects (two trials, 595 participants). Differences in mild transient adverse effects (vomiting and respiratory instability) have been observed (one trial, 496 participants).

Authors' conclusions: Since the last publication of this review new good-quality evidence has appeared, strengthening the conclusions of the review. Chest physiotherapy does not improve the severity of the disease, respiratory parameters, or reduce length of hospital stay or oxygen requirements in hospitalised infants with acute bronchiolitis not on mechanical ventilation. Chest physiotherapy modalities (vibration and percussion or forced expiratory techniques) have shown equally negative results.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Albuterol / therapeutic use
  • Bronchiolitis / therapy*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drainage, Postural
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / methods
  • Percussion / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Respiratory Therapy / methods*
  • Sodium Chloride / therapeutic use
  • Vibration / therapeutic use


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Albuterol