The effect of physical therapy on respiratory complications following cardiac valve surgery

Chest. 1996 Mar;109(3):638-44. doi: 10.1378/chest.109.3.638.


Study objective: To determine whether higher personnel intensive chest physical therapy can prevent the atelectasis that routinely follows cardiac valve surgery.

Design: Randomized, controlled trial.

Setting: Tertiary care hospital.

Patients: Seventy-eight patients undergoing elective cardiac valve surgery between October 1991 and April 1993 were enrolled.

Interventions: Patients were randomized in an unmasked fashion to receive early mobilization and sustained maximal inflations (lower-intensity treatment) or to receive early mobilization, sustained maximal inflations, and single-handed percussions (higher-intensity treatment.)

Measurements and results: Clinical efficacy was determined by extent of atelectasis, length of ICU stay, total length of hospital stay, and personnel costs. The extent of postoperative atelectasis was similar in both groups on the fifth postoperative day. Postoperative values of FVC and FEV1 were reduced to a similar extent in both groups. Hospital stays and ICU stays were similar regardless of treatment. Physical therapy costs were highest in the higher-intensity therapy group.

Conclusions: Postoperative respiratory dysfunction is common but does not usually cause significant morbidity or prolong hospital stay. The routine prescription of high-intensity physical therapy does not improve patient outcomes but does add significantly to patient costs.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / rehabilitation*
  • Female
  • Heart Valves / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities* / economics
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / prevention & control*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Treatment Outcome