How Vibration is Performed During Chest Physiotherapy

A doctor checks a patient with breathing problems.
A doctor checks a patient with breathing problems.. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

If you have COPD, you may have heard of postural drainage, a treatment performed by respiratory therapists and physical therapists to help clear airways. One of the fundamental techniques used to perform postural draining is called vibration. This airway clearance technique, coupled with chest percussion, is applied during therapy to help COPD patients clear mucus from their airways. Here's how vibration is performed and what you can expect if you schedule an appointment.

What is Postural Drainage?

Postural drainage is a technique that targets specific segments of the lungs to help clear mucus from the lungs of people with COPD and other respiratory illnesses. There are two techniques that caregivers use to perform postural drainage: chest percussion, a clapping movement performed with cupped hands, and vibration, a vibrating movement done with flatter hands.

How is Vibration Performed?

During vibration, caregivers will place a flat hand firmly against the patient's chest wall, on top of the appropriate lung segment to be drained. They then stiffens their arm and shoulder, apply light pressure and create a shaking movement, similar to that of a mechanical vibrating device. If you're the patient, you'll be instructed to breathe in deeply during vibration therapy, and exhale slowly and completely. Taking a deep breath and then exhaling slowly and forcefully without straining will help stimulate a productive cough.

How Does Vibration Help?

Vibration helps relieve COPD by gently shaking mucus and secretions into the large airways, making them easier to cough up. This is helpful because coughing is one of effective means of airway clearance. When you learn how to perform controlled coughing, you'll be better able to effectively cough up the mucus loosed by vibration and postural drainage.

Postural Drainage Positions

Now that you understand how the vibration technique works, learn what to expect during your session. Check out these resources to see diagrams and explanations of the various postural drainage positions.

Position #1: Upper Lobe Apical Segments

Position #2: Upper Lobe Posterior Segments

Position #3: Upper Lobe Anterior Segments

Position #4: Lingula

Position #5: Middle Lobe

Position #6: Lower Lobes Anterior Basal Segments

Position #7: Lower Lobes Posterior Basal Segments

Position #8 and #9: Lower Lobes Lateral Basal Segments

Position #10: Lower Lobes Superior Segments

With the help of these techniques, you can have clearer airways and breathe better with COPD. Read up on the following resources for more information about COPD treatment options.

Bronchodilators in the Treatment of COPD​

Treatment for Mild COPD

Treatment for Moderate COPD

Treatment for Very Severe COPD

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