Becky McKenna, PT, DPT teaches her patients how to breathe properly as part of the pulmonary rehabilitation program.
Pulmonary rehabilitation, designed to improve lung function, is often prescribed to those who have been diagnosed with COPD, emphysema, asthma, pulmonary hypertension, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis or restrictive lung disease.
At Bacharach, physical therapists collaborate with the Cardiac rehabilitation team to design a pulmonary rehabilitation program that fits the needs of each individual patient. By working together, physical therapists and cardiac specialists are able to address problems with breathing techniques and help patients work on their endurance.
Every pulmonary rehabilitation patient is first evaluated by a physical therapist. The evaluation includes: a review of the patient’s medical history, a discussion about what tasks are difficult for the patient because of breathing issues, a six-minute walking test, and a motion and strength assessment.
“Our patient evaluation gives us a quick gauge of what the patient’s oxygen levels are,” said John Defeo, a Senior Exercise Specialist at Bacharach. “People with breathing ailments often stay home and are not moving around a lot, so they get winded very easily which impacts their daily activities such as cooking or cleaning. When they come to pulmonary rehabilitation and see other people going through the same thing it can be very uplifting for them to know they are not alone.”
The cardiac team adds special expertise to pulmonary rehab.
Pulmonary patients usually come in twice a week for 8 to 10 weeks. Their therapy is exercise-based and uses different pieces of equipment, breathing exercises and postural exercises. The patients cycle through four main cardio exercises: a stationary bike, a treadmill, an arm bike and a seated stepper.
“While our patients are going through their cardio exercises we are helping them learn how to breathe properly,” said Rebecca McKenna, a PT, DPT at Bacharach. “Many patients have a tendency to breathe through their mouth, which is not ideal, especially if they are on oxygen, so we encourage them to try to breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth. Their posture is also extremely important. Many of our patients have a forward posture, with their head and shoulders forward, which is not a good way to get a deep breath in. Our goal is not only to help them break these bad habits, but to realize when they are happening, so they can start self-correcting.”
At each session, the intensity and duration of the workout increases in order to expand the patient’s endurance. The goal is that the increased endurance will carry into their daily lives and help make them more active and less sedentary.
“All improvement, even the small ones like walking to from the living room to the bathroom without being short of breath, is success in our eyes,” said Rebecca. “It is so rewarding to help someone who was limiting their daily or social activities get back out there. Our goal is to show them that they can do many things that seem difficult with a little bit of time and work.”
Bacharach’s pulmonary therapists also work with their patients to develop a program for when they get home which may include a walking regimen, the use of home exercise equipment or joining a gym.
“While pulmonary rehabilitation can not cure disease, it can help patients manage their health and help them to build up endurance and stamina, which allows them to get off the couch and get out and moving,” said John. “We also have a maintenance program that they can join to keep building on their improved function.”