Pulmonary Rehabilitation for COPD

Pulmonary Rehabilitation for COPD

pulmonary rehabilitation for copdPulmonary rehabilitation for COPD is a program of education and exercise that helps you reduce your COPD symptoms, improve your quality of life and increase physical and emotional participation in your everyday activities. Although exercise training plays a key role in a pulmonary rehabilitation program, many programs cover a wide range of problems unrelated to the lung that may not be adequately addressed by standard medical treatment.[1]

Topics Covered in a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

The topics covered in a pulmonary rehabilitation program vary widely depending on the program you attend. A program that’s based on a comprehensive approach should include:1

Benefits of a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

The benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation have been studied extensively in a large number of clinical trials. They include:1

  • Improved survival
  • Improved exercise tolerance
  • Reduced perception of breathlessness
  • Improved quality of life
  • Reduced hospitalization time and number of hospitalizations per year
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Improved arm function (with upper-arm strength and endurance training)
  • Improved recovery after hospitalization for COPD exacerbation
  • Enhanced effect of long-acting bronchodilators
  • Improved respiratory muscle strength (when combined with general exercise training)

Techniques Learned Through Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Most pulmonary rehabilitation programs are done on an outpatient basis and generally run two to three times a week for six to eight weeks. Your team members may include physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, dietitians, psychologists, cardiopulmonary technicians, social workers, pharmacists and nurses. The following techniques are among the many you may learn:[2]

  • Breathing techniques that will help you during activity and times of stress
  • Information about your medications including how to use your inhalers properly
  • Support to help you quit smoking
  • How to perform a variety of exercises to improve your strength and endurance
  • When to call your healthcare provider to report changes in your condition

I’m Extremely Short of Breath: How Can I Exercise?

If you currently get short of breath doing regular, daily activities, you may be wondering how you’ll be able to exercise in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. According to the American Thoracic Society, your pulmonary rehabilitation team will start you off with standard exercises that have been found to work well for people with breathing problems. The type and amount of exercises you do will depend upon your current level of fitness. As you build your strength and endurance, your exercise sessions will increase.[3]

What Will I Do During the Exercise Sessions?

Your exercise sessions may begin with simple stretching exercises, followed by strengthening exercises for your arms and legs using a set of light weights or stretchy bands. You’ll also do exercises to build your endurance which may include walking on a treadmill or using a stationary bicycle. You may start off exercising for short periods of time taking rest periods in between and end up exercising longer as you grow stronger.3

Will Insurance Cover Pulmonary Rehabilitation?  

Many insurance plans will cover pulmonary rehabilitation as long as you have a medical condition that will benefit from it and your doctor orders it.

After Pulmonary Rehabilitation Ends

It’s important to note that the benefits derived from exercise during a pulmonary rehabilitation program only last if you continue to exercise on your own once the program ends. Your pulmonary rehabilitation team will help you determine what type of exercise is best for you to do on your own, even if it means just taking a 20 minute walk every day.1

Where to Find a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

For a list of pulmonary rehabilitation programs in your area, contact the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation either online or by dialing (312) 321-5146. You can also contact your local chapter of the American Lung Association.

[1] “Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease”. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Updated 2016.

[2] Shimberg, Elaine. Coping with COPD. St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

[3] “Pulmonary Rehabilitation”. Am J Respir Crit Care Med Vol 188, P5-P6, 2013. www.thoracic.org. ATS Patient Education Series © 2013 American Thoracic Society

By Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML is not allowed in comments. It is automatically filtered out of comments.