Pulmonary Rehab Can Strengthen Lungs

For patients who’ve been diagnosed with chronic respiratory issues, pulmonary rehabilitation is one of the best ways to improve quality of life, says Dr. Joseph Kittah, medical director of pulmonology at Beloit Health System.

“Pulmonary rehab has been in existence for years,” Kittah says. “It’s supported by data, and evidence-based medicine shows that it benefits patients.”

Unfortunately, many people don’t know it’s an option, Kittah says.

Pulmonary rehab usually entails a three-month program, with patients attending one-hour sessions a few times a week. Tools that might be used include a Positive Airway Pressure System, or EzPAP, similar to a CPAP machine; elastic resistance bands; treadmills; and incentive spirometry, which involves a ball-valve mechanism that a patient blows into to develop slow, deep breathing skills.

“Most people will notice significant improvement,” Kittah says. “Pulmonary rehab is shown to decrease hospitalization for acute respiratory issues. Most COPD patients generally are now able to have greater endurance and have improved respiratory function.”

In the past two years, Kittah also has worked with patients recovering from COVID-19. Some of them have persistent respiratory issues, and Kittah tries to get them at least one visit with a therapist, just long enough to be instructed on breathing strategies and exercises they can do at home.

That’s an important aspect of pulmonary rehab – as with any other sort of rehabilitation, the best results come to those who follow through with their exercises beyond the clinic.

“The strategies we use are long-standing techniques that have been practiced over years, and what we notice is patients who follow pulmonary rehab exercise regimens at home will benefit a lot,” Kittah says. “Pulmonary rehab is an initiation program that will teach you strategies, and we expect patients will follow these exercises and these education tips on their own. If you slack, if you do not perform, over time the benefits will erode.”

The thing about lung function, he says, is if you don’t use it, you lose it. ❚