What Is Pulmonary Rehabilitation? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Thomas Johnson, PA-C
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Pulmonary rehabilitation is a treatment program your doctor may recommend for treating a respiratory condition. The program teaches breathing techniques and exercises to help you breathe more easily. Your pulmonary rehabilitation program may also include psychological counseling to offer emotional support. Additionally, it may include nutritional counseling to help you ensure that you receive all your required nutrients.

Read on to find out more about pulmonary rehabilitation. This guide includes who pulmonary rehabilitation is for, what to expect, when to see a doctor, and more.

Who is pulmonary rehabilitation for?

A person is doing breathing exercises.
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Doctors originally recommended pulmonary rehabilitation to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

However, the program may also benefit people with other conditions that affect their lungs and breathing.

Other conditions for which your doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation include:

A 2021 study also finds that pulmonary rehabilitation may help speed up the recovery of lung function after COVID-19.

Learn about the symptoms of respiratory conditions.

What happens before pulmonary rehabilitation?

If your doctor recommends pulmonary rehabilitation, they may conduct a series of tests to help design your program.

Tests can include:

  • breathing tests to see how well your lungs work
  • exercise stress test to measure your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen level during exercise
  • 6-minute walk test to see how far you can walk in 6 minutes

Your doctor can explain the tests they request in more detail and answer any questions you may have.

Learn more about exercise stress tests.

What happens during pulmonary rehabilitation?

Your doctor and healthcare team will create a pulmonary rehabilitation plan to meet your individual needs.

The pulmonary rehabilitation program can include:

  • breathing techniques
  • exercise training
  • education
  • nutritional counseling
  • psychological counseling

Breathing techniques

You will be able to learn specific techniques to help you to breathe more easily. This can include:

  • pursed lip breathing
  • yoga breathing
  • breathing with computer-aided feedback

Breathing techniques can help you to have more control over your breathing. It can also help you to feel less out of breath during exercise.

Learn more about breathing treatments.

Exercise training

Exercise training focuses on teaching you how to exercise safely. Your healthcare team will monitor your breathing and oxygen levels and help you modify your exercise regime.

Exercises to improve your endurance and muscle strength can involve:

  • a stationary bike
  • a treadmill
  • weights

Once you have been doing pulmonary rehabilitation for a while, you may be able to perform the exercises at home. It is important to follow your doctor’s advice about when it is safe to exercise without assistance.

Education

As part of your program, your healthcare team will be able to provide you with more information about your condition.

Education can occur in either individual or group sessions and can focus on:

  • helping you find ways to manage your condition
  • recognizing signs of a flare-up and finding a way to prevent them
  • ways of conserving energy and avoiding feeling out of breath during daily lifting, reaching, or bending
  • helping you quit smoking if you smoke

Nutritional counseling

A dietitian may help you to learn about and prepare meals that can help you to manage your condition. They will also help ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients that you require.

Where relevant, they can recommend nutritional supplements. They can also help you create an eating plan to maintain a moderate weight.

Psychological counseling

Some people with chronic lung conditions can experience mood changes. Psychological counseling focuses on helping you find ways to manage symptoms such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • other emotional problems

Psychological counseling may take place as either individual or group sessions.

What are the benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation?

Your pulmonary rehabilitation program will help you manage your daily activities. It will help you breathe more easily.

Exercise training will improve your strength and endurance. At the same time, you will learn to control your breathing more effectively during physical activity.

Counseling can help you manage your nutrition alongside symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

What are the risks of pulmonary rehabilitation?

There are no known risks of pulmonary rehabilitation besides the general risks of physical exertion.

Your healthcare team will monitor you during exercise training. They will monitor your breathing and oxygen levels to ensure that you exercise as safely as possible

How long does pulmonary rehabilitation take?

Pulmonary rehabilitation can take place over the course of several weeks or months. You will typically have 2–3 sessions per week.

Who provides pulmonary rehabilitation?

A team of healthcare professionals will provide pulmonary rehabilitation. This team can include:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • dietitians
  • exercise specialists
  • physical therapists
  • respiratory therapists

When should I see a doctor?

Contact your doctor if you have a respiratory condition and wish to discuss pulmonary rehabilitation. Your doctor may recommend pulmonary rehabilitation or another treatment to help manage your condition.

You should also contact your doctor if you have any questions about your existing pulmonary rehabilitation program. They will be able to provide you with more information about your specific plan.

What happens after pulmonary rehabilitation?

At the end of your pulmonary rehabilitation program, your healthcare team will conduct tests to assess your breathing. This allows them to see how well it has improved.

They will also help you develop a long-term exercise plan to continue the practices you learned in the program.

Summary

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a treatment program that can help people with respiratory conditions. It focuses on exercise training and breathing techniques.

Some programs also include psychological counseling to help you manage symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. A dietitian may provide nutritional counseling to help plan meals and ensure you eat a balanced diet.

Contact your doctor if you have a respiratory condition and wish to find out if pulmonary rehabilitation is for you. They can answer any questions you may have and advise on what treatments they recommend.

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Medical Reviewer: Thomas Johnson, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 11
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Levine, A. R., et al. (2022). Pulmonary rehabilitation. https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/pulmonary-rehabilitation/pulmonary-rehabilitation
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  6. Zhu, P., et al. (2021). Pulmonary rehabilitation accelerates the recovery of pulmonary function in patients with COVID-19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8329030/