Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a respiratory condition associated with altered chest wall mechanics and musculoskeletal changes. In this narrative review, we describe the underlying musculoskeletal abnormalities in COPD, the reasons for applying manual therapy techniques, their method of application and clinical effects. A variety of manual therapy techniques have been applied in individuals with COPD, including soft tissue therapy, spinal and joint manipulation and mobilisation, and diaphragmatic release techniques. These have been prescribed in isolation and in conjunction with other treatments, including exercise therapy. When applied in isolation, transient benefits in respiratory rate, heart rate and symptoms have been reported. Combined with exercise therapy, including within pulmonary rehabilitation, benefits and their corresponding clinical relevance have been mixed, the extent to which may be dependent on the type of technique applied. The current practical considerations of applying these techniques, including intense therapist-patient contact and the unclear effects in the long term, may limit the broad use of manual therapy in the COPD population. Further high quality research, with adequate sample sizes, that identifies the characteristic features of those with COPD who will most benefit, the optimal choice of treatment approach and the longevity of effects of manual therapy is required.
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- manual therapy
- exercise tolerance
- musculoskeletal dysfunction