Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Is It For You?

If you have COPD, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer or other breathing-related problems, Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a program that can improve your quality of life. Healthcare providers will teach you new skills and supervise exercise programs to increase your strength. With their help, you’ll be able to go outside and get your mail with ease.

What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a supervised education and exercise program designed to help people with chronic (long-term) lung diseases. It will not cure your lung disease, but you may notice fewer breathing problems, more strength and an improved quality of life.


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Who should have Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Any person with a chronic lung disease might benefit from Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Examples of chronic lung conditions include:

  • COPD: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis).
  • Interstitial lung disease (sarcoidosis and pulmonary fibrosis).
  • Lung cancer and lung cancer surgery.
  • Lung volume reduction surgery before and after a lung transplantation.
  • Asthma.
  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Pulmonary hypertension.

What are the goals of Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Pulmonary Rehabilitation has three main goals:

  • Help your shortness of breath.
  • Improve your quality of life.
  • Improve your ability to do daily living activities, like housework or going out with your family.

What are the benefits of Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

The benefits of Pulmonary Rehabilitation include:

  • You might have fewer symptoms, like less cough or less shortness of breath.
  • Your quality of life may improve.
  • You may be able to walk more or improve your ability to exercise.
  • You may feel better about yourself or feel less anxious.
  • You may feel less tired.
  • You might not have to go to the hospital as often.

What should I expect when I enter Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Your Pulmonary Rehabilitation may be overseen by nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, dietitians, social workers, spiritual advisors and/or physicians. They will help design a personal program for you. Pulmonary Rehabilitation may include the following:

  • Assessment: Your assessment will be done by a nurse, respiratory therapist, exercise physiologist, or other healthcare provider. You may do a stress test that measures your oxygen level, blood pressure and heart rate, followed by pulmonary function tests to check your breathing and a walking test to measure how far you can go in six minutes.
  • Education: You’ll learn subjects to help you deal with your chronic lung condition.
  • Exercise: You’ll learn exercises to help you feel better and do more.
  • Psychosocial: You’ll learn how to deal mentally and emotionally with your chronic lung condition.
  • Nutrition: You’ll learn what foods and weight may be best.

You’ll meet in groups and also one-on-one with the staff.


Where is Pulmonary Rehabilitation done? How often do I have to go?

Most Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs will be done at your local hospital or outpatient health center. Pulmonary Rehabilitation is usually two or three times a week for four to 12 weeks or more. Some programs even offer in-home sessions. Be sure to attend every session so you get the most out of the program! It may be hard and will take some time, but you should feel much better after attending. Ask your healthcare provider about a local program.

How does Pulmonary Rehabilitation work?

Chronic lung disease can cause your muscles to become weak. The muscles involved in breathing and in moving must be re-strengthened. You will have your own exercise program designed to improve your strength and endurance. You will receive education about your disease or condition. During the educational parts, you will learn:

  • How to manage your symptoms.
  • How to deal with shortness of breath.
  • How to best use your respiratory medicines to treat your lung condition.
  • How to use home medical equipment if it’s needed
  • How to make good nutritional choices and manage your weight, and diet.

In the exercise classes, your Pulmonary Rehabilitation staff will design a plan that takes all of your needs, strengths and weaknesses into account. You may start by stretching, then get on a stationary bicycle or treadmill, or even exercise while you’re sitting. You may build your strength using light weights. Regular exercise will improve your strength and endurance and will help you get through your day easier.

Many Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs offer counseling or support groups because managing your mental and emotional health is just as important as managing your physical health.

What are the risks of Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

There are very few risks involved with Pulmonary Rehabilitation. You will get short of breath, but your exercise will be carefully monitored. You may have sore muscles when you first start the program, but this should improve with regular exercise. Your Pulmonary Rehabilitation team is highly trained and they will see to it that you get the best treatment.

How much does Pulmonary Rehabilitation cost?

Medicare and most insurances cover Pulmonary Rehabilitation for COPD, and other lung conditions. The coverage does vary depending on the program you attend and what type of insurance coverage you have.

How effective is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Pulmonary Rehabilitation is effective if you put effort into it. With Pulmonary Rehabilitation, you may find the exercise and breathing techniques you learn will keep you from getting out of breath while walking between your living room and the kitchen or while walking to get your mail.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation gives you the best results if you continue to do the exercises and use the skills you learn long after you’ve completed the program. The staff will design a long-term plan for you – be sure to follow it!

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/18/2020.

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