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Papworth method validated

A programme of breathing and relaxation exercises, taught by a respiratory physiotherapist, can reduce symptoms for people with mild asthma by a third, according to a study published last month.

The study of 85 patients from a general practice, published in Thorax, was conducted by Elizabeth Holloway, research physiotherapist at the Royal Free and University College medical school, London.

She found that patients given five one-hour sessions of teaching in breathing and relaxation, experienced a third less respiratory symptoms and less mood disturbance than those on medication alone.

However, the exercise programme, known as the Papworth method, developed by physiotherapists at Papworth hospital in the 1960s, did not produce any significant effect on objective measures of lung function.

Ms Holloway acknowledged limitations to the study, which did not look at changes in medication use. However, she suggested that the results provided grounds for making the Papworth method more widely available to people with asthma. 'The results are generalisable to a general practice with a typical asthma caseload,' she said.

Ms Holloway said improvements in asthma medication meant the method was used less now, but that the study showed it could have a greater role in asthma management.

Asthma UK senior research fellow Mike Thomas welcomed the study as adding to a growing body of evidence that breathing exercises and breathing retraining could be helpful to people with asthma.

'Many people with asthma are interested in exploring non-drug methods of helping their symptoms,' he said. 'This study suggests that a breathing programme supervised by a physiotherapist can help people feel in control of their condition.'

Anne Bruton, reader in respiratory rehabilitation at Southampton university, and research officer for the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care, said:  'Physiotherapists have been recommending breathing retraining, in various forms, for many years. Yet, surprisingly, most research in this area has been managed by non-physiotherapy clinicians.

'It is very exciting to see the results of a randomised controlled trial designed, conducted and reported by a physiotherapist.'


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Joanna Lyall

Issue date

18 July 2007

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