Did you know that asthma affects one in eight people in New Zealand?

Symptoms can include breathlessness, wheeze, cough, and the feeling of a tight chest. A simple review by your health team will confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor or nurse practitioner may prescribe inhalers (“puffers”) to help open up your airways so breathing is easier. Using these is an important part of your daily management, but what other things can you do to help with your asthma symptoms?

Physiotherapists help people with asthma manage their symptoms through a range of techniques including:

Breathing exercises / breathing retraining

People with asthma are more prone to developing an altered breathing pattern –mouth breathing, an upper chest pattern (rather than a lower chest or diaphragmatic pattern) and an altered ratio of breathing in and out. This unhelpful pattern can amplify your asthma symptoms. A physiotherapist can help you correct your breathing pattern.

Breathlessness management

There are a range of strategies which can be used to help manage breathlessness including rest positions to optimise breathing mechanics and breathing techniques which can be effective to reduce the sensation of breathlessness.

Exercise prescription and postural education

People with asthma may need advice regarding how to exercise if exercise can trigger their symptoms. Additionally, a poor breathing pattern can lead to tension in upper chest muscles and affect your posture. A physiotherapist can prescribe exercises to improve posture and reduce muscle tension, as well as work with you to become more fit and active.

Chest clearance

Some people with asthma experience increased cough and issues with phlegm/ secretions when they have an asthma flareup. A physiotherapist can teach you techniques to clear your airways more effectively and reduce the work of breathing.


Relaxation is important for everyone! Your asthma may make you tense and anxious and this can affect your breathing, posture, and activity levels. Learning strategies to ‘relax’ can benefit both your breathing and your wellbeing.

Inhaler management

There are different inhaler devices available. Physiotherapists can ensure you use the device correctly and provide aids, if required, so that you can take your inhalers as prescribed.

Self-management education

As asthma is a condition that requires long term management, self-management strategies are essential to help you look after your asthma and lung health. This includes ensuring you have a good understanding of your condition and what to do if you become unwell (action plan). A physiotherapist can provide you with guidance around these things.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

This is the ‘gold standard’ of exercise and education for people with lung conditions such as asthma. Programmes are available in person or online and are run by physiotherapists and nurses who work with you to optimise your lung health, general fitness, and wellbeing.

Physiotherapists in New Zealand work with people with asthma in a variety of different settings including hospitals, private physiotherapy clinics, and pulmonary rehabilitation classes. They often work with other health professionals to ensure you achieve the best of your lung health, general health, and wellbeing.

About The Author

Zoe Manderson is a respiratory physiotherapist in Taranaki for Te Whatu Ora and a member of the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation's Scientific Advisory Board.

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