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Postural Drainage : A Guide to Clearing Mucus from the Lungs

Postural drainage is a method of physically removing mucus from the lungs. It plays an important part in the respiratory status of people with lung conditions.

What is Postural Drainage?

Postural drainage is a method that uses the concept of gravity to drain out mucus from the lungs.

Postural Drainage | A Guide to Clearing Mucus from the Lungs

It is done by positioning the body in various ways to enhance drainage from the specific regions of the lungs. This method is used commonly for people with lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis or chronic bronchitis.

Mucus buildup can lead to respiratory infection and blockage that can lead to other complications. Postural drainage can help clear the secretions and prevent infection.

The procedure is performed with an assistance of a caregiver and is followed by chest physical therapy such as vibration and coughing to clear, loosen or remove the mucus. This improves lung function making it easier to breathe.

A study found it to be the most effective form of treatment in people with bronchiectasis.(1)

It also helps people with spinal cord injury and other conditions that make it difficult in expelling mucus from the lungs.(2)

Techniques Involved in Postural Drainage

There are different techniques involved in postural drainage. Each technique is performed for several minutes depending on the condition of an individual and the severity of the symptoms. These include:

  • Percussion: This technique may require another person or a caregiver to tap over the chest and break the lung fluid. It is performed by cupping a hand and placing with palm facing downward and clapping the chest. It should be done for 3-5 minutes.(3)
  • Vibration: This test involves gently shaking the person’s rib using a flat hand. This technique is found to be useful in removing mucus from larger airways.
  • Coughing: This involves breathing-in deeply and strongly exhaling. This stimulates coughing up or removing unwanted mucus from the body.
  • Deep Breathing: This technique encourages the movement of the mucus around the necessary area. It also helps in stimulating coughing.

There are various positions involved in postural drainage, which include:

Back lying

The individual lies on the back and a pillow is placed under the shoulders. This helps drain the mucus from the upper lobes of the lungs.

Side Lying

The person is made to lay on one side to allow gravity to help assist in the drainage of mucus from the lower lobes of the lungs.

This process helps in draining mucus from the right and left lower lobes of the lungs.

Stomach lying

The person lies on the stomach with face down on a soft surface. This helps in draining mucus from the posterior regions of the lungs.

Inclined Position

The person is made to sit on the edge of the bed with his head and chest tilted downward. This assists gravity in draining mucus from the upper lobes of the lungs.

Before performing any of the above techniques or using any of the positions it is important to consult a healthcare professional for the best suitable tips to avoid injury and lung damage.

Benefits of Postural Drainage

Postural drainage is used as a type of respiratory care in physical therapy for the removal of secretions from the lungs.

The benefits of postural drainage include:

  • Improved breathing: As the mucus clears from the lungs breathing improves and the symptoms of respiratory illness decrease.
  • Risk of infection is reduced: Removing secretions from the lungs reduces the risk of respiratory infections.
  • Improves lung function: Removal of mucus from the lungs help in improving lung function making it easier for a person to breathe and increase their oxygen levels.

Postural drainage can be used in combination with other complementary therapies to improve the outcome of a person’s respiratory condition.

Risks Associated with Postural Drainage

Postural drainage in some people may lead to certain complications, which may include heart abnormalities and low blood pressure.

If percussion is not done with cupped hands, it may result in injury to the areas of the body.

Performing postural drainage immediately after eating may result in vomiting. A gap of at least 1-1.5 hours should be kept after a meal to prevent this side effect

Some people may experience dizziness, heart palpitations, confusion, severe pain, indigestion, blue skin, headaches, and physical discomfort.

Postural drainage is contraindicated in the following conditions:

  • Pneumothorax: It is a condition in which a cavity builds up between the lungs and chest wall. Postural drainage can increase the pressure in the chest and worsen pneumothorax.
  • Hemoptysis: This condition involves coughing up blood and postural drainage might increase bleeding.
  • Unstable spinal cord: Postural drainage can cause further injury in those with an unstable spinal cord.
  • Aneurysm: Those with an aneurysm should not undergo postural drainage as it may cause the aneurysm to rupture.


Postural drainage is a physical therapy procedure to drain mucus from the lungs. It improves breathing, reduces the risk of infection, improves lung function, and reduces the symptoms of respiratory infections. A healthcare professional should be consulted as he can assess the medical history and the current condition of the patient and suggest the appropriate technique for the procedure.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 16, 2023

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