The role of physiotherapy in the respiratory management of children with neuromuscular diseases: A South African perspective

Anri Human*, Lieselotte Corten, Brenda M. Morrow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Respiratory morbidity is common in children with neuromuscular diseases (NMD) owing to chronic hypoventilation and impaired cough. Optimal, cost-effective respiratory management requires implementation of clinical practice guidelines and a coordinated multidisciplinary team approach. Objectives: To explore South African physiotherapists’ knowledge, perception and implementation of respiratory clinical practice guidelines for non-ventilated children with NMD. Methods: An online survey was conducted amongst members of the South African Society of Physiotherapy’s Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation (CPRG) and Paediatric special interest groups and purposive sampling of non-member South African physiotherapists with respiratory paediatrics expertise (N = 481). Results: Most respondents worked in private healthcare, with 1–10 years’ experience treating patients with NMD. For acute and chronic management, most participants recommended nebulisation and 24-h postural management for general respiratory care. Percussions, vibrations, positioning, adapted postural drainage, breathing exercises and manually assisted cough were favoured as airway clearance techniques. In addition, participants supported non-invasive ventilation, oscillatory devices and respiratory muscle training for chronic management. Conclusion: Respondents seemed aware of internationally-endorsed NMD clinical practice guidelines and recommendations, but traditional manual airway clearance techniques were favoured. This survey provided novel insight into the knowledge, perspectives and implementation of NMD clinical practice guidelines amongst South African physiotherapists. Clinical implications: There is an urgent need to increase the abilities of South African physiotherapists who manage children with NMD, as well as the establishment of specialised centres with the relevant equipment, ventilatory support and expertise in order to provide safe, cost-effective and individualised patient care.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbera1527
JournalSouth African Journal of Physiotherapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Airway clearance techniques
  • Chest physiotherapy
  • Children
  • Neuromuscular diseases
  • Respiratory management


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