The Australian Physiotherapy Association

Recommendations from the Australian Physiotherapy Association on low back pain, clinical decision rules, incentive spirometry & frozen shoulder. The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is the peak body representing the interests of Australian physiotherapists and their patients. The APA is a national organisation with non-autonomous state and territory branches and specialty subgroups. The organisation has more than 19,000 members and over 300 members in volunteer positions on committees or working parties.

Don't routinely use incentive spirometry after upper abdominal and cardiac surgery

Date reviewed: 1 March 2016

Postoperative pulmonary complications occur in ~40% of patients undergoing open coronary artery surgery and upper abdominal surgery. A Cochrane review of 592 open coronary artery surgery patients found no significant benefit on pulmonary complication risk of incentive spirometry over no treatment for atelectasis, pneumonia, or length of hospital stay. Another Cochrane review of 1834 upper abdominal surgery patients found no significant benefit on pulmonary complication risk of incentive spirometry over: no treatment, deep breathing exercises, or other physiotherapy. Further research into incentive spirometry could be conducted, particularly in some subgroups such as high-risk patients. However, these Cochrane reviews identify a substantial pool of existing evidence that has not demonstrated any benefits of incentive spirometry. Other interventions, such as preoperative inspiratory muscle training do improve postoperative outcomes in these patients, when added to established standard care such as early mobilisation. Therefore, until evidence of a benefit from incentive spirometry becomes available, it is recommended that it not be routinely used in these surgical populations.

Supporting evidence
  • Freitas ERFS, Soares BGO, Cardoso JR. Incentive spirometry for preventing pulmonary complications after coronary artery bypass graft. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012;9:CD004466.
  • Nascimento P, Modolo NSP, Guimaraes MMF, El Dib R. Incentive spirometry for prevention of postoperative pulmonary complications in upper abdominal surgery. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014;2:CD006058.
  • Mans CM, Reeve JC, Elkins MR. Postoperative outcomes following preoperative inspiratory muscle training in patients undergoing cardiothoracic or upper abdominal surgery: a systematic review and meta analysis. Clinical Rehabil 2015;29:426-438.
  • Browning L, Denehy L, Scholes RL. The quantity of early upright mobilisation performed following upper abdominal surgery is low: an observational study. Aust J Physiother 2007;53:47-52.
  • Hall JC, Tarala RA, Tapper J, Hall JL. Prevention of respiratory complications after abdominal surgery: a randomised clinical trial. BMJ 1996;312:148.
  • Haines KJ, Skinner EH, Berney S. Association of postoperative pulmonary complications with delayed mobilisation following major abdominal surgery: an observational cohort study. Physiotherapy 2013;99:119-125.
  • Parry SP, Denehy L, Berney. Clinical application of the Melbourne risk prediction tool in a high-risk upper abdominal surgical population: an observational cohort study. Physiotherapy 2014;100:47-53.
How this list was made How this list was made

The APA sought nominations from fellows and associates of the Australian College of Physiotherapy, directors of the Physiotherapy Evidence Database, clinical specialist APA members and academic physiotherapists to form an expert panel. The APA invited all members to submit evidence about interventions related to physiotherapy that should be questioned. From members’ submissions and the expert group’s research, the expert group formed a shortlist of 8 recommendations. The expert group then considered the shortlist in terms of the extent of the health problem, usage of the test or intervention, and the evidence that the test or intervention is inappropriate. From this analysis, the expert panel selected five recommendations to put to APA members. In a second round of consultation, the APA received nearly 2500 responses, and almost 900 comments. The expert panel then considered feedback and refined the recommendations. This resulted in the 6 recommendations put forward below, for which there was overwhelming majority support.

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