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The Role of Physiotherapy in Cardiac Rehabilitation

The Role of Physiotherapy in Cardiac Rehabilitation

Key points

  • Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are a major global health threat, requiring comprehensive interventions for individual rehabilitation. 
  • A comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation program involves a team led by cardiologists, including physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals, tailoring interventions to individual needs. 
  • Early rehabilitation initiation, even in the ICU, offers substantial benefits in postoperative function and reduces hospital stays.
  • Physiotherapists are crucial in cardiovascular recovery, providing supervised rehabilitation and exercise programs for optimal well-being.
  • Physiotherapists conduct thorough assessments, considering medical history, current condition, and specific limitations for personalised rehabilitation.
  • Physiotherapists design personalised exercise programs, including aerobic exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises for enhanced fitness.
  • Physiotherapists closely monitor patients during exercise sessions, adjusting intensity and duration as cardiovascular fitness improves.
  • Physiotherapists offer education on cardiovascular health, lifestyle modifications, and risk factor management, including nutrition, stress management, and a heart-healthy lifestyle.

A general introduction to cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of global mortality and require comprehensive, personalised interventions.

The role of physiotherapy in the journey towards greater heart health is often overlooked.  In the journey towards cardiac rehabilitation, physiotherapists play an important role in re-establishing the health and overall function of a person who has cardiovascular disease. This article looks at the multi-dimensional role of physiotherapy during cardiac rehabilitation.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are a global health concern, encompassing conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular diseases. The impact CVD has on individuals means interventions including specialised physiotherapy are a key element of each individual’s rehabilitation process whether they have just been diagnosed, had a cardiac event or medical intervention.

A multidisciplinary approach to cardiac rehabilitation

A well-rounded cardiac rehabilitation programme results from the collaboration of a multidisciplinary team, usually led by a cardiologist. This team comprises nurses, physiotherapists, nutritionists, psychologists, and other health care professionals, working collaboratively to tailor interventions for individual patients. 

The strategic and early initiation of rehabilitation, even within the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), has demonstrated remarkable benefits in enhancing postoperative function and reducing hospital stays.

What is the role of a physiotherapist in cardiovascular rehabilitation?

A physiotherapist plays a crucial role in cardiovascular recovery by providing rehabilitation and exercise programmes to individuals who have experienced cardiovascular events or have heart conditions. Their goal is to optimise the cardiovascular health of their patients and improve their overall well-being but in a supervised and structured way. Here are some ways in which physiotherapists assist in patients’ recovery:


Physiotherapists conduct a thorough assessment of the patient's cardiovascular health, including their medical history, current physical condition, and any specific limitations or challenges they may be facing.

Exercise prescription

A physio will design and implement personalised exercise programmes tailored to an individual's needs and capabilities. These programmes often include aerobic exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises to improve cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and overall endurance.

Monitoring and progression

Physiotherapists closely monitor patients during exercise sessions, ensuring that the intensity and duration of exercises are appropriate for their current health status. They track progress and make adjustments to the programme as the patient's cardiovascular fitness improves.


Providing education on cardiovascular health, lifestyle modifications, and risk factor management. This includes guidance on proper nutrition, stress management, and strategies to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Cardiac rehabilitation

In the case of individuals recovering from a heart attack, surgery, or other cardiovascular events, physiotherapists are often involved in delivery of group cardiac rehabilitation programmes. These programmes focus on a combination of physical activity, education, and counselling to support recovery and prevent future cardiac events.

Risk factor modification

Physiotherapists will collaborate with other healthcare professionals to address and modify risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. This usually involves working with patients to develop strategies for managing the risk factors through lifestyle changes.

Symptom management

Physiotherapists will help patients manage symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue through appropriate exercise and breathing techniques. This often helps patients improve their functional capacity and quality of life.

Motivation and support

Physiotherapists provide emotional support and motivation to patients as they progress through their recovery journey. This can be essential in helping individuals adhere to their exercise programmes and lifestyle changes.


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