What is pulmonary rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation helps people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease () to better manage their disease and to live as normal a life as possible. To reach this goal, an individual treatment plan is tailored to the needs of each person.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is an important part of the disease management program (DMP). These programs are aimed at people with chronic diseases and may be offered by their health insurance companies.

Who can take part in pulmonary rehabilitation?

Generally, people with can take part in pulmonary rehabilitation, if one or more of the following apply:

  • It is not possible to satisfactorily manage everyday life and it is difficult to take part in public life despite appropriate treatment.
  • The symptoms remain unrelieved despite treatment.
  • Treatments are needed that are not readily available locally, for example physiotherapy, training or psychosocial support.
  • The condition suddenly got worse, so that a hospital stay was necessary.
  • The causes problems at work.
  • There is a risk of needing nursing care, because the symptoms are so severe.
  • There is a high level of psychological strain, accompanied by or anxiety, for example.

On the other hand, you need to be fit enough to be able to take part in pulmonary rehabilitation. You can also discuss with your doctor whether pulmonary rehabilitation is necessary.

The individual elements of pulmonary rehabilitation

What exactly the rehabilitation program involves depends on individual state of health and goals. Typical elements are:

  • Special physical training to strengthen the lungs: This includes endurance and strength training as well as exercises to train the respiratory muscles.
  • Extensive education on how to manage : This means information on that helps to manage the disease. This information can also help to recognize signs of the disease getting worse in order to try to prevent attacks of breathing difficulties.
  • Improving the use of medication: information on what medication to take in different situations and the doses.
  • Special physiotherapy and occupational therapy in order to be able to better cope with everyday activities. People with can learn certain body postures to make breathing easier, for example, and helpful breathing and coughing techniques. How to make eating and dressing easier and what to bear in mind regarding leisure time and work may be other issues.
  • Smoking cessation: Quitting smoking is a key element in pulmonary rehabilitation. People who manage to quit smoking have a higher life expectancy than people with who continue to smoke. But after many years of smoking it is not easy to stop. Rehabilitation clinics deal with cigarettes in different ways. In some clinics, for example, people have to take part in a stop-smoking training. People who smoke and are not sure whether to take part in a pulmonary rehabilitation can ask in advance how the different clinics handle this.
  • devices: advice and training, for example regarding the choice and use of inhalation and breathing therapy devices.
  • Dietary counseling: information on food and eating, for example, how to eat despite breathing difficulties and avoid severe weight loss.
  • Social and career counseling: Here people can discuss how to continue their profession or what other new professional options there are. Other topics might include opportunities for support and coping with everyday life.
  • Psychotherapy or psychosocial counseling: If causes high psychological strain or if a resulting disease such as needs psychotherapeutic treatment as well, psychosocial support may be necessary.

Outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation?

Some people prefer to do a pulmonary rehabilitation while staying in familiar surroundings. This is possible when doing outpatient rehabilitation: People live at home and go to a facility close to home. This requires, however, that there is a rehabilitation facility for people with that is close, easy to reach and recognized by the health insurance.

On the other hand, there are specialized rehabilitation facilities where people live during pulmonary rehabilitation (inpatient rehabilitation). In inpatient rehabilitation, some clinics offer special services to include family members, such as lectures or seminars. Sometimes it is also possible to provide a room for a close person to stay in for some time, too.

Bundesärztekammer, Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Wissenschaftlichen Medizinischen Fachgesellschaften, Kassenärztliche Bundesvereinigung: Bundesärztekammer. Nationale Versorgungsleitlinie COPD. Berlin: Ärztliches Zentrum für Qualität in der Medizin. January 2012.

Bundesministerium für Gesundheit. Online-Ratgeber Krankenversicherung: Vorsorge und Rehabilitation.

Deutsche Rentenversicherung. Medizinische Rehabilitation.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas. We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on December 23, 2016
Next planned update: 2021


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.