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How to Tap the Back for Chest Congestion

By Iva Gutowski ; Updated July 27, 2017

Chest congestion causes you to feel miserable during a respiratory infection and also increases your risks of developing further bacterial infections in the lungs and bronchial tubes. Tapping the back to clear chest congestion is called chest physical therapy and can assist in loosening mucus so that your body can expel it through coughing.

How to Tap the Back for Chest Congestion

  1. Have your patient sit in a chair with no back on it. Have them lean forward slightly and lower their head.

  2. Place a thin towel over their back. Never tap the back for chest congestion on bare skin as this can cause skin irritation which may lead to pressure sores.

  3. Cup your hands as if you are going to be drinking water from them. Lightly begin tapping the patient's back over their rib cages directly over the lungs. You should continue tapping for 3 to 5 minutes to effectively loosen chest congestion.

  4. Have the patient cough any secretions into a small wastebasket. Observe the secretions for color, consistency, odor and blood. This will be vital information for the physician to acknowledge.

  5. Repeat the procedure at least every eight hours or as ordered by the physician.

  6. Tip

    After tapping on the chest for percussion, have your patient remain sitting to assist the lungs in draining the mucus. Use pillows to prop their head up if they can not remain sitting for prolonged periods of time.


    Never tap over the kidneys as this can cause them to begin bleeding internally. Additionally, never tap over the sternum, breasts or spine as this can cause organ injury. Do not tap hard. Tapping pressure should be as light as you would use to burp a baby after a meal.

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