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Cardiopulmonary research group

The role of Physiotherapy in cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions

Diseases of lifestyle and associated conditions are strongly linked to cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions and physiotherapist have a huge role to play in both prevention and reducing risk as well as optimising physical rehabilitation of this group of the population.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a condition that is often under-diagnosed and untreated yet it has a direct association with cardiovascular conditions such as coronary artery disease, stroke and hypertension.

Research currently being undertaken by the team addresses all these areas, with a particular emphasis on physical rehabilitation.

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Dr Margot Skinner (second left) and her research team members Emily Gray, Sarah Rhodes and Suranga Dassanayake

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About the Team

Dr Margot Skinner

As a student I always really enjoyed the hospital inpatient placements and spent the majority of my time as a physiotherapist in clinical practice working in Intensive Care. So it was a natural progression when I took on post graduate study to focus the research on people with conditions related to cardiovascular and pulmonary pathology.

I recall giving a presentation at a national physiotherapy conference in the early 1980’s titled To be upright is normal. The focus of the presentation was about using a tilt table to assist with early mobility for patients in ICU.

It was hard to get buy-in from colleagues at the time but now early mobility is advocated and accepted in ICU.

Sarah Rhodes’ PhD investigated whether physical activity intervention and/or text messaging improve functional exercise capacity and self-efficacy in adults with OSA.
Not everyone is available or willing to attend group exercise sessions so the motivational texting will be helpful in determining whether this method assists with compliance with activity and can be used for those living in rural areas.

Suranga Dassanayake’s PhD investigated adults with OSA but his study focussed more on the risk of OSA in adults with resistant hypertension i.e. those who are already on optimal medication but where blood pressure remains high.
OSA is not necessarily investigated in this population group and low levels of physical activity are often present in people with OSA, so individual programmes of activity may have a positive outcome for this group.

Emily Gray is undertaking a PhD and is particularly interested in investigating the barriers and facilitators to physical activity that adults experience in the first three months following heart surgery for blockages in the arteries.
Not a lot is known about actual levels of activity in this population group and it may be that exercise prescriptions on discharge from hospital should be more individually targeted.
As diseases of lifestyle are the greatest causes of global mortality there is a wealth of opportunities for physiotherapists to undertake research into conditions that impact on the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems and are focused around physical rehabilitation.


Rhodes, S., Waters, D., Brockway, B., & Skinner, M. (2020). Physical activity behaviour and barriers to activity in adults at high risk of obstructive sleep apnoea. Journal of Primary Health Care, 12(3), 257-264. doi: 10.1071/hc19102

Draper, O., Goh, I., Huang, C., Le Quesne, P., Smith, K., Gray, E., & Skinner, M. (2020). Psychosocial interventions to optimize recovery of physical function and facilitate engagement in physical activity during the first three months following CABG surgery: A systematic review. Physical Therapy Reviews. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/10833196.2020.1832714

Dassanayake, S., Sole, G., Wilkins, G., & Skinner, M. (2020). Exercise: A therapeutic modality to treat blood pressure in resistant hypertension. Physical Therapy Reviews, 25(3), 149-158. doi: 10.1080/10833196.2020.1733781

Dassanayake, S., Sole, G., Wilkins, G., & Skinner, M. (2020). Effect of exercise and physical activity on blood pressure in adults with resistant hypertension: A protocol for a systematic review. Physical Therapy Reviews, 25(2), 128-134. doi: 10.1080/10833196.2020.1728986

Caudwell, L., Himani, H., Khaw, A., Taylor, R., White, J., Rhodes, S., & Skinner, M. (2020). Attitudes and perceptions of health professionals towards sleep health: A systematic review. Physical Therapy Reviews. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/10833196.2020.1832713

Reeve, J., Skinner, M., Lee, A., Wilson, L., & Alison, J. A. (2012). Investigating factors influencing 4th-year physiotherapy students' opinions of cardiorespiratory physiotherapy as a career path. Physiotherapy Theory & Practice, 28(5), 391-401. doi: 10.3109/09593985.2011.619249

Skinner, M. (2011). Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation [Guest editorial]. Physical Therapy Reviews, 16(1), 1-2. doi: 10.1179/174328811X13000948850692

Skinner, M. (2009). Strength and endurance exercise endorsed for people with COPD [Invited response]. Physical Therapy Reviews, 14(6), 418. doi: 10.1179/108331909X12540993898017

To learn more about cardiopulmonary research at Otago contact:

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