Thorax 62:1039-1042 doi:10.1136/thx.2006.076430
  • Asthma

Integrated breathing and relaxation training (the Papworth method) for adults with asthma in primary care: a randomised controlled trial

  1. Elizabeth A Holloway1,
  2. Robert J West2
  1. 1
    Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  2. 2
    Health Behaviour Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  1. Elizabeth Holloway, Research Physiotherapist, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; e.holloway{at}
  • Received 12 December 2006
  • Accepted 19 May 2007
  • Published Online First 15 June 2007


Background: An integrated breathing and relaxation technique known as the Papworth method has been implemented by physiotherapists since the 1960s for patients with asthma and dysfunctional breathing, but no controlled trials have been reported. This study evaluated the effectiveness of the Papworth method in a randomised controlled trial.

Methods: Eighty-five patients (36 men) were individually randomised to the control group (n = 46) or to the intervention group receiving five sessions of treatment by the Papworth method (n = 39). Both groups received usual medical care. Assessments were undertaken at baseline, post-treatment (6 months after baseline) and at 12 months. The primary outcome measure was the St George’s Respiratory Symptoms Questionnaire (SGRQ). Secondary outcome measures included the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the Nijmegen dysfunctional breathing questionnaire and objective measures of respiratory function.

Results: Post-treatment and 12 month data were available for 78 and 72 patients, respectively. At the post-treatment assessment the mean (SD) score on the SGRQ Symptom subscale was 21.8 (18.1) in the intervention group and 32.8 (20.1) in the control group (p = 0.001 for the difference). At the 12 month follow-up the corresponding figures were 24.9 (17.9) and 33.5 (15.9) (p = 0.007 for the difference). SGRQ Total scores and HADS and Nijmegen scores were similarly significantly lower in the intervention group than in the control group. The groups did not differ significantly following the treatment on objective measures of respiratory function except for relaxed breathing rate.

Conclusions: The Papworth method appears to ameliorate respiratory symptoms, dysfunctional breathing and adverse mood compared with usual care. Further controlled trials are warranted to confirm this finding, assess the effect in other patient groups and determine whether there is some effect on objective measures of respiratory function.


  • This study was not sponsored but was undertaken as part fulfilment of a PhD degree at University College London. Robert West’s post is funded by Cancer Research UK.

  • Competing interests: RW undertakes research and consultancy for developers and manufacturers of smoking cessation treatments such as nicotine replacement products.

  • EH conceived and undertook this study with advice from RW. RW advised and participated in the analysis and interpretation. EH and RW wrote the manuscript. EH will act as guarantor.

  • Abbreviations:
    Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale
    St George’s Respiratory Questionnaire