Exercise as an Airway Clearance Technique in people with Cystic Fibrosis (ExACT-CF): rationale and study protocol for a randomised pilot trial

Don S. Urquhart, Steve Cunningham, Emily Taylor, Ioannis Vogiatzis, Lorna Allen, Steff Lewis, Aileen R. Neilson, Dia Soilemezi, Naseerah Akooji, Zoe L. Saynor

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Background: Chest physiotherapy is an established cornerstone of care for people with cystic fibrosis (pwCF), but is often burdensome. Guidelines recommend at least one chest physiotherapy session daily, using various airway clearance techniques (ACTs). Exercise (with huffs and coughs) may offer an alternative ACT, however the willingness of pwCF to be randomised into a trial needs testing. The ‘ExACT-CF: Exercise as an Airway Clearance Technique in people with Cystic Fibrosis’ trial will test the feasibility of recruiting pwCF to be randomised to continue usual care (chest physiotherapy) or replace it with exercise ACT (ExACT) for 28-days. Secondary aims include determining the short-term clinical impact (and safety) of stopping routine chest physiotherapy and replacing it with ExACT, and effects on physical activity, sleep, mood, quality of life and treatment burden, alongside preliminary health economic measures and acceptability.

Methods: Multi-centre, two-arm, randomised (1:1 allocation using minimisation), pilot trial at two sites. Fifty pwCF (≥10 years, FEV1 >40% predicted, stable on Elexacaftor/Tezacaftor/Ivacaftor (ETI)) will be randomised to an individually-customised ExACT programme (≥once daily aerobic exercise of ≥20-minutes duration at an intensity that elicits deep breathing, with huffs and coughs), or usual care. After baseline assessments, secondary outcomes will be assessed after 28-days, with additional home lung function and exacerbation questionnaires at 7, 14 and 21-days, physical activity and sleep monitoring throughout, and embedded qualitative and health-economic components. Feasibility measures include recruitment, retention, measurement completion, adverse events, interviews exploring the acceptability of trial procedures, and a trial satisfaction questionnaire.

Discussion: Co-designed with the UK CF community, the ExACT-CF pilot trial is the first multi-centre RCT to test the feasibility of recruiting pwCF stable on ETI into a trial investigating ExACT. This pilot trial will inform the feasibility, design, management, likely external validity for progression to a main phase randomised controlled trial.

Registration: Clinicaltrials.gov (NCT05482048).
Original languageEnglish
Article number64
Number of pages16
JournalNIHR Open Research
Early online date19 Dec 2022
Publication statusEarly online - 19 Dec 2022


  • airway clearance therapy
  • cystic fibrosis
  • exercise
  • feasibility
  • physical activity
  • physiotherapy
  • randomised controlled trial


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