BACKGROUND: Chest physiotherapy is essential to the management of cystic fibrosis (CF). However, respiratory muscle fatigue and oxygen desaturation during treatment have been reported. The aim of this study was to determine whether non-invasive ventilation (NIV) during chest physiotherapy could prevent these adverse effects in adults with exacerbations of CF. METHODS: Twenty six patients of mean (SD) age 27 (6) years and forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) 34 (12)% predicted completed a randomised crossover trial comparing standard treatment (active cycle of breathing technique, ACBT) with ACBT + NIV. Respiratory muscle strength (PImax, PEmax), spirometric parameters, and dyspnoea were measured before and after treatment. Pulse oximetry (SpO2) was recorded during treatment. Sputum production during treatment and 4 and 24 hours after treatment was evaluated. RESULTS: There was a significant reduction in PImax following standard treatment that was correlated with baseline PImax (r=0.73, p<0.001). PImax was maintained following NIV (mean difference from standard treatment 9.04 cm H2O, 95% confidence interval (CI) 4.25 to 13.83 cm H2O, p=0.006). A significant increase in PEmax was observed following the NIV session (8.04 cm H2O, 95% CI 0.61 to 15.46 cm H2O, p=0.02). The proportion of treatment time with SpO2 < or =90% was correlated with FEV1 (r=-0.65, p<0.001). NIV improved mean SpO2 (p<0.001) and reduced dyspnoea (p=0.02). There were no differences in FEV1, forced vital capacity (FVC) or sputum weight, but FEF(25-75) increased following NIV (p=0.006). CONCLUSION: Reduced inspiratory muscle strength and oxygen desaturation during chest physiotherapy are associated with inspiratory muscle weakness and severity of lung disease in adults with exacerbations of CF. Addition of NIV improves inspiratory muscle function, oxygen saturation and small airway function and reduces dyspnoea.