Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) administered at intervals with a mask and incentive spirometry (IS) were compared with a regimen of coughing and deep breathing (CDB) to determine which promoted the most rapid recovery of pulmonary function after upper abdominal operations in 65 adults. Postoperatively, FRC of patients in all groups was similar relative to preoperative values. However, mean FRC of patients who received CPAP increased more rapidly than did mean FRC of those receiving CDB when compared to the values obtained following operation (p less than 0.05). Incentive spirometry did not increase FRC to a greater extent than did CDB. Roentgenographic evidence of atelectasis 72 hours postoperatively was observed in 23 percent of CPAP patients (five of 22) and 42 percent and 41 percent of patients who received CDB (eight of 19) and IS (nine of 22). Two patients (3 percent) developed pneumonia. The low incidence of pneumonia regardless of the type of therapy may be attributable to vigorous, vigilant respiratory care in a population at high risk for developing pneumonia. Frequency and supervision of respiratory therapy may be more important than the type of therapy delivered after upper abdominal operations. Mask CPAP offers advantages because it requires no effort from the patient, and therapy is not painful.