Music can control pain


Studies show that listening to preferred music can significantly reduce pain.

A newly published study of music and postoperative pain in children by Sunitha Suresh et al randomly assigned them to music of choice (from a provided list), audiobook of choice (from a provided list) or silence control.[1]

The researchers found that 30” of music or audiobooks reduced pain to the same degree as administration of Advil or Tylenol, without the risk of side effects.

Self-selection of music or audiobook is an important element in pain management. Mitchell and MacDonald showed that patient-preferred music led to greater tolerance for laboratory-induced pain, reported pain intensity and perceived control over pain than relaxing music selected by the researchers. [2]

According to Judith Pinkerton, music therapist and past president of the Western Region American Music Therapy Association, for self-management of physical pain, listening to familiar soothing music to which you already have a strong conditioned relaxation response is the most effective method.[3]

A recent randomized, controlled trial by Hsieh et al found that the strength of preferred music in reducing pain can even override experimenter suggestions to the contrary.[4]  Perhaps it is because listening to music that you like stimulates the same reward center of the brain that is activated by euphoria-inducing stimuli, like sex, drugs and chocolate.[5]

A systematic review by Nilsson of 42 randomized controlled trials involving the use of music to reduce pain associated with elective surgery, totaling 3,936 patients, concluded that music interventions in clinical practice should include the following components:[6]

  • Slow and flowing music, approximately 60 to 80 beats per minute
  • Nonlyrical
  • Maximum volume level at 60 dB
  • Patient’s own choice, with guidance
  • Suitable equipment chosen for the specific situation
  • A minimum duration of 30 minutes in length
  • Measurement, follow up, and documentation of the effects

[1] Sunitha Suresh BS, De Oliveira GS, and Suresh S.  The effect of audio therapy to treat postoperative pain in children undergoing major surgery: a randomized controlled trial.  Pediatric Surgery International, 2015 31:197-201.

[2] Mitchell LA and MacDonald RA. An experimental investigation of the effects of preferred and relaxing music listening on pain perception. Journal of Music Therapy, 2006; 43(4):295-316.

[3] Pinkerton J.  The Sound of Healing.  Las Vegas: SeminarConcerts International, Inc., 1996.

[4] Hsieh C, Kong J, Kirsch I, Edwards RR, Jensen KB, et al.  Well-loved music robustly relieves pain: a randomized, controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9(9): e107390. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107390.

[5] Blood A and Zatorre RJ. Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2001; 98(20):11818-23.

[6] Nilsson U.  The anxiety- and pain-reducing effects of music interventions: a systematic review. AORN Journal, 2008; 87(4):780-807.

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