Bob Marley was onto something when he observed, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
He may have been singing from personal experience, but according to research there’s some science behind the theory. In studies spanning decades including several within the last several months researchers consistently find that music can lessen pain and promote a greater sense of wellbeing. Let’s look at a few key areas of research.
- Cancer Pain
Several studies have looked into the effects of music therapy on cancer treatment, and the results have been largely consistent: soft, familiar music can lessen cancer-related pain more than pain medications alone. Researchers recently corroborated previous evidence by studying 126 hospitalized cancer patients and giving them either pain meds plus a 30-minute resting period, or pain meds plus 30 minutes of music. The patients in the music group scored significantly better on a pain improvement scale. The researchers concluded that offering familiar, culturally appropriate music is a safe and effective way to augment traditional pain relief in cancer patients.
- Postoperative Pain
Anyone who has had surgery knows the pain afterwards can be intense, and pain medications can only do so much. That’s why researchers recently looked at how music affects knee surgery patients. What they found was that music helps a lot, and not just with pain. Patients who listened to music the day after surgery had significantly reduced pain and anxiety than those who received pain medications alone. The researchers note that some patients can even get by with less medication because the effect of the music is so great.
The benefits aren’t reserved for adults, either. In a 2009 study, researchers worked with 80 children aged 7 to 16 who had just had surgery. The children received morphine either alone or with music. They found that the children in the music group needed less morphine during recovery. What’s more, the children reported that the music was “calming and relaxing.” The conclusion? Music therapy or music medicine lessens the need for pain medication and lowers distress in children after minor surgery.
- Chronic Pain
We now know music can help pain in specific situations like during cancer treatment and after surgery but what about chronic pain? There’s good news there, too. In a recent study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, researchers looked into the effects of music therapy on chronic, non-malignant pain and found that listening to music for one hour a day for seven days decreased pain levels. Not only that, the tunes also decreased depression and disability while increasing people’s feelings of power.
- Putting It Into Practice
Wondering how to choose the best music to soothe those achy joints (and the various problems that come with them)? Here are the guidelines given to study participants:
1. To ease muscle tension and stiffness, or if you’re angry or depressed, choose upbeat, familiar music.
2. If you need help with sleep and relaxation or just want to decrease anxiety, stick with slow, melodious, and pleasant familiar music, or pop in some nature sounds If you need a jolt of energy, get your groove on with energetic, rhythmic, familiar music.
- Take Control of Your Pain
Sandra L. Siedlecki, PhD, RN, CNS, senior nurse researcher with the Cleveland Clinic, who coauthored the Journal of Advanced Nursing study, highlights the importance of more research on self-care techniques that can be easily taught and used to empower people to cope with chronic pain. Her main advice for pain sufferers? “Take control. Identify how you feel in general and try to alter these feelings.”