Music Therapy May Reduce Pain After Surgery

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Turn up the rhythm and you may find yourself feeling less pain after a difficult surgery, suggests a new study that shows positive results from the burgeoning field of music therapy.

Patients who received music therapy — in this case, live music involving joint singing or drumming — after having undergone spine surgery reported less pain compared to similar patients who received surgery but no live show.

The researchers behind the study, involving clinicians from Mount Sinai Department of Orthopaedics and The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine, assessed patients’ pain levels post-surgery using a visual analog scale (VAS). In the group that didn’t receive music therapy, pain levels following the surgical procedure rose from 5.20 to 5.87 on the VAS.

Live music therapy concerts tailored to the patient’s music preferences have shown to reduce their pain levels. Credit: Brian Turner/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

However, patients who received the live music performance, which was tailored to their musical preferences, reported a drop in pain level — from 6.20 to 5.09 on the VAS. That was after a single, 30-minute music therapy session.

“This study is unique in its quest to integrate music therapy in medicine to treat post-surgical pain,” said study lead author John Mondanaro, who is also the Clinical Director of The Louis Armstrong Department of Music Therapy. “Postoperative spine patients are at major risk for pain management challenges.”

Often, the only recourse after a painful surgery like the one the study participants endured is prescription drug therapy. The new research offers hope that alternative treatment can boost patients’ spirits and cut down on their pain levels in a significant way.

“The degree of change in the music group is notable for having been achieved by non-pharmacologic means with little chance of adverse effects,” said co-author Joanne Loewy, DA, Director of The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine.

Making Music, Easing Health Challenges

The American Music Therapy Association describes music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship.

The new research adds to a growing body of evidence that shows how powerful music can be across a variety of health challenges. Previous research has found that music therapy can help in a number of ways — from reducing anxiety during procedures to ameliorating the difficult side effects of cancer.

Related: The Science Behind Why Music Enhances Exercise

Other studies have shown that pain is a big target. “Music therapy decreases pain perception, reduces the amount of pain medication needed, helps relieve depression in pain patients, and gives them a sense of better control over their pain,” says Harvard Health.

Credit: Damien Pollet/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Researchers believe that adapting music to meet the specific needs of patients is essential in overcoming difficulties like pain.

“Pain is subjective and personal, and warrants an individualized approach to care. Certified, licensed music therapists are able to tailor treatment to each patient’s musical preferences and meet their pain level,” said Loewy.

Related: Treating Chronic Pain With Cannabis Could Be Less Addictive Than Opioids

Music therapy is most effective when “the genre and type of instrument is tailored to the individual and to the goals that are established between the client and the music therapist,” notes the American Music Therapy Association.

The study was published in The American Journal of Orthopedics

You can learn more about the power of music therapy and its other health benefits.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.