Music can affect us in all kinds of ways – from soothing our moods and helping us get to sleep(1) to boosting our productivity at work(2) – but now a recent study has shown that music may actually help us feel less pain after major surgery.
The study, pioneered by father-daughter team Sunitha and Santhanam Suresh, was inspired by the experience that Sunitha Suresh’s grandmother had staying in a hospital post surgery.
The family found that listening to classical Indian music on an iPod calmed her, but the Sureshes wondered if their grandmother was also feeling less pain due to her lowered anxiety levels.
To test their theory, Sunitha and Santhanam Suresh took a sample size of 60 patients, all between the ages of 9 and 14 years old, who were scheduled to undergo major surgery. Post-surgery, the children were all given narcotics to help control their pain levels – then they were split into three groups.
The first group listened to 30 minutes of their choice of story on audiobook. The second group listened to 30 minutes of pop music, with choices like Taylor Swift, Alicia Keyes, and Jay Z. The third group listened to 30 minutes of silence, facilitated by noise-cancelling headphones(3).
The researchers used the Faces Pain Scale(4) to help the children evaluate their own pain levels. By the end of the 30 minute session, the children who listened to music or a story were able to reduce their pain levels by one point on the scale.
A Small Reduction Is A Big Deal
A reduction in a single point on the pain scale may not seem like much, but Sunitha Sundaresh says that it’s roughly the equivalent to taking an over the counter pain medication, such as Advil or Tylenol – and any discovery that means less pain medication for pediatric patients is a good thing.
Children are notorious for not tolerating pain medication as well as adults – because their bodies are smaller, they are more likely to suffer side effects from pain medication, such as nausea, itching, constipation, and even trouble breathing. The less pain medication children receive post surgery, many doctors say, the better(5).
Music For Pain Management
The American Music Therapy Association believes that music has special properties when it comes to pain management.
“Music therapy has been shown to be an efficacious and valid treatment option for patients experiencing pain related to a variety of diagnoses,” one paper states.
“Music therapy interventions can focus on pain management for physical rehabilitation, cardiac conditions, medical and surgical procedures, obstetrics, oncology treatment, and burn debridement, among others. Music is a form of sensory stimulation, which provokes responses due to the familiarity, predictability, and feelings of security associated with it.”(6)[mks_toggle title=”sources” state=”close “]