Reduce mental and physical pain with music

The power of music extends far beyond entertainment. It is a spirited expression of creativity, it connects people cross culturally, and it is healing. Barbara Else, from the American Music Therapy Association, speaks of the deep connection we feel to music; ‘it is hardwired in our brains and bodies. The elements of music, rhythm and melody, are echoed in our physiology, functioning and being.’ It is this enduring connection, and a shared universal bond with music, that has led researchers across the globe to investigate its therapeutic potential, as well as its many benefits for our mental health.

In 2011, researchers from McGill University in Canada found that listening to music increases the amount of dopamine – a mood-enhancing chemical – produced in the brain, making it a feasible treatment for depression. It has also been found that the health benefits of music actually extend far beyond mental health and, consequently, some health experts are suggesting music therapy be more widely incorporated into health care settings.

A recent study led by Brunel University in the UK has discovered that music reduces pain and anxiety for patients who have undergone surgery. Researchers observed more than 7,000 patients who received surgery and found that those who listened to music after their procedure reported feeling less pain and anxiety than those who did not listen to music. They were also less likely to need pain medication.

In addition, researchers from Denmark learned that music is beneficial for patients with fibromyalgia, a debilitating condition that causes muscle and joint pain and fatigue. According to the researchers, listening to calm and relaxing music reduced pain and increased functional mobility among 22 patients suffering from this condition.

In light of these findings, Dr Catherine Mead, of Brunel University, recommended music as ‘a non-invasive, safe, and cheap intervention that should be available to everyone undergoing surgery’.

So, why does music appear to ease pain? While the exact mechanisms remain unclear, it has been suggested that listening to music triggers the release of opioids in the brain, the body’s natural pain relievers.

Furthermore, music is also an effective stress reliever. A recent study from the University of Montreal in Canada found that infants remained calmer for longer when they were played music rather than spoken to. Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the Center for Research on Brain, Music and Language at the University, suggested the repetitive pattern of music reduced distress, possibly by promoting ‘entrainment’, the ability of the body’s internal rhythms to synchronise with external rhythms, pulses or beats.

Another way in which music alleviates stress is through the effect it has on brainstem-mediated measures including pulse, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. However, this stress-relieving effect is dependent on the type of music listened to. According to Dr Levitin, of McGill University, ‘stimulating music produces increases in cardiovascular measures, whereas relaxing music produces decreases’. He explained, ‘these effects are largely mediated by tempo; slow music and musical pauses are associated with a decrease in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure, and faster music with increases in these parameters’.

Source: Medical News Today