How Music Can Help To Relieve Pain

Music is a powerful healer.

Music is something most of us enjoy. However, music can also be a great healer, and a growing body of research suggests that it can play a great part in pain relief. In the past, music has shown to reduce fear, anxiety, depression, distress and blood pressure. Moreover, it has also been shown to help patients lower their pain intensity levels and reduce opioid requirement after an operative procedure. Music has also helped children who are undergoing numerous medical and dental procedures, and helps infants and babies to relax and calm down. Overall, it has a wonderful effect on our mental well-being, and this shows up in our physical body as well.



Music As A Distraction

A survey conducted in 2013 of 1500 showed that about 66% believe that music has helped to relieve their pain. Originally, the hypothesis was the music serves as a distraction from the pain, and thus reduces the pain. However, not all music does this for everyone. The nature of the music, as well as the subjective experience of the music, plays a large part in how much music actually helps with pain. It is important that the person knows and likes the music they’re listening to. This, of course, makes sense: the music has to mean something for the person listening to it. Personality and individual experiences shape music choices, and what one person prefers may not be what someone else likes. Moreover, music is also often associated with certain memories, both positive and negative, and listening to music that has positive emotions associated with it can definitely have a great effect on the individual. In particular, music contentment, no matter what genre it is, plays a large part in helping people feel better. This could be because music involves both thoughts and feelings, and when we feel better emotionally, it has an impact on our physical pain too.



A study at the Aarhus University in Denmark looked at how a patient’s favorite music could impact perceptions of pain in fibromyalgia. The participants chose their own pleasant and relaxing music, and more than 70% of the participants reported that the pain became less unpleasant and less intense after listening to the music. Another study conducted by the Pain Research Center – University of Utah evaluated 143 subjects for perceptions of pain when listening to music. While participants were doing music tasks, they were given safe and harmless pain shocks at the end of their fingertips. Here, it was seen that music helps to reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways, which stimulate emotional responses and engage cognitive attention. Basically, music was able to provide meaningful intellectual and emotional engagement to help reduce pain.



Brain Functions

The subjective experience of music definitely has importance, but now researchers are looking at how the sonic features of music can also be implicated. There is limited research in this area for now, but the potential is growing. The main problem researchers currently face is understanding HOW music helps to reduce pain and anxiety. There is no doubt that music helps, but what this does to the brain when it comes to pain is still unclear. One finding is that music affects the evolutionarily old cortical brain areas, according to Psychology Today. One of the main areas is the limbic system, which controls emotions through different neurochemical effects that reduce the perceptions of pain. This could be one way the brain works to suppress pain. Along with this, music may also inhibit the release of stress hormones while also weakening the arousal of the pituitary-adrenal stress axis. Finally, when we are completely engaged in music, it affects the brain’s opioid system, which controls both physical pain, and mental perceptions of pain.