Really? The Claim: Listening to Music Can Relieve Pain
Can the right sonata soothe the pain of a medical operation?
A growing number of doctors have been using music in clinical settings, believing that it might have analgesic effects on patients — or at least take their minds off an otherwise painful procedure.
Scientists only now are seeking to determine whether the notion is more romance than reality.
In the most recent study, published in December in The Journal of Pain, 153 people were subjected to increasingly painful shocks on their hands as they listened to music. All the while, they were encouraged to engage in the songs and to identify certain notes and tones. By measuring pupil dilation and brain activity, scientists at the University of Utah found that as the subjects became focused on the melodies, they experienced more and more relief from the pain. The biggest effect was seen on the participants who were initially most anxious.
A Swedish study published in 2009 reported similarly encouraging findings: Children who were given “music therapy” after minor surgery required smaller amounts of morphine than those who were not.
But a meta-analysis of data on more than 3,600 patients in 51 studies, published in the Cochrane Database, found that the magnitude of the effect was not very large, so the potential usefulness in clinical practice — for now, at least — was “unclear.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Listening to music during or after a medical procedure may relieve pain, but more research is needed to determine whether the effect is significant.