Music, we’ve been told, can soothe the savage beast. But a new study from the University of Kentucky says it can also help patients before, during and after surgery, by reducing pain and recovery time.
“Music therapists have long known that music can be an effective tool to manage pain and anxiety,” says lead author Lori Gooding, director of music therapy at the University of Kentucky. “Our music therapists regularly use music-based interventions to help patients manage both pain and anxiety.”
Gooding and her team examined the use of music in the preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative stages of the surgical process. What they discovered was that music therapy appeared to be effective in all three stages.
Patients who were exposed to music were less anxious before the procedure, recovered more quickly, required fewer sedatives, and reported more satisfaction with their medical care.
But the effect wasn’t just psychological. Researchers discovered that physiological changes in the body also occurred while the patients listened to music.
“Besides increasing things like endorphins, it does lower respiration rates, heart rates. So some of those physiological measures, the music literally helps to improve those as well,” said Gooding. “So if you’re anxious, you’re blood pressure shoots up, you’re heart rate shoots up. We can help bring that back down through using music.”
The University of Kentucky (UK) began providing music therapy for patients in Kentucky Children’s Hospital, UK Chandler Hospital and UK Good Samaritan Behavioral Health in 2010.
Based on their findings, Gooding and her team have begun two pilot programs in the pre-op unit; one for procedural support and pain, the other for patient distress.
“Our goal is to decrease patient pain and anxiety as well as improve satisfaction with the surgical experience,” Gooding said. “We also hope the program benefits staff by allowing them to do their jobs more easily and effectively.”
According to their research, the music should be selected by trained personnel because specific guidelines need to be followed to better manage a patient’s pain and anxiety.
To incorporate a patient’s musical taste, researchers suggest that several “playlists” be offered and the patient can choose one that best suits their tastes. Live performances have been shown to be even more effective than recorded music.
Gooding says that the characteristics of the music must also be considered, and that the tempo, rhythm and volume should be carefully controlled to maximize the benefits the music therapy can have. The use of calm, slow, gentle music produced the most positive results, resulting in both relaxation and pain reduction in patients. Researchers believe music could also reduce costs and length of stay in intensive care units.
Published in the Southern Medical Journal, the findings by Gooding and her team are just the latest in a growing body of research espousing the therapeutic value of music in the healing process.
Earlier this year, a study by the University of Utah’s Pain Research Center found that music reduced pain in high anxiety patients by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways. As the musical tasks increased, pain levels decreased.
The use of “drum circles” has also been shown to help patients with multiple sclerosis and other ailments by boosting their immune system, improving mood, and reducing stress.