Music Can Help Manage Pain

Music Can Help Manage Pain

Music can ease pain for high anxiety individuals by distracting them. Image by Elmar Ersch.

If you cringe at the thought of visiting your dentist, you might want to take along an iPod next time to soothe your fears. A new study published in the Journal of Pain found that music can be effective in reducing pain in high anxiety persons.

Researchers at the University of Utah’s Pain Research Center wanted to know if music could be used as a diversion to lessen the impact of pain. One hundred forty-three people were evaluated in the study. Subjects were told to listen to music, identify unusual tones and perform other music related tasks while they were given small pain shocks through electrodes on their fingertips.

The study found that as the musical tasks increased, the pain reaction decreased. Researchers believe the music helped reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways.

Doctors have been using music to distract patients for years. It’s also been used for therapy both before and after surgery.

“I’m not surprised to see that the clinical research has caught up to our subjective observations,” said Ted Leslie, DDS, a family dentist who practices in Martinsburg, West Virginia. “We regularly recommend patients bring their iPod to appointments. Listening to music calms patients, and a calm patient is a comfortable patient.”

An unexpected finding in the Utah study was that individuals who were categorized as “high anxiety” had less reaction to pain than those deemed “low anxiety.” That’s not what the researchers expected. They thought high anxiety would interfere with a person’s ability to become distracted by music. To their surprise, high anxiety individuals were more apt to become involved in music activities and reap the most pain-relieving benefits, while those with low anxiety appeared to have less ability to engage in musical tasks.

“Our results suggest that engaging activities like music listening may be most effective for reducing pain in high anxiety persons who can easily become absorbed in activities,” said David H. Bradshaw, PhD, a study co-author and professor at the University of Utah.

Bradshaw agrees that taking an iPod to the dentist is a good idea. “Listening to music with headphones or playing a video game with sound effects that you can listen to with headphones are effective, as the sounds can mask the sound of the dental instruments,” he said.

Updated News:  A similar study conducted at the Duke Cancer Institute found that men wearing headphones and listening to classical music reported less pain during a prostate biopsy. The biopsy procedure is often painful and stressful for men, but patients listening to Bach concertos had no spike in their blood pressure. Study participants who were not listening to music  had an increase in their diastolic blood pressure, which remained elevated after the biopsy. Diastolic blood pressure often rises as a result of stress and anxiety. The study was published this month in the journal Urology.

“”This is something that could be broadly employed,” said Dr. Thomas Polascik, director of Urologic Oncology at the Duke Cancer Institute and senior author of the study.  “It’s easy and inexpensive - a set of headphones and music. That’s it.”



Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor