Music for Pain

While music won't replace painkillers, it can boost their effectiveness.

By Victor LimjocoAug 8, 2006 5:00 AM


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Marion Good loves to play music in her spare time. But as a professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, she also prescribes it for pain relief. Now, a new study finds that while music won't replace painkillers, it can boost their effectiveness.

Good's interest in researching music for pain began when, as a nurse on a neurology unit, she worked with patients suffering from back pain. "I would bring music into the room—soft, quiet music. Their faces just relaxed ... pretty soon they fell asleep," she says. "I had to tiptoe out of the room and come back an hour or two later to pick up my tape recorder."

Good has been testing music with post-operative patients for more than 15 years. "I found that music does reduce pain up to about 31 percent in my studies, in addition to medication," she says.

The conclusion of a systematic analysis combining 51 clinical studies is music to her ears. The Cochrane Review of Evidence-Based Healthcare found that patients exposed to music rate their pain as less intense and even use lower doses of painkillers.

On a zero-to-10 scale, patients reported an average drop of .5 in their pain rating when listening to music. "It's not a huge amount," Good says, "but that's an average and for some people, it will be more, and for some it will be less." Since music has no side effects, she points out, there's no risk in trying it.

Good's latest study, conducted with Sandra Siedlecki of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and published in the

Journal of Advanced Nursing

, found that patients with chronic pain who added music for pain relief got other benefits too.

"We found that music reduced pain, reduced anxiety, reduced depressive symptoms, and reduced pain disability," she says.

While the Cochrane Review cautions that music should not replace traditional primary treatments for pain, Good hopes this evidence will persuade other healthcare providers to consider music therapy as a complement to traditional treatment.

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