Managing pain with music

Managing pain with music

Here’s a prescription for pain relief: the sound of music.

Pain is very real. It is also a perception. How strongly we feel pain at any given time depends a good deal on our thoughts and mood. Music has a profound influence on both. Indeed, research shows that using music as therapy can reduce the experience of pain.

For immediate relief of sudden pain, music therapists suggest music with a strong, positive rhythm or lyrics. Maybe tunes from a favorite musical or an upbeat instrumental composition. Such attention-getting music provides a good distraction and stimulates release of the body’s natural painkillers.

For relief from chronic pain, soothing music has proven to be the best. In this type of therapy, a chosen piece is played over and over again. While the music is playing, the listener practices relaxation techniques. After a period of such “conditioning,” just hearing the music cues a deep sense of ease.

You can help your loved one try music therapy at home.

  • Find the right music. Have your relative listen to a variety of music. Rate each piece twice: for enjoyment and for relaxation. Identify the pieces that score highest in each area.
  • Compile music sets. Create unique combinations or playlists: one for upbeat distraction and one for soothing.
  • Prepare for sudden pain. Before and during any potentially painful procedure, listen to the attention-focusing music. (Headphones or earbuds are great for this!) The distraction may reduce your relative’s experience of pain. It can also make the time seem to go by more quickly.
  • Condition against chronic pain. Over a period of weeks, have your family member listen repeatedly to calming music. At the same time, he or she practices rhythmic deep breathing and pleasant mental imagery. This links the music to deep relaxation.