Music May Ease Chronic Pain

Listening to Tunes for an Hour a Day Makes a Difference, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 26, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

May 26, 2006 -- People dealing with chronic pain may get some relief by listening to music for an hour a day, new research shows.

A study in June's Journal of Advanced Nursing shows that adults with chronic pain reported less pain, depressiondepression, and disability and felt more empowered after a week of listening to music for an hour a day.

It didn't matter what kind of music they listened to, the study shows.

The study comes from two researchers in Cleveland: Sandra Siedliecki, PhD, RN, CNS, of The Cleveland Clinic, and Marion Good, PhD, RN, FAAN, of Case Western Reserve University.

Coping With Chronic Pain

The study included 60 black or white adults with chronic pain. The patients lived in Ohio, and were in their late 40s or early 50s, on average. None had cancercancer, cognitive impairment, or had an altered mental status (having hallucinations, delusions, or confusion).

All had had chronic pain for at least six months. For some, pain had lasted for years. They were recruited from pain clinics and a chiropractic office.

Nearly all said they felt pain in multiple body areas. The most common places they felt pain were the lower back, legs, knee joints, and feet.

Nearly three-quarters said they didn't know what started their pain. More than half said they had never gotten a diagnosis related to their pain. Of those who had a pain-related diagnosis, osteoarthritisosteoarthritis was the most common pain-related diagnosis.

Tuning in to Turn Down Pain

The researchers split participants into three groups.

Patients in one group picked their favorite music or nature sounds to listen to for an hour every day. They could pick upbeat tunes or slower sounds -- whatever they wanted.

Patients in another group chose from relaxing instrumental music supplied by the researchers. For comparison, patients in the third group weren't asked to listen to music during the study.

The researchers gave tape players and headsets to both music groups to use for the experiment, which lasted for seven days.

Before and after the study, patients rated their pain, depressiondepression, disability, and feelings of power to make changes in their lives.

In all of those categories, average scores improved for both music groups but not for the comparison group -- and those changes didn't appear to be due to chance, the study shows.

Soothing Sounds

Here are details on the improvements seen in the music groups' surveys:

  • Average pain ratings fell by about 20%.
  • Average depression scores fell by up to 25%.
  • Average self-rated disability dropped by up to 18%.
  • Feelings of empowerment rose by up to 8%.

Did it matter if patients selected their own music? Probably not. Any differences between the two music groups' average improvements may have been due to chance, the study shows.

Musical style apparently didn't matter, either. "A variety of different music selections and styles, some with lyrics and some without, were found to be effective in this study," the researchers write.

Addition to Pain Therapy?

The researchers aren't suggesting that music can totally erase pain, and they're not suggesting it as a replacement for standard pain care. But music might be a harmless addition to treatment, the study shows.

"Music is safe, inexpensive, and easy for nurses to teach patients to use," write Siedliecki and Good. They note that nurses can help patients find and use music to help deal with chronic, nonmalignant pain. In doing so, nurses should be sensitive to patients' musical preferences, the researchers add.

Exactly how music helped the patients cope with chronic pain isn't known, or if the rest they got while listening to the music made a difference.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Siedliecki, S. Journal of Advanced Nursing, June 2006; vol 54: pp 553-562. News release, Journal of Advanced Nursing.
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