By Dr. Mercola

If you’re going to be undergoing a medical procedure, or you struggle with chronic pain, reaching for your playlist may be as good as reaching for a bottle of pain pills.

The power of music for relaxation, stress relief, and pain reduction is undeniable, although individual research studies proving the same were too small to show a strong connection.

That all changed when researchers pooled the data from 73 randomized clinical trials focusing on the role of music among surgery patients. Researcher Dr. Catherine Meads at Brunel University told NPR:1

“As the studies themselves were small, they really didn’t find all that much… But once we put them all together, we had much more power to find whether music worked or not.”

Music Reduces Pain Before, During, and After Surgery

Given that music is non-invasive, safe, and inexpensive – and most people find it enjoyable – the researchers suggested hospitals should routinely offer it to patients. The study found music helped patients drop an average of two points on a 10-point pain scale, while also using significantly less pain medication.

This level of relief is comparable to that achieved by a dose of pain-relieving drugs. In addition to reductions in pain, less anxiety and more patient satisfaction were also noted.

Benefits were found when music was played before, during, or after surgery, and even music played while patients were under general anesthetic was effective. Although in many cases the patients themselves chose the music, music was beneficial regardless of the type of music played or who selected it.

About the only downside noted was that several studies found music played in operating rooms may make it harder for surgical staff to hear directions, potentially increasing the risk of errors. This can be remedied by reserving the music for before and after the actual procedure.

Music Works Better Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

After reviewing 400 studies, another meta-analysis revealed listening to music resulted in less anxiety and lower cortisol levels among patients about to undergo surgery than taking anti-anxiety drugs.2

Other evidence showed music has an impact on antibodies linked to immunity and may lead to higher levels of bacteria-fighting cells. Still more research revealed that playing music in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) improved the health of premature babies with respiratory distress or sepsis.3

When parents sang to their babies, or sounds mimicking those in the womb were played, numerous benefits occurred, including changes in heart rates, sucking behavior, and parents’ stress levels. The researchers noted:

Entrained with a premature infant’s observed vital signs, sound and lullaby may improve feeding behaviors and sucking patterns and may increase prolonged periods of quiet–alert states. Parent-preferred lullabies, sung live, can enhance bonding, thus decreasing the stress parents associate with premature infant care.”

How Does Music Help with Pain and Anxiety Relief?

While some have suggested music serves as a distraction from pain, others believe there are intrinsic qualities in music that make it so effective. Music has been used…

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