Music and Health
The use of music listening as a self-care modality can offer a wide variety of benefits for health. It is our belief that the use of music as an inexpensive non-pharmacological form of therapy for healing and pain relief has been underutilized by practitioners and patients. While there are many anecdotal accounts on the benefits of music, this page is dedicated to providing citations for recently published literature that reports or reviews evidence or techniques for the effectiveness of music listening in health and wellness.
For the benefit of the average person, the casual listener, our primary focus will be on listening and not on specialized programs of music therapy. Certainly, music therapists can add an important dimension to complementary therapy, but music can also provide benefits for a very broad audience of individuals who use music listening as a personal therapeutic tool. Studies support the benefits of music listening to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and tension, enhance relaxation, improve metabolism, reduce respiratory rates, and improve blood pressure and heart rates.
In the future, we will provide a tip sheet for listening to help readers get the most out of the experience. Initially, it is important to know that music listening is a unique experience for each individual. The benefits of music are experienced best by the selection of music that is enjoyed by each listener and is appropriate for the type of outcome desired. Music that may provide stress relief for one person will differ for another, and melodies that can help provide pain relief may be different from those that aid in tension reduction. There is no single type of music that provides benefits for each person in every situation.
Read a brief summary of recent studies or reviews below; new literature will be posted as it is published.
Researchers in Finland designed and implemented a prospective study comparing a music intervention with no intervention to evaluate the effects of music listening on pain intensity levels following surgery. Patients scheduled for elective abdominal surgery were assigned to a music group (n=83) or the control group (n=85) for their first 3 post-operative days. All patients were assessed 8 different times for pain intensity and pain distress during general bed rest, during deep breathing, and while changing positions. Patients in the music group reported significantly lower pain intensity and pain distress in all 3 categories on the second postoperative day. No significant differences were reported between the two groups at other times. The results demonstrated that music listening can alleviate pain discomfort and intensity during bed rest, deep breathing, and while experiencing positional changes on the second postoperative day. The authors suggest that healthcare providers offer music listening as a safe and inexpensive adjunct to pharmacological pain relief following abdominal surgery.
Researchers in Brazil evaluated the effects of music therapy on the breastfeeding rates of mothers with clinically stable premature infants in a Rio de Janeiro Maternity Hospital. A randomized, controlled trial of 94 mothers included an intervention group of 48 who were offered 60 minutes of music therapy 3 times per week, as well as 46 mothers in a comparison group who received usual care. Breastfeeding rates were evaluated at 7-15 days, 30 days, and 60 days following discharge. The median number of music sessions - each session had 4 parts and included opportunities for verbal expression by the mother - was 7 per subject (range: 3-25). The music therapy group reported significantly more breastfeeding infants at the first follow-up point and, while the rates were not considered significant at 30 and 60 days following discharge, the rates continued to be higher when compared to the control group. The researchers encouraged further studies with larger sample sizes in varied settings, but stated that their trial results suggest that this simple, low-cost approach "could be useful to increase breastfeeding rates among mothers of premature newborns."
To address the question of whether music and singing can contribute to the health and well-being of older adults, researchers in England systematically reviewed existing literature. Sixteen studies of varying types met inclusion criteria and were categorized into 3 areas: 1) people with dementia; 2) specific disorders (osteoarthritis, joint surgery, COPD); and 3) everyday quality of life. While all studies reported benefits from music-listening or singing in the elderly populations, the authors report some limitations in the size and strength of the studies. Further, they noted that, while additional research is needed, there is an increasing base of evidence to support the benefits of music-listening and singing.
Holistic Nursing Practice. May-June 2011;25(3):127-135.
The authors, from two Texas universities, reviewed 31 articles on the selection of music to improve outcomes of pain, anxiety, relaxation, and stress. They focused on the choice of music as a means to an end: namely, relaxation or analgesia. Studies that evaluated different types of music in varied settings are reviewed and editorials by music therapists are discussed. This review reports that some studies show benefits when the patient selects the music and others indicate that expert-selected music was equally effective. The key factor appears to be the intended goal of the music . . . the awareness of whether the patient will benefit from sedating or stimulating music. The authors suggest using existing research to design music experiences that will satisfy patient needs.