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.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive respiratory disease that results in disabling symptoms, including shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest. Because COPD is caused by permanent damage to lung tissue, treatment can relieve symptoms and slow disease progression, but cannot provide a cure. Researchers in the USA and India collaborated on a review of studies that examined the impact of music on the psychological and physiological outcomes in patients with COPD. Only 7 studies that used the interventions of music listening, playing music, and singing met the pre-determined inclusion criteria. Five studies were performed in a hospital setting using a randomized, controlled design and, overall, enrollment numbers were small in all studies. Results in the improvement of physiological outcomes of FEV (forced expiratory volume), FVC (forced vital capacity), and breathing control in patients with COPD in these studies were mixed. However, music interventions provided consistent improvement in psychological outcomes such as quality of life, dyspnea, and anxiety in patients with COPD. Because the studies show promising results, researchers suggest longer-duration studies using larger sample sizes.
The abstract and options for full-text access can be found at:
Investigators reviewed a wide variety of literature and clinical trial databases to identify randomized controlled and quasi-randomized trials that compared music interventions and standard care with the use of standard care alone for coronary heart disease patients. The 26 trials that met pre-determined criteria for music listening served as the review evidence. Two consistent results showed that 1) music interventions had a small beneficial effect on psychological distress in this population, and 2) patients who received 2 or more music listening sessions had a small effect in pain-reduction. In addition, results showed that listening to music reduces heart rate, respiratory rate, and systolic blood pressure, while improving sleep quality after cardiac procedures. Some studies reported a moderate but inconsistent effect on anxiety in people with coronary heart disease, with the exception that there was more consistency in anxiety-reducing effects in patients with myocardial infarction. A few studies reported a potential reduction in opioid use after cardiac surgery or procedures, but the researchers felt that more studies would be needed to strengthen the evidence. Greater anxiety-reducing effects were reported for people who were given a choice of music listening options. The authors conclude that their review provides evidence that listening to music may have beneficial effects for persons with coronary heart disease but cautions readers that the clinical significance of the findings is still unclear and suggests the need for additional research.
Researchers from several countries collaborated on an investigation of the analgesic effects of music on fibromyalgia pain. Based on existing studies that have suggested that the analgesic effect of music may be secondary to cognitive and emotional responses that arise from music listening, patients with fibromyalgia (n=22) were passively exposed to 1) self-chosen, relaxing music, AND to 2) a control of pink noise. Levels of pain and functional mobility, using a timed up & go task (TUG), were measured after each auditory activity. Results showed that listening to relaxing, familiar, self-chosen music significantly reduced pain and increased functional mobility in this group of patients following the music intervention, not the control activity. Furthermore, the researchers reported that the effect cannot be explained solely by motor entrainment to the rhythm of the music because the music in this study was played prior to the motor task, not during the task. They concluded that their study "suggests that music reduces pain in fibromyalgia by means of cognitive and emotional mechanisms" with an analgesic effect that is strong enough to increase functional mobility.
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.