Can Listening to Music Help Control Pain?

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.  Bob Marley

There is no disputing that the need for effective pain relief has never been greater.   While we all experience pain once in a while, chronic pain (usually defined as pain lasting longer than three to six months) can be devastating for many pain sufferers.   With an estimated ten to 55 percent of people worldwide developing chronic pain worldwide, it's hardly surprising that pain relievers, particularly medications containing form of opium, are in constant demand in countries around the world.   Along with obtaining these drugs legally through a doctor's prescription, there are also street drugs that can also be used for relieving pain, including heroin and opium.   Though there are alternative methods for pain management that avoid the potential addiction issues surrounding opiates, research studies  looking into  their actual effectiveness often yield contradictory results..

 As an alternative to medication,  non-chemical pain management techniques such as relaxation training or guided imagery can also help control pain using the principle of distraction.   By using different mental activities to occupy the minds of pain patients, their awareness of pain is reduced which provides basic relief.   While using relaxation training or interactive media such as video games or virtual reality can help provide the distraction pain patients need, they often aren't cost-effective compared to less expensive options such as medication.  Whether due to the expense of providing trained staff to teach relaxation techniques or the cost of specialized equipment, many physicians find it easier and cheaper to prescribe pain medication.   Even when pain management programs are available, the demand for treatment can mean long waiting lists and needless suffering.

But what about simpler alternatives such as listening to music?   Research looking at the link between music listening and pain tolerance suggests that it is not only effective in relieving acute and chronic pain but can also help patients manage anxiety and depression.    According to one study from 2012, two daily sessions of music listening helped a sample of chronic pain patients relieve symptoms related to conditions such fibromyalgia, inflammatory disease, or neurogenic pain as well as the anxiety and depression linked to chronic pain. 

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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