Musical Therapy for Chronic Pain

Healthnotes Newswire (July 13, 2006)—Music might be the prescription for people with chronic pain, according to a new study.

Arthritis and injuries are among the most common conditions that cause chronic pain, but in many cases, its origin is not known. Constantly experiencing pain can leave people disabled, depressed, and feeling powerless. People who use medications to control pain—typically narcotics, steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants—often experience side effects that can aggravate their disability and increase their sense of powerlessness

Earlier research has found that music can help people who have acute pain, cancer pain, and anxiety and pain related to surgery and other medical procedures. Little is known about the benefits of music to people with chronic noncancer pain and its accompanying symptoms.

The latest study of music therapy for chronic pain was published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. In the study, 60 people who had had back, neck, or joint pain for at least six months were divided into two music therapy groups and a third nonmusic group. The people in the first group listened to relaxing instrumental music; the people in the second group chose each day from among a set of musical selections that were said to help achieve specific goals such as promoting relaxation or sleep, lightening mood, or improving energy level. Each person in a music group used a tape player and headset to listen to their prescribed music for one hour each day for seven days.

People in both of the music groups reported that their sense of power had increased, and depression and disability had decreased after therapy, while those in the nonmusic group did not experience any improvement. Pain levels dropped an average of 20% in the groups that listened to music, but the people who did not listen to music reported a 2% increase in pain. The improvements were similar in the two music groups.

“Our findings extend knowledge by showing that different types of music not only decreased pain intensity, but decreased the frequency of depressive symptoms and perceptions of pain-related disability in patients with chronic nonmalignant (noncancer) pain,” the researchers concluded.

Victoria Rhodin, a psychotherapist who uses hypnosis and other mind–body interventions for pain management and other medical concerns, was impressed with the study’s findings and methodology.

“Chronic pain is a complex and poorly understood condition with elements of physical distress and disability, anxiety, and depression,” she commented. “This study investigates how a benign, and even pleasant, mind–body intervention may simultaneously address depression, lower anxiety, and contribute to a reduction in disabling pain. A particularly welcome aspect of the research is the use of a study sample which, unlike many, is diverse with regard to race, age, and gender.”

(J Adv Nurs 2006;54:553–62)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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