April 21, 2006 — After surgery, patients may feel less pain and need less pain medicine if they listen to music, according to a new research review.
The review appears in The Cochrane Library. It shows that patients who listened to music after surgery tended to report less pain intensity and required slightly smaller doses of painkillers, compared with those who didn’t listen to music.
“Music should not be considered as a primary method for pain relief,” the researchers write. However, they note that music may easily, inexpensively, and safely help cut surgery patients’ pain and painkiller needs.
The reviewers included M. Soledad Cepeda, MD, PhD. Cepeda is a visiting professor of anesthesiology at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Massachusetts, and a professor in the anesthesiology department at Javeriana University’s medical school in Bogota, Colombia.
Cepeda and colleagues reviewed 14 scientific studies on music and postsurgery pain. None of those studies combined music with other nondrug therapies, such as guided imagery, relaxation, videos, healing touch, hypnosis, or acupuncture.
The studies randomly assigned a combined total of 510 patients to listen to music after surgery. For comparison, another 493 patients were assigned not to listen to music after surgery.
Patients who listened to music after surgery were more likely to report lower pain intensity and to need smaller doses of painkillers, the review shows.
The difference in painkiller doses was small and its clinical significance is unclear. Music didn’t appear to equal the pain relief of drugs, the researchers note. In some studies, participants chose their own music. In other trials, patients didn’t get to choose their tunes. Music choice didn’t matter, in terms of pain relief, according to the review.
Cepeda’s team also reviewed other studies of music and nonsurgical pain. They found mixed results in those trials.
Future studies should check whether mixing music with other nondrug therapies brings greater pain relief and whether music affects pain patients’ anxiety, note Cepeda and colleagues.