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The anxiety and pain reducing powers of Adele

Okay, well, not just Adele, but it turns out that providing patients with a set of headphones and allowing them to listen to music may help alleviate their pain and anxiety during certain medical procedures, according to a pair of recently published studies.

During the first study (subscription required), a team of researchers at the University of Utah Pain Research Center instructed 143 participants to perform music tasks, such as following the melodies and identifying deviant tones in songs, while receiving experimental pain shocks with fingertip electrodes. Science Daily reports:

The findings showed that central arousal from the pain stimuli reliably decreased with the increasing music-task demand. Music helps reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways, stimulating emotional responses, and engaging cognitive attention. Music, therefore, provided meaningful intellectual and emotional engagement to help reduce pain.

Among the study subjects, those with high levels of anxiety about pain had the greatest net engagement, which contradicted the authors' initial hypothesis that anxiety would interfere with a subject's ability to become absorbed in the music listening task. They noted that low anxiety actually may have diminished the ability to engage in the task.

In the second study, a Duke Cancer Institute research team randomly assigned 88 men undergoing a prostate biopsy to three groups: wear no headphones, wear noise-cancelling headphones without listening to music and wear headphones playing Bach concertos. The participants' blood pressure was taken before and after the biopsy. According to a Duke University release:

Among study participants in both groups with no musical intervention, diastolic blood pressure remained elevated after the procedure, compared to before. But the men who wore the headphones and listened to Bach had no such spike in blood pressure. Diastolic blood pressure often rises as a function of stress and anxiety.

Study participants who had the music also reported less pain, as measured by questionnaires.

The studies add to a body of research showing music therapy may ease various types of pain, including chronic pain and post-surgical pain.

Previously: Can music benefit cancer patients? and Prescription playlists for treating pain and depression?
Photo by Kashirin Nickolai

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