Soothing Sounds

Way back when, there was an episode of Seinfeld in which one of Elaine’s boyfriends became mesmerized every time he heard the Eagles’ song “Desperado.” The guy zoned out, fully entranced, and didn’t like to be disturbed by anyone, which wasn’t more than a quirky affectation until the end of the episode, when the song came on as he was performing a medical procedure.

Turns out, there might be something to music and medical procedures. A paper published in the medical journal the Lancet on August 15 shows some people recover from surgery faster if they listen to favorite turns before, during and after going under the knife.

“Music is a non-invasive, safe, and inexpensive intervention that can be delivered easily and successfully,” according to the abstract. Conducting a meta-analysis of medical research papers, a team from London identified 73 randomized control trials, each featuring between 20 and 458 patients who had been allowed to have music playing during surgical procedures. The choice of music was as varied as the patients, the researchers say, as did the mode of listening—headphones, no headphones, white noise, etc. The results of those trials indicate the patients who listened to music had less pain following an operation, used less medication and were happier, but their length of time in the hospital after their procedures did not change, at least not to a statistically significant extent. “Music was effective even when patents were under general anesthetic,” the paper says.

“Music could be offered as a way to help patients reduce pain and anxiety during the postoperative period,” the paper concludes. “Timing and delivery can be adapted to individual clinical settings and medical teams.”

The paper also notes that there are more than 51 million operations or other surgeries performed in the United States alone every year, while another four to six million hospital visits per year in England result in surgery. As doctors slowly move toward decreasing the amount of general anesthesia they administer, they’re considering other ways to keep their patients calm and reduce their stress, in the hopes that relaxed bodies will heal faster and suffer fewer complications.

And here’s a fun little tidbit: “Use of music to improve patients’ hospital experience has a long history in medical care, including by Florence Nightingale,” also known as the Lady with the Lamp, who tended to soldiers during the Crimean War and is credited with founding modern nursing.

Prerecorded music, played through headphones, in the background of the operating room, or musical pillows (those exist!?!) is viewed as a “non-invasive, safe and inexpensive intervention compared with pharmaceuticals,” the paper notes. While the practice is not yet widespread, possibly due to skepticism on the part of physicians, the research found that when patients were allowed to choose the music they listened to, there was a “slightly increased but non-significant reduction in pain, compared with when the patients had no choice” in what they heard. The best results were obtained when music was played before and after surgery, almost at the same rates as anesthesia, and anxiety was also reduced.


For more on music’s medicinal benefits, go here.

Liked it? Take a second to support Amber Healy on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Comment