How Music Could Ease the Pain of Surgery

Music may soothe pain, anxiety during surgery and postoperative recovery

It is said that music can soothe the soul, but can it also soothe the body?

A new study from the UK found that music may not only ease a patient's anxiety before, during and after surgery, it may also ease postoperative physical pain and reduce the need for painkillers.

"Currently music is not used routinely during surgery to help patients in their postoperative recovery," said lead study author Catherine Meads, PhD, a lecturer at Brunel University London in the UK, in a press release. "The lack of uptake is often down to the skepticism of professionals as to whether it genuinely works, and of course issues of budget and the integration into daily practice. We hope this study will now shift perceptions and highlight the positive impact music can have."

Dr. Meads and team looked at more than 4,000 surgery trials, narrowing them down to 73 studies on music and surgery involving almost 7,000 patients worldwide.

These patients went underwent various surgical procedures, both with and without anesthesia.

The data from patients who listened to music was then compared to patients that did not.

Dr. Meads and team found that the patients who listened to music —regardless of style or duration — reported less pain, lower anxiety and less need for pain medications.

"We have known since the time of Florence Nightingale that listening to music has a positive impact on patients during surgery, by making them feel calmer and reducing pain," said study co-author Martin Hirsch, MBBD, a research fellow at Queen Mary University of London, in the release. "However, it's taken pulling together all the small studies on this subject into one robust meta-analysis to really prove it works.”

Florence Nightingale was a 19th century woman known for revolutionizing nursing during the period.

Dr. Meads and team said they plan to test their hypotheses on women undergoing C-sections and uterine exams at The Royal London Hospital.

These women will listen to a playlist of their choice that is connected to pillows with built-in speakers.

According to Dr. Meads, these studies could change how hospitals approach operative care.

This study was published August 12 in the journal The Lancet.

No funding sources or conflicts of interest were disclosed.