It's almost impossible to find someone who doesn't feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can't carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.
Music therapy is a burgeoning field. Those who become certified music therapists are accomplished musicians who have deep knowledge of how music can evoke emotional responses to relax or stimulate people, or help them heal. A growing body of research attests that music therapy is more than a nice perk. It can improve medical outcomes and quality of life in a variety of ways.
In controlled clinical trials of people having colonoscopies, cardiac angiography, and knee surgery, those who listened to music before their procedure had reduced anxiety and a reduced need for sedatives. Those who listened to music in the operating room reported less discomfort during their procedure. Hearing music in the recovery room lowered the use of opioid painkillers.
Music therapy can help people who are recovering from a stroke or traumatic brain injury that has damaged the left-brain region responsible for speech. Because singing ability originates in the right side of the brain, people can work around the injury to the left side of their brain by first singing their thoughts and then gradually dropping the melody. Listening to music reduces anxiety associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It can also quell nausea and vomiting for patients receiving chemotherapy.
Music therapy has been tested in patients ranging from those with intense acute pain to those with chronic pain from arthritis. Overall, music therapy decreases pain perception, reduces the amount of pain medication needed, helps relieve depression, and gives people a sense of better control over their pain.
Because the ability to engage with music remains intact late into the disease process, music therapy can help to recall memories, reduce agitation, assist communication, and improve physical coordination. Next time you face a challenging medical exam or healing stint, grab a pair of headphones, choose your favorite songs and let the healing begin.