The Healing Power of Music

Patients undergoing surgery who listen to soothing talk and music while under anesthesia may wake up feeling less pain and require less pain medicine.

German researchers randomly assigned 385 surgery patients to one of two groups. The first wore earphones during their operations, listening to an audiotape that played soothing background music along with positive suggestions about the safety and success of the procedure. The second group wore earphones that played a blank tape. The anesthetist put the earphones on the patients after they were asleep and removed them before they awoke. Neither the patients nor surgeons knew who got the blank tapes. The study is in BMJ.

Of those who listened to the music and talk, 70 used no opiates at all, compared with 39 in the control group. Fifty patients in the audible tape group used non-opioid pain relievers compared with 75 of the controls. And average pain scores two hours after the operation were 25 percent lower in those who heard soothing words and music compared with those who did not.

The lead author, Dr. Ernil Hansen, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Regensburg, calculated that for every six patients using the earphones, one would need no opiates at all after an operation.

“It’s not only the drugs and the surgery,” he said. “We’re talking about the valuable part that the patient takes in his own healing.”

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