Researchers in the U.S. have confirmed that listening to music can have a significant positive impact on the perception of chronic pain.
Previous studies have found music to be effective in decreasing pain and anxiety related to postoperative, procedural and cancer pain and while it is known that music encourages relaxation the researchers were eager to test the effect of music on power, pain, depression, and disability in working age adults who had endured years of chronic pain.
The 60 African American and Caucasian patients aged 21–65 years who took part in the study were recruited from pain and chiropractic clinics and had been suffering from conditions such osteoarthritis, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis for an average of six-and-a-half years.
The majority said the pain affected more than one part of their body, and was continuous.
Some listened to music on a headset for an hour every day for a week, while the rest did not.
Among those who listened to music, half were able to chose their favourite selections, the rest had to pick from a list of five relaxing tapes provided by the researchers.
According to the study those who listened to music reported a cut in pain levels of up to 21%, and in associated depression of up to 25%, compared to those who did not listen.
The study also found music helped people feel less disabled by their condition.
Researcher Dr. Sandra Siedlecki, of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, says the results show that listening to music had a statistically significant effect on the two experimental groups, reducing pain, depression and disability and increasing feelings of power.
Siedlecki says non-malignant pain remains a major health problem and sufferers continue to report high levels of unrelieved pain despite using medication and anything that can provide relief is welcomed.
Professor Marion Good, who also worked on the study, says that listening to music has already been shown to promote a number of positive benefits and this research adds to the growing body of evidence that it has an important role to play in modern healthcare.
Other research has found that listening to 45 minutes of soft music before going to bed can improve sleep by more than a third.
Other experts say the perception of pain is a complex phenomenon and is influenced by factors such as emotion, experience and mood, and while other studies have shown music could have a positive impact on the perception of pain, the effects tended to be relatively small, and it was doubtful if they were anything other than very short term.
In conclusion the researchers say that nurses can teach patients how to use music to enhance the effects of analgesics, decrease pain, depression and disability, and promote feelings of power.
The research is published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.