Music therapy is beneficial for patients with sickle cell disease

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A new study from University Hospitals (UH) Connor Whole Health found patients with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) who participated in music therapy learned new self-management skills and improved their ability to cope with pain. The findings from this study were recently published in the Journal of Pain Research.

SCD is an inherited disorder that affects red blood cells. In someone who has SCD, red blood cells become hard, sticky and C-shaped. When they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog blood flow. Many patients with SCD face serious health challenges including anemia, stroke, organ damage, and severe episodes of pain. Patients may have trouble managing daily life which can lead to depression.

"It feels like someone's constantly stabbing you, but you're not dying. You're just being stabbed over and over for a week or more," said Tasha Taylor, 40, of Cleveland, a patient with SCD.

SCD affects approximately 100,000 Americans and occurs in about one of every 365 Black or African-American births according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But according to, "it is really important to recognize sickle cell disease is not just a disease of Black people. Latinos have the second most common incidence in the U.S. Importantly, sickle cell disease is present globally. The country with the third highest prevalence in the world is India."

Over the past 10 years, UH Connor Whole Health (UH Connor) has provided thousands of music therapy sessions, both individualized and group, to hundreds of adults with SCD. UH Connor manages the largest health system-based music therapy program in the U.S. Board-certified music therapists collaborate with providers across the system to help patients and their families manage the physical and emotional toll of an illness or hospitalization. Additionally, UH Connor provides a diverse offering of whole health services, including acupuncture, chiropractic, and integrative medicine consults, that are centered on the patient's entire well-being. The goal of these services is to equip patients with the ability to take charge of their physical, mental, and spiritual health to live full and meaningful lives.

"Our most widely used integrative approach has been the use of music therapy to assist with pain management, quality of life, and the transition from pediatric to adult care for individuals with sickle cell disease," said Samuel Rodgers-Melnick, a music therapist and integrative health research and data specialist with UH Connor.

In "Effects of Music Therapy on Quality of Life in Adults with Sickle Cell Disease (MUSIQOLS): A Mixed Methods Feasibility Study" researchers examined whether a 6-part music therapy intervention was feasible, acceptable, and beneficial among adults with SCD experiencing chronic pain. Some patients participated in in-person music therapy sessions, with exercises like music-based breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery, and active music making. Other patients in the waitlist control group did not receive these therapies. All participants completed daily electronic pain diaries as well as quality of life measures prior to and following the intervention period.

Results showed that the intervention was feasible, with high rates of enrollment, attendance, and measure completion. Interviews revealed that participants learned new self-management skills and experienced improved ability to cope with pain.

When comparing participants in music therapy versus participants in the control group, researchers found that self-efficacy and social functioning increased while pain interference and sleep disturbance decreased.

"My pain would be a 10, but when I was done with our music therapy lessons, I was at a four or a five," said Taylor, who participates in music therapy with UH Connor. "Music eases my pain. It eases my body. It eases everything. It calms me. It calms my anxiety and depression."

Rodgers-Melnick served as the principal investigator for the first systematic research on the use of music therapy for individuals with SCD and has led multiple studies on the topic since 2014. These studies support the benefits of music therapy for managing acute pain, improving self-efficacy, and improving sickle cell disease knowledge in adolescents and young adults transitioning from pediatric to adult care.

"The findings from this latest study show that patients with SCD are willing to participate in music therapy, whether in the hospital setting or at home, and when they do, it helps their pain and improves their quality of life," said Rodgers-Melnick. "This is what we want for our patients, and this is why we're so passionate about sharing the successes of addressing pain with music therapy."

This study is just one example of the broader impact UH Connor is making on the research front. Connor Whole Health is one of the largest clinical programs across the country, and this effort exemplifies our leadership and expertise in music therapy."

Francoise Adan, MD, Chief Whole Health & Well-being Officer and the Christopher M. & Sara H. Connor Chair in Integrative Health, University Hospitals Health System and Director, UH Connor Whole Health

Journal reference:

Rodgers-Melnick, S.N., et al. (2022) Effects of Music Therapy on Quality of Life in Adults with Sickle Cell Disease (MUSIQOLS): A Mixed Methods Feasibility Study. Journal of Pain Research.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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