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The sweet sound of pain relief

By David, 23 January 2015

A violin near some sheet music.

Music can reduce the pain felt by hospital patients.
Credit: Flickr/Matt Trudeau CC-BY 2.0

Turns out we can thank Rihanna and Taylor Swift for more than just catchy songs. Recent research has revealed that for kids, pain from surgery can be reduced significantly by simply listening to their favourite music!

Undergoing major surgery can cause a lot of pain, and often strong drugs are needed. But within 48 hours of a procedure, scientists found that children experienced far less pain after listening to only 30 minutes of music, or audiobooks, of their choice.

How can that be? Researcher Santhanam Suresh from Chicago, United States, says “there is a certain amount of learning that goes on with pain. The idea is, if you don’t think about it, maybe you won’t experience it as much. We are trying to cheat the brain a little bit. We are trying to refocus mental channels on to something else.”

Scientists completed the trial with 56 patients aged 9–14. The patients were divided into three groups. One group listened to music of their choice, one group listened to an audiobook of their choice, and one listened to nothing by wearing noise-cancelling headphones. Each trial lasted 30 minutes.

They evaluated pain before and after the audio therapy by using images of facial expressions, and asking patients to choose which image best represented how they were feeling.

Both groups who listened to music and audio books experienced a significant reduction in pain, while the patients wearing noise-cancelling headphones experienced no change.

These results are significant, as some post-surgery medicine can be harmful to children. This alternative is easy and harmless. Best of all, patients can simply turn on an iPod and continue their own treatment, without the need for a prescription!

Written by Julia Cleghorn

More information

Find out more about audio therapy

This article first appeared in Science by Email. Sign up to Science by Email to receive science news, an activity and a quiz each week. It’s free!

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