A violin near some sheet music.

Music can reduce the pain felt by hospital patients.

Credit: Flickr/Matt Trudeau CC-BY 2.0

Written by Julia Cleghorn

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 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.”

Music vs audiobooks

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 harm children. This alternative is easy and harmless. Best of all, patients can turn on their favourite tunes and continue their own treatment, without the need for a prescription!

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