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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happiness Through Health and Music

“Music has Charms to soothe a savage Breast / To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”
-William Congreve

I came across Regimens: Soothing Melodies for Cancer Patients from the New York Times this morning, stating that new research suggests that listening to music may reduce pain and anxiety in cancer patients. This research isn't new per say, the original paper is actually a systematic review paper that put together data from 30 trials.

Here is the plain language summary:
Having cancer may result in intense emotional, physical and social suffering. Music therapy and music medicine interventions have been used to alleviate symptoms and treatment side effects in cancer patients. In music medicine interventions, the patient simply listens to pre-recorded music that is offered by a medical professional. Music therapy requires the implementation of a music intervention by a trained music therapist, the presence of a therapeutic process, and the use of personally tailored music experiences.
This review included 30 trials with a total of 1891 participants. The findings suggest that music therapy and music medicine interventions may have a beneficial effect on anxiety, pain, mood, quality of life, heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure in cancer patients. Most trials were at high risk of bias and, therefore, these results need to be interpreted with caution.

Although music has been used for pain relief since the ancient times, only recently has music come under empirical scrutiny for pain management in clinical settings, with a focus on postoperative, labor, and chronic pain, three common types of clinical pain. 

Looking at various papers on music interventions, the mechanism underlying music’s pain reducing abilities have been largely attributed to the psychological factors of distraction and relaxation. Other physiological explanations seem to relatively neglected. However, in the end, the psychological mechanisms are inherently physiological themselves, perhaps mediated by a spinal mechanism. So in the end, the gate control theory of pain may serve as an uniting mechanism to explain the beneficial impact of music intervention on pain management.

Though it may not be clear how music heals, one thing is clear: it doesn't hurt to have music. Research isn't necessary for us to know that. As a doctor, I'll take advantages of music to connect with patients. Doctors spread happiness through health, and musicians do so with music. So, why not do both?

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