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Reducing Patients’ Stress and Pain with Music

Between 266–360 million surgeries are undertaken every year across the world. Patients often suffer from pain and anxiety related to their procedures. An estimated 75 percent of patients struggle with anxiety before their surgery and as many as 65% of patients report significant postoperative pain despite routine interventions. Preoperative anxiety is typically treated pharmacologically with drugs like midazolam […]

Between 266–360 million surgeries are undertaken every year across the world. Patients often suffer from pain and anxiety related to their procedures. An estimated 75 percent of patients struggle with anxiety before their surgery and as many as 65% of patients report significant postoperative pain despite routine interventions. Preoperative anxiety is typically treated pharmacologically with drugs like midazolam and postoperative pain is treated with a variety of opiate pain medications.

Music is a unique method of combating surgery-related pain and anxiety. There is  encouraging evidence that supports the use of music in the perioperative period, however the use of music for such benefits has not yet found its way into the mainstream medicine. Why?

There are several studies showing that patients have less anxiety before their surgery and have lower pain scores postoperatively when they listened to music. One study actually showed that listening to music was superior to midazolam for perioperative anxiety.

According to a recent meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Surgery, the impact of music on anxiety and pain in the perioperative period is statistically significant. A group of Dutch researchers analyzed 81 of 92 randomized controlled trials (RCT’s) with data from more than 7,000 patients who had a variety of different invasive surgeries. The patients listened to music before, during, and after their surgeries. Playing music resulted in lower anxiety and pain levels, regardless of the patient’s age, gender, of the type of surgery they received. The patients who listened to music compared to the control groups, had an average 21 point decrease in anxiety on a 100 point scale, and a 10% lower pain score.

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London also stated that patients who listened to music were less anxious and needed less pain relief after their surgeries. The study’s lead author, Dr. Catherine Meads, says that music is “a safe, cheap and non-invasive option that should be available to everyone having surgery.”

There were, however, slight differences in how effective the music was, depending on a a variety of factors. For example, the music had the greatest effect on anxiety when the patient listened to it before their surgery. Individual preferences are another factor. People are more likely to feel relaxed if they listen to a type of music that they’re familiar with and enjoy. Other elements of the music, such as tempo, harmony, and specific instruments also make a difference. It appears that the most effective music had a tempo of 60-80 beats per minute and had no lyrics.

Music has been around for centuries and while it may not be a major medical breakthrough, music makes a difference in how patients feel. Unfortunately, music is not widely offered or available to patients as part of their surgical experience.

I have found the use of music in my own practice to be of great benefit to my patients and I have also found that it can contribute to creating a positive mood in the operating room for the surgeon and the surgical team.

I hope to see a positive change in the future as more medical professionals realize the benefits of music and its overall impact on patient satisfaction.


Y. R. Kühlmann et all, “Meta‐analysis evaluating music interventions for anxiety and pain in surgery.” Wiley Online Library, 17 April 2018 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/bjs.10853

Ed Cara, “Music Makes Surgery Less Scary and Painful, and There’s 30 Years of Research to Back That Up.” Gizmodo, April 26, 2018 https://gizmodo.com/music-makes-surgery-less-scary-and-painful-and-theres-1825546126

Jane Dreaper, “Music ‘reduces pain and anxiety’ for surgery patients.” BBC News, 13 August 2015 https://www.bbc.com/news/health-33865448

Originally published on EdwardFohrman.com

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