Music is a universal language. At its best, it has the power to lift our spirits and transport us to another time or place. But did you know it also has the power to help manage chronic pain? The Ancient Greeks tapped into the healing power of music, issuing musical “prescriptions” for a wide assortment of health challenges. Music therapy was formalized in the U.S. in the 1940s when doctors realized that music was a significant factor in helping soldiers heal from shell shock.
Music can reduce your pain
It’s believed that music triggers the release of natural opioids in the brain that can reduce the feeling of pain and, in turn, reduce the need for pain medication. Research shows that music used as a clinical intervention can not only reduce the amount of pain patients perceive, it can alleviate stress and anxiety, promote relaxation and rest, and give moods a positive boost. For chronic pain management, soothing music is often paired with relaxation techniques so that, over time, the patient learns to relax automatically when listening to music.
Your favorite music is good for you
A recent study of fibromyalgia patients found they experienced less chronic pain after listening to their favorite music. The study also found that the type of music listened to is not as important as how well the music holds the patient’s interest. Since emotion and pain are strongly linked, music that creates positive emotions triggers positive memories that can affect mood and the ability to handle pain.
Another theory behind the power of music therapy relates to how nerve impulses in the central nervous system—otherwise know as the body’s information superhighway—are affected by our emotions and thought processes. Since music can distract us from the pain we’re experiencing, we tend to focus less on the pain, and those nerve impulses are slowed down and reduced until the pain is minimized.
Therapy that’s as individual as you are
Music therapists can design sessions for chronic pain patients based on the patient’s specific likes and needs. In addition to listening to tunes, music therapy might include singing along to songs, writing songs, making music, meditating with music, discussing music and lyrics, and using music to form images in the mind.
In addition to requiring less pain medication, patients undergoing music therapy for chronic pain management have been found to:
• Have significant improvements in their respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle relaxation
• Experience less pain-related distress and lowered pain-intensity levels
• Enjoy more peace of mind and better quality of life
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