Music Therapy for Chronic Pain – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

 With the Grammy awards upon us and Whitney Houston’s recent passing, it seems appropriate to discuss the physiological effects of music on our bodies. Can music positively affect our perception of pain?

Sure, we all love to sing our favorite song in the shower, rock out in the car or as we work out, or blast our favorite music around the house — but did you know that music can also be used as means to cope with chronic pain?

It’s true – music can have pain-relieving and stress-reducing qualities.

Music is used in hospitals as a way for patients to meditate, or, sometimes, just as a way to raise the spirits of those who are hospitalized. According to the hospital website, Music as Medicine, “Hospitalization can result not only in physical stress from invasive treatments and therapies, but emotional stress as well from unexpected news, unfamiliar environments, inability to conduct normal activities and lack of control. Music therapy in the medical setting provides patients a familiar and positive way to cope with their hospitalization. Through successful music experiences, patients can regain a sense of control, independence, and confidence. Music can be a medium of communication and a strategy for refocusing attention during painful procedures or long treatments such as hemodialysis, and a source of emotional support. Music is clinically recognized to influence biological responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, cardiac output, muscle tone, pupillary responses, skin responses, the immune system, and endorphin production.”

Endorphins are a hormone that serve as a “natural painkiller” in the body. Endorphins are released when we hear music we like, when we laugh, dance, exercise or fall in love.

You may have heard various singers and celebrities endorsing charities such as, “Music for a Cure” – whose mission is “to unleash the healing power of music in order to uplift  and heal children in the hospital” — and there’s a reason for that!

All kinds of music can serve therapeutic purposes.

Arthritis Today Magazine says, “Can classical music soothe aching limbs and decrease your stress? ‘Yes!’ sing researchers and music therapists alike. By listening to slow-tempo classical music, pain from chronic osteoarthritis may ease, a recent study indicates. Researchers at the Florida Atlantic University College of Nursing, Boca Raton, found that participants’ pain levels decreased because they were distracted by the music. Stress levels did, too.”

Additionally, another Arthritis Today Magazine states “Music is like exercise. What you do for exercise doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you do it. And what you listen to doesn’t matter, as long as you listen. Music can decrease the pain, depression and disability that commonly occur among people with osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other noncancerous types of chronic pain, according to research conducted at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio and reported in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. People who listened to music for one hour a day for one week – whether they picked the tunes themselves or researchers provided them – felt more empowered and reported less pain, depression and disability than those who did not listen to music. Average pain ratings among people who listened to music fell by about 20 percent, whereas pain among nonlisteners actually increased. Cue up your compact disc player or charge up your iPod, because your brain responds to the music you hear, says osteopathic physician Steven Stanos, medical director, Chronic Pain Care Center at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. ‘We think music stimulates areas of the brain that are responsible for releasing the body’s own painkillers,” he says. “Music stimulates the periaqueductal gray (PAG) area in the mid-brain, which is where we have our own opioid system.'”

Other sounds aside from music can even help reduce pain. Soft background noises such as beach or nature sounds, even a thunderstorm or a train whistle ringing in the distance can evoke emotional and physiological responses that can affect pain and other arthritis symptoms. Soothing and most of all familiar sounds can bring peaceful feelings that can be helpful in managing pain.”

So, crank it up! Whether it is a CD of relaxing yoga or an iTunes playlist of meditation music, or whether you prefer Beethoven, Lady Gaga, Adele, Justin Bieber, Lana Del Ray, Carrie Underwood, Wiz Khalifa, Tim McGraw, Celine Dion, Jay Z, Gospel, George Strait, Coldplay, or the Grateful Dead — it doesn’t matter! Choose whatever music suits your fancy — whatever music makes you feel happy or relaxed — and take part in your own music therapy daily! What could it hurt? :)

Thanks for reading, and, as always, you are welcome to leave a comment!

Stay Well,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck

What’s YOUR weapon against arthritis?

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