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Forget the drugs, listening to music during surgery can reduce your pain

Even while you’re under anaesthetic.

A young patient (clearly on her way to an eye operation).
A young patient (clearly on her way to an eye operation).
Image: Shutterstock/Ollyy

Updated at 11.50am

MEDICAL RESEARCHERS IN the UK have found that music can significantly reduce pain and anxiety among surgery patients, even when they are under anaesthetic.

The study showed that listening to music before, during, or after a surgical procedure is beneficial to patients and can even leave them needing less pain medication.

The research was carried out by Brunel University and Queen Mary University of London and has been published in The Lancet Journal.

Out of a total of 72 trials involving nearly 7,000 patients, the results found that patients were significantly less anxious after surgery and reported significantly more satisfaction after listening to music.

They also needed less pain medication and reported significantly less pain compared with those who listened to no music.

The data found that listening to music at any time seemed effective, although it was better if patients listened to music before surgery rather than during or after.

Even listening to music while under general anaesthetic reduced patients’ levels of pain, although the effects were larger when patients were conscious.

As for what type of music was used, researchers say they chose music like Chinese classical music, or they gave patients a choice from a list of six or more styles.

They described most of the styles as “soothing”.

The authors of the report suggested that patients could listen to the music by either headphones or through music pillows. Or, alternatively, through loudspeakers so the surgeons could listen in as well.

Dr Catherine Meads from Brunel University thinks that music should be made available to all patients:

Music is a non-invasive, safe, cheap intervention that should be available to everyone undergoing surgery. Patients should be allowed to choose the type of music they would like to hear to maximise the benefit to their wellbeing.

Dr Paul Glasziou from Bond University in Queensland goes further, he says that if a drug had the same effect as music, pharmaceutical companies would be charging for it.

“Music is a simple and cheap intervention, which reduces transient discomforts for many patients undergoing surgery. A drug with similar effects might generate substantial marketing,” he argues.

Read: Three weeks after open heart surgery, I’ve come to terms with losing control >

Read: ‘The community is worried they will be teased – they’re not allowed out of the house’ >

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Rónán Duffy

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