This is how music helps ease the pain

A new study exploring the use of listening to music for acute pain relief found that people who felt in control of the music they listened to felt more pain relief than people who have not had such control.

Dr Claire Howlin, from Queen Mary University of London (UK), and her colleagues from University College Dublin (Ireland), presenting their results in the open access journal “PLOS ONE”, explain that listening to music can help relieve painparticularly chronic pain, i.e. pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks, but the mechanisms underlying these benefits are unclear, particularly for acute pain, i.e. pain that lasts less than 12 weeks.

Basic musical characteristics, such as tempo or energy, seem to be less important for pain relief; in exchange, feeling empowered to make decisions about music can be key for pain relief. However, previous work has largely focused on results from laboratory samples that have not explored pre-existing acute pain in the real world.

To improve understanding, Howlin and his colleagues asked 286 adults with acute pain in the real world to assess their pain before and after listening to a piece of music. The track was specially composed in two different versions of different complexity.

Speakers were randomly assigned to listen to the low or high complexity version, and some were chosen at random so that they felt they had some control over the musical qualities of the track, even if they were listening to the same track regardless of their choice.

Researchers found that participants who felt they were in control of the music experienced greater relief from the intensity of their pain than participants who did not.

In questionnaires, participants said they enjoyed both versions of the track, but no relationship was found between the complexity of the music and the amount of pain relief. Additionally, participants who more actively engage with music in their daily lives experienced even greater pain relief from having a sense of control over the track used in this study.

These results suggest that choice and engagement with music are important for maximizing your pain relief potential. Future research could investigate the relationship between music choice and later engagement, as well as strategies to improve engagement and improve pain relief.

“We now know that choosing the music is an important part of the benefits for the well-being obtained by listening to music -they underline-. People are likely to listen more or more carefully when choosing music for themselves.”

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