Can Music Ease Pain?

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Dr. Julia Kim, Clinical Psychologist, discusses the role that music plays in easing pain during the recovery process.

Pain is both a sensory perception and subjective process influenced by psychological and emotional processes. It activates brain structures and pathways that affect how we process emotions, involuntary responses, and cognition. These all influence one’s experience of pain.

Music can also modulate the limbic system, which is primarily responsible for our emotional life and formation of memories. It can trigger the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps us to feel good. This is beneficial since cognitive and emotional states can increase pain:

  • Anxiety & Depression: can set off stress hormones and interfere with the body’s ability to heal
  • Stress: can result in the muscle tightening, which also increases pain

When in pain we naturally spend a lot of time and energy focusing on it. Music can be pain-relieving by diverting attention away from pain. Research has shown that people who are prone to anxiety or have the ability to become easily absorbed in activities – have greater relief from engaged music listening.

Music interest is quite personal based on our experiences and how our brain is wired. While musical taste is subjective, one common feature is that most people find musical consonance (harmony) to be pleasant and dissonance (clashing) to be unpleasant. Research has shown that different sound waves can affect the ways in which we respond to pain – I encourage you to explore types of music that make you feel good.

5 Elements of Music that Can Ease Pain:

  1. Upbeat music: Fast beats can stimulate the brain waves which can control your breathing, lower heart rate, and most importantly, make you want to move (Pain makes us not want to move). Upbeat music can also uplift your spirits.
  2. Slow music: This type of music can calm and soothe you. It helps the muscles to relax and slows your thoughts down as well.
  3. Lyrics: Lyrics can be positive, inspirational and funny. Focusing on lyrics can draw attention away from pain.
  4. Emotional Memory: Music can remind us of pleasant or positive experiences, allowing us to relieve that moment again.
  5. Emotional Expression: Music can help us to connect and identify with how we feel. When we relate to songs it can help us to express feelings. Internalized feelings can lead to anger, depression, sleep disturbance and increased muscle tension and pain.

Dr. Julia Kim is a Clinical Psychologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Kim is the first Clinical Psychologist to formally work within the HSS family and her focus is to develop an Integrative Care Program, designed to incorporate psychological services to a multi-disciplinary care team. She works closely with physicians and surgeons to optimize the best possible medical outcome.

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The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.

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