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Music therapy can reduce pain, stress, and anxiety

A recent study led by University Hospitals (UH) Connor Whole Health has found that patients with moderate-to-severe pain, stress, or anxiety reported clinically significant reductions in their symptoms after a single session of music therapy.

Since improvements in pain-related symptoms was not influenced by patients’ demographic or clinical characteristics, music therapy appears to be effective for acute pain management across a variety of inpatient adult populations.

This research builds upon several important music therapy studies funded by the Kulas Foundation – United States’ leading organization funding scientific research on the benefits of music therapy – which examined the efficacy of such approaches in palliative care, surgery, sickle cell disease, and cancer treatments. 

While these investigations have mainly been conducted at academic medical centers, the new study is the first and largest assessment of the real-world effectiveness of music therapy within community medical centers.

To examine the benefits of music therapy, the experts conducted a retrospective study between January 2017 and July 2020 involving 1,056 adults who received inpatient medical care at eight UH community medical centers, and reported pre-session pain, anxiety, or stress scores equal to or greater than 4 on a scale from 0 to 10. 

Certified music therapists provided interventions including live music listening, music-assisted relaxation and imagery, and active music making, and assessed patients’ self-reported pain, stress, and anxiety levels at the beginning and end of each session. 

After the music therapy interventions, patients reported clinically significant mean reductions in pain (2.04 units), anxiety (2.80 units), and stress (3.48 units), with all changes exceeding the clinically significant threshold of 1.3 units for moderate-to-severe pain, and 2 for anxiety and stress. 

Moreover, among patients reporting a pain reduction score greater than 4, 14 percent fell asleep during the therapy sessions – an important outcome considering the sleep problems patients with moderate-to-severe pain experience during hospitalization.

Finally, after adjusting for demographic, clinical, and operational characteristics, patients receiving a music therapy session in which pain management was the primary goal were 4.32 times more likely to report pain reduction greater than 2 units than those who received a music therapy session in which pain management was not a goal. 

“This finding raises important questions regarding how music therapists tailor their interventions to address pain when that is the goal of the session, and we will be examining these specific features of music therapy interventions in future research,” said lead author Samuel Rodgers-Melnick, a music therapist and clinical researcher at UH Connor Whole Health.

“The music therapists at UH Connor Whole Health offer non-pharmacological frontline treatment throughout our medical system while addressing issues of stress, pain, and anxiety. Greater Cleveland residents may receive these services during hospitalizations at UH as a clinical service line offering direct evidence-based community benefit,” concluded Seneca Block, the manager of the Expressive Therapy Program at the same institution.

The study is published in the journal Pain Reports.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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