Using Music Therapy for Chronic Pain

Pain is something we all experience. You might stand up from your desk, feel an ache or pain in your back, and in 20 minutes, everything seems back to normal. But 20% of adults suffer from chronic pain. Painkillers and medication are two of the first things people seek to alleviate pain, but there is another option: music therapy for chronic pain.

What is Music Therapy?

using music therapy for chronic pain two elderly people participating in professional music therapy

Although many people are just rediscovering this technique, music therapy isn't a new concept. In the US, music therapy first became popular in the 1940s. Soldiers returning from war suffered from shell shock, and music was shown to help these individuals overcome their shock.

Today, there are thousands of hospitals, pain treatment centers, and music therapists helping people overcome chronic pain using music therapy.

When used in a clinical setting, music is found to:

  • Reduce pain perception
  • Relieve anxiety and stress
  • Promote relaxation
  • Boost mood

Does Music Therapy for Chronic Pain Really Work?

Music therapy does work, according to numerous studies. For many people, the idea of music therapy sounds "too good to be true." However, the research and countless accounts show that there is some sound science behind this form of therapy, such as:

  1. A 2013 study and review looked at music therapy as an alternative to pain treatment for the 7 million chronic pain sufferers in the UK. Interestingly, nearly 20% of the group's physicians stated that they recommend music therapy. The researchers suggest that music helps patients relax, distract them from pain, and adds to their enjoyment. 
  2. A 2016 study on music therapy by the staff of a prominent pain clinic in Florida found that music therapy aided in reducing anxiety and pain. However, the amount of pain didn't seem significant until the patient listened to music before the procedures. Music seemed to have even more of an impact on pain if it was used before or during procedures.

Music can provide peace of mind and reduce reliance on pain medications. Additionally, quality of life improves, muscles relax and even heart rate can come under control with the right music.

Why would music help with chronic pain?

Chronic pain and music don't seem to go together naturally. When a person listens to the wrong music or doesn't listen to any music, they won't feel pain. But yet, when you listen to music, your body starts to release endorphins that are known for interacting with your body's pain receptors.

Endorphins will:

  • Provide a sense of well-being
  • Interrupt pain signals

An endorphin boost works in much of the same way that pain medications do – minus nasty side effects. Over the years, sufferers of pain have found that music leads to taking less pain medication and experiencing higher levels of pain relief.

You can also use music therapy alongside traditional treatment options to find relief.

How to Use Music Therapy for Chronic Pain

using music therapy for chronic pain woman listening to music smiling and singing along to help with chronic pain

When you research music therapy, there seems to be an abundance of and focus on listening to music. Calming songs can help you get your mind off of the pain and even help you relax. However, this is just one of many forms of music therapy.

You can engage in the following forms of music therapy in an effort to try and reduce your chronic pain:

  • Create music. Many people find that when they pick up an instrument and begin playing, they experience pain relief. Is there an instrument that you've always wanted to play but never found the time to practice? YouTube and online classes are available that can help you learn this instrument. You can even try to sing – if you like singing.
  • Sing along. Don't have a song that you've created? You can simply sing along to your favorite songs and see if they help ease your pain.
  • Writing. Many people use journaling as a form of therapy, and you can do the same. Write your own songs, even if you never have plans to share them with anyone else.
  • Meditate. If you haven't tried meditating yet, it's a good option for pain management. When you add listening to music and meditating at the same time, you're enhancing your music therapy.

Music therapy is versatile, and it's something that you can do on your own accord. Opt to try something new, such as writing your own song or learning to play the flute. You can also choose to go to someone who specializes in music therapy.

Music Therapy on a Professional Level

Professional, well-educated, and trained music therapists are another option if you want to seek out music therapy. Therapists must be accredited. These are true health care professionals who have a degree that is:

  • American Music Therapy Association accredited
  • Completed with 1,200 hours of training in a clinical setting

Often, these professionals can play three or four instruments, and they're required to take classes in anatomy, counseling, physiology, and psychology.

Every therapist is different, but they often have sessions that last between 45 minutes and an hour.

You can also find healing music albums on music streaming services or for sale that have been curated by professionals.

Final Thoughts

Music therapy for chronic pain is something that everyone can try from the comfort of their own homes and for free. You can go to pain clinics that offer this type of therapy, or you can also choose to try it for yourself and see if it works for your pain.

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