Health and Wellness

The Healing Power of Sound: Music and Pain Management

By Angela Bird

For those of us living with chronic pain, we will try just about anything to feel better. Chronic pain impacts millions of people every year, affecting the overall quality of life, personal relationships, and enjoyment of everyday activities. Scientists have been studying the therapeutic effects of calming music on pain for years, and the research is promising.

How Does Relaxing Music Relieve Pain?

Over the last few decades, clinical studies have been conducted to measure the effects of relaxing music on pain in a hospital setting. Studies range from passive music played over speakers in the emergency department and patients’ rooms, to individuals living with chronic pain being able to choose music to listen to on their own time.

Music Therapy in the Emergency Department

The Emergency Department is not a place anyone likes to visit, so healthcare providers are looking for subtle ways to improve the experience. Music therapy has been shown to have positive effects on patients in the Emergency Department, such as lowered severity of perceived pain, reduced levels of anxiety. One Turkish study involved analysing patients entering the Emergency Department with complaints of pain. The first group was evaluated while calming music played over the speakers, and the next group had no music playing. The results showed strong positive effects on pain and anxiety on the first group, with patients surveyed expressing a strong appreciation for the music playing in the Emergency Department.

The therapeutic effects of music have also been observed in children. A 2013 study compared music with standard care on children experiencing intravenous placement in the Emergency Department. Pain levels were lower in children in the rooms where ambient relaxing music was played. Most notably, health care providers observed that “it was easier to perform the procedure for children in the music group”.

Playing calm music throughout patient areas is an inexpensive, accessible, and low-side-effect means to affect patients’ pain levels at the hospital positively.

The Analgesic Effect of Music on Chronic Pain

Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) is a condition characterized by widespread pain, as well as sleep, memory and fatigue issues. Two studies investigated whether listening to music had a positive effect on pain for those affected by FMS. The research proved interesting, as it raised the question of whether physical pain was reduced by music, or whether it merely facilitated control over pain through distraction or mindful relaxation. The positive effect of listening to pleasant, relaxing music was observed on FMS patient mobility in a 2014 study. With a reduction of pain levels, individuals showed improved mobility and were able to complete simple tasks at a much faster rate.

Merely listening to calming music for 20 minutes per day was enough to reduce pain levels in seniors living with osteoarthritis significantly. McCaffery and Freeman concluded that “Listening to music was an effective nursing intervention for the reduction of chronic osteoarthritis pain.”

The Therapeutic Benefits of Calm Music at Home

Music has pain-relieving benefits, but how it achieves this in the brain remains unclear. Scientists continue to study the analgesic effects of music on all types of pain. For those living with chronic pain, there are many ways to reap the therapeutic benefits of music.

Find the time for a few moments a day to sit calmly and enjoy relaxing music. 20 minutes a day is ideal. Music provides a distraction from pain, cues rhythmic breathing, and has a positive effect on feelings of well-being. Set up some speakers or pop on your headphones and stream your favourite Calm Radio channel. Calm Radio offers dozens of channels specifically focused around meditation music and music for wellness.


Listen to classical music, sleep music and meditation music playlists on Calm Radio. Download the Calm Radio music app to listen on your mobile, desktop or tablet and join Calm Radio to unlock 1000+ channels of relaxing music, focus music and audiobooks. For more inspiring articles, take a look at this reflection on gratitude and listen to calming Christian music here.

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