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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 3

Ambient Music Eases Pain

Soothing music helps patients heal after an operation



Forget stickers and popsicles—hospitals may soon begin handing their patients MP3 players to speed their recovery. A study at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge determined that ambient music therapy had a positive effect on postoperative patients' recovery by improving pain management and decreasing the negative effects of environmental noise.

In this study, patients who had undergone surgery for cancer all received standard nursing care. Half of them also got a preprogrammed MP3 player with ambient music—songs without words, played at less than 60 decibels—and were encouraged by nurses to listen for at least half an hour after they took their twice-daily medication. Before treatment, all the patients had similar levels of anxiety, pain and irritation at the amount of environmental noise. Three days later patients who listened to the ambient music said they were able to better manage their pain and were less annoyed by hospital noise, whereas patients without music experienced no change, according to the study in Nursing last fall. Most of us already turn to music to help with emotional pain; these findings suggest we might want to try listening as a salve for physical pain, too.

This article was originally published with the title "Presto Pain Relief."

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