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Music during medical procedures can help with pain if this happens

People given the impression that they had control over the sounds they heard experienced more relief.

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Listening to music to dull pain during medical procedures works best when patients think they are choosing what they listen to, according to new research.

People given the impression that they had control over the sounds they heard experienced more relief.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, could help inform music listening-based strategies for reducing acute pain.

Providing patients with a set of headphones and allowing them to listen to stars like Adele or Ed Sheeran is known to reduce pain and anxiety during medical procedures.

Lead author Dr. Claire Howlin, of the Queen Mary University of London, said: "These findings suggest that choice and engagement with music are important for optimizing its pain-relief potential.

"Future research could further explore the relationship between music choice and subsequent engagement, as well as strategies for boosting engagement to improve pain relief.

She added: "Now we know that the act of choosing music is an important part of the wellbeing benefits that we see from music listening.

"It’s likely that people listen more closely, or more carefully when they choose the music themselves."

Her team, including colleagues from Dublin University, asked 286 adult patients to rate their pain before and after listening to a track.

The music was specially composed in two different versions of varying degrees of complexity.

Participants were randomly assigned to hear either the low or high version - with some randomly selected to get the idea they had some control over the qualities.

Lifestyle, tehnology and old people concept: image of an elderly gray-haired man listening to music with headphones over white background
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This was despite the fact they heard the same track - regardless of what their choice actually was.

The researchers found participants who felt they had control over the music experienced greater relief in the intensity of their pain.

This was compared to peers who were not given such an impression. In questionnaires, participants reported enjoying both versions of the track.

But no links were found between music complexity and the amount of pain relief. Additionally, participants who engage more actively with music in their everyday life experienced even greater benefits from having a sense of control.

Dr. Howlin said: "These findings have implications for both research and practice, emphasizing the importance of facilitating freedom of choice, and sustained engagement with music, throughout music listening interventions."

Music listening can be used for pain relief, especially for chronic pain lasting more than 12 weeks.

But the underlying mechanisms of these benefits are unclear. Basic musical features, such as tempo or energy, seem to be less important for pain relief.

Instead, feeling able to make decisions about the music may be key. But previous work has largely focused on findings from lab-based samples that did not explore real-world, pre-existing acute pain.

Dr. Howlin added: "The present study replicated the finding that even the illusion of choice has analgesic benefits."

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