Number 32 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights how music can enhance comfort and help us manage our pain…

As in many cases, when we’re looking to relieve our aches and pains, we most often turn to painkilling medications. But there is a strong and growing body of evidence to suggest an effective alternative.

Research looking at the link between music and pain suggests that it can lower stress, enhance comfort and help to manage pain for people of all ages.

Music has not only been found to relieve acute (short-term) pain, like a headache, a 2012 study confirmed that it can help people suffering from chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia.

In the study, people suffering from chronic pain who participated in a music intervention (two sessions of music listening) took significantly less painkilling medication than those who did not listen to music. The same group also reported lower levels of anxiety and depression after the music sessions.

Relaxing music was most effective because it relieved anxiety and sped up participants’ perception of time, making the pain ordeal seemingly over much quicker...

The effects aren’t just limited to our perception of pain either. A study in 2010 found that music interventions before and after medical procedures had measurable physical effects on patients, including reduced muscle tension and lower blood pressure.

To help us understand how music is able to help us control our pain, a 2016 study asked 41 participants to listen to either happy, sad, relaxing, or no music, while chilling their arms in a water bath. The study also measured the participants’ perception of time.

Not surprisingly, participants reported the most pain when not listening to any music. Participants listening to happy music were able to handle pain longer. Relaxing music reduced pain intensity. Sad music was found to be better than no music at all, but not as effective as happy or relaxing music.

From this study, it would seem that relaxing music was most effective because it relieved anxiety and sped up participants’ perception of time. This made the whole pain ordeal seem to be over much quicker.

So next time you go to pop a paracetamol, why not take a moment to try popping on your favourite chillout music instead?

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