Music – The Medicine of the Mind

Music is the language of the soul. Where words end, music begins. Now, a review article suggests that where modern medicine ends, music begins.

The review evaluated 30 trials that included almost 2,000 cancer patients who received music therapy in concert with traditional treatment. Overall, music had a beneficial effect on the patients’ anxiety levels and moods. Music also decreased the patients’ heart rates, respiratory rates, and blood pressures. Patients reported an increased quality of life after intervention with music therapy.

The research must be interpreted with some caution, since the trials were small and were not blinded. Further, the review included studies that used music therapy provided by trained specialists and pre-recorded music played by hospital staff members; there was not enough evidence to determine if one type of intervention was more effective than the other.

Music has proven beneficial across many populations, for many reasons. Music decreases anxiety before, during, and after surgical procedures. Music decreases anxiety and improves well-being of patients with dementia. Music relieves pain and decreases nausea and vomiting. Music decreases the symptoms of depression. Music is beneficial for adults, children, and infants. Music therapy is used in psychiatric facilities, retirement communities, cancer treatment centers, and neonatal intensive care units.

It is not known exactly how music exerts these effects, and the neurological mechanisms for its benefits are still unclear. So far, opioid and oxytocin pathways in the brain have been implicated. Music may actually have opioid-sparing effects in some people, meaning that lower amounts of narcotic pain relievers may be needed to control pain.

The field of music therapy is growing as a specialty. An increasing number of interventions using music are being developed and implemented as complementary therapies for countless patients. Whether passive or active, individualized or group-based, objective clinical outcomes and subjective benefits are owed to music.

A life without music would be silent and dull. Music enriches our senses and evokes communication. Music is as much a physical experience as a psychological one, as much feeling as sensing. While everyone responds to music in his own way, the benefits of music are universal. Everyone may not prefer the same music, but everyone can be healed by music. The latest compilation of research does not prove exactly how (or why) music leads to health benefits, but music can clearly be the perfect harmony to traditional interventions, offering physical and psychological benefits with virtually no risks.


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Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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